The Presence of God

Several years ago, one of our elders and I were asked to visit the sister of one of our visitors. The brother wanted us to see her and invite her to church (though she refused to visit church with him). So we went, and as it turns out, she was heavily to New Age mysticism, crystals, astral plane projection… and very likely into some mind-altering chemicals. In fact, she was convinced that she had gone to heaven and talked with God. She described in great detail the warm feeling that filled her heart with love, the sweet smell of flowers and the overwhelming feeling of peace and calm. She floated, suspended in midair as she and God chatted with Him for about an hour! Afterwards, she was filled with a sense of tranquility and oneness with the universe. For some reason, as she was describing her experience, the tune of Brewer and Shipley's “One Toke Over the Line” kept playing in my head.

Call me a skeptic, but I rather doubt she really spent time in the presence of God. Why? In scripture, when people find themselves in the presence of God, they are overwhelmed not with tranquility, but with sheer terror. As Israel camped at the foot of Mt. Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments, God made his presence known on the mountain—

Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the Lord descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, and the whole mountain trembled violently. (Exodus 19:18)

That was the awesome presence of God. There was no sense of peace and tranquility.  Just shock and awe.  The scent in the air was smoke, not flowery perfume. When God’s voice spoke the Ten Commandments from the mountain, the people were overwhelmed with fear—

When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.” (Exodus 20:18–19)

Frankly, many Christians are way more comfortable with a God who is easygoing, calming, and smells like daffodils than we are with the God who thunders, commands and smells like smoke. We sing songs that say “In His presence, there is comfort…” and “I can hear the brush of angel’s wings” because “surely the presence of the Lord is in this place.” And there is nothing wrong with those songs. We do come into God’s presence with “confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body” (Heb 10:19-20). But while Jesus provides the way into God’s presence, we must remember that God is the same God that shook the mountain.  Our God is still a consuming fire.

And we need to remember for precisely reason Moses gave Israel for the pyrotechnics at Sinai—“ Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning” (Exo 20:20). Right after the writer of Hebrews speaks of our boldness to enter the presence of God, he says this—

If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God (Heb 10:26-27)

We need to remember that God is God, and He is greatly to be feared. The fear of God, remembering who God really is, must keep us from sinning. Being in the presence of God is about many things... warm-and-fuzzy isn't one of them!






Picture by QingZhong Huang Some Rights Reserved