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The Nearness of Christ

By SHAYNE PHILANDER
PUBLISHED 15 APRIL 2020

 

The Bible is clear that the distance between God and mankind is not an empty one. Between them is sin. The rebellion of mankind is what separates them from God. Thus, the Christian’s worldview is that, at one point there was a chasm between them and the triune God. However, in their new birth Jesus Christ came and brought reconciliation between God and them. Essentially, he brought peace between them (Eph 2:14-16). Their sins were forgiven, they were cleansed and their new righteousness in Christ has made them children of God. And they are now near to God because he has come near to them (Eph 2:13).

Shockingly, many Christians especially when disaster strikes still live as if there is a chasm between them and God. Their thinking is that, hardships proof the distance of God. For example, many Christians during trials approach prayer as if they need to bring God out of hiding. And not with an attitude to invoke his nearness through Jesus Christ (Rom 10:6-8). This means that, when life gets hard Christians become deist; asking “Where is God”, followed by, “What have I done wrong”? Not understanding that hardship is not necessarily an indictment on their salvation or sanctification. Meaning, that God uses hardships to harness sanctification, not to destroy it (think of Job). Thereby asking, “What is God up to”, and “What is he expecting from me during this time”? In other words, many believers may declare that God is on the throne but for them his rule does not include ruling from closeness.

Not to say that, God cannot remove his presence from the believer who is in sin. James warns the believer to “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded” (4:8). However, regarding the obedient Christian, their understanding of the nearness of God must be Christological (through the Spirit); that Jesus Christ is God’s nearness in their salvation. And for this reason, if Jesus is their Lord interceding for them in the heavens (Rom 8:34); God the Father cannot be far from them. Simply put, they ought to believe that the nearness of God is a permanent, stable and full nearness because Christ is Lord. And not a temporary, unstable and partial one because life is tough. Jesus himself promises he is “with [them] always, to the end of the age” (Matt 28:20). Right before Paul says to the Philippians “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your request be known to God” (4:6). He says, “The Lord is near” (4:5).

One can even reason that, Paul had a first-hand experience of Jesus’ nearness. The Lord himself appears to Paul (Saul at the time), while he was persecuting the church. Only to make the suffering of Christians personal to himself as Messiah. The risen Christ asked him, “Saul, Saul why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4). All to say that, God is near to the believer in ways that is personal to himself. Hebrews 4:15-16, although it refers to one’s temptations, it still captures the close solidarity of Jesus. It says that, “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace”. Meaning, the believer ought to draw near to Christ because he is near to them in ways that makes him feel what they feel. According to John Lennox in his new book Where is God in a Coronavirus World, he says that, “A Christian is not so much a person who has solved (or wants to solve) the problem of pain, suffering and the Coronavirus, but one who has come to love and trust a God who has himself suffered”. This means that, God’s answer to trials and tribulations is his own familiarity with suffering.

Therefore, the unfortunate mistake, insult and perhaps sin of the Christian is to place God by their own imagination at a distance from themselves. Yes, Jesus does ask on the cross, “Why have you [the Father] forsaken me” (Matt 27:46). However, his forsakenness is more of a silence than an absence because of the way God dealt with mankind’s sin. As far as God’s “Immanuel…which means God with us” is concerned (Matt 1:23). One’s dreadful circumstances does not drive Jesus Christ away but rather assumes, that as Lord, he is near.

The Bible is clear that the distance between God and mankind is not an empty one. Between them is sin. The rebellion of mankind is what separates them from God. Thus, the Christian’s worldview is that, at one point there was a chasm between them and the triune God. However, in their new birth Jesus Christ came and brought reconciliation between God and them. Essentially, he brought peace between them (Eph 2:14-16). Their sins were forgiven, they were cleansed and their new righteousness in Christ has made them children of God. And they are now near to God because he has come near to them (Eph 2:13).

Shockingly, many Christians especially when disaster strikes still live as if there is a chasm between them and God. Their thinking is that, hardships proof the distance of God. For example, many Christians during trials approach prayer as if they need to bring God out of hiding. And not with an attitude to invoke his nearness through Jesus Christ (Rom 10:6-8). This means that, when life gets hard Christians become deist; asking “Where is God”, followed by, “What have I done wrong”? Not understanding that hardship is not necessarily an indictment on their salvation or sanctification. Meaning, that God uses hardships to harness sanctification, not to destroy it (think of Job). Thereby asking, “What is God up to”, and “What is he expecting from me during this time”? In other words, many believers may declare that God is on the throne but for them his rule does not include ruling from closeness.

Not to say that, God cannot remove his presence from the believer who is in sin. James warns the believer to “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded” (4:8). However, regarding the obedient Christian, their understanding of the nearness of God must be Christological (through the Spirit); that Jesus Christ is God’s nearness in their salvation. And for this reason, if Jesus is their Lord interceding for them in the heavens (Rom 8:34); God the Father cannot be far from them. Simply put, they ought to believe that the nearness of God is a permanent, stable and full nearness because Christ is Lord. And not a temporary, unstable and partial one because life is tough. Jesus himself promises he is “with [them] always, to the end of the age” (Matt 28:20). Right before Paul says to the Philippians “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your request be known to God” (4:6). He says, “The Lord is near” (4:5).

One can even reason that, Paul had a first-hand experience of Jesus’ nearness. The Lord himself appears to Paul (Saul at the time), while he was persecuting the church. Only to make the suffering of Christians personal to himself as Messiah. The risen Christ asked him, “Saul, Saul why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4). All to say that, God is near to the believer in ways that is personal to himself. Hebrews 4:15-16, although it refers to one’s temptations, it still captures the close solidarity of Jesus. It says that, “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace”. Meaning, the believer ought to draw near to Christ because he is near to them in ways that makes him feel what they feel. According to John Lennox in his new book Where is God in a Coronavirus World, he says that, “A Christian is not so much a person who has solved (or wants to solve) the problem of pain, suffering and the Coronavirus, but one who has come to love and trust a God who has himself suffered”. This means that, God’s answer to trials and tribulations is his own familiarity with suffering.

Therefore, the unfortunate mistake, insult and perhaps sin of the Christian is to place God by their own imagination at a distance from themselves. Yes, Jesus does ask on the cross, “Why have you [the Father] forsaken me” (Matt 27:46). However, his forsakenness is more of a silence than an absence because of the way God dealt with mankind’s sin. As far as God’s “Immanuel…which means God with us” is concerned (Matt 1:23). One’s dreadful circumstances does not drive Jesus Christ away but rather assumes, that as Lord, he is near.

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