“His glory, in whose being all things move, pervades Creation and, here more there less resplendent, shines in every part thereof.”—Dante: Paradiso, Canto I, II. 1-3
“For in him we live, and move, and have our being…”— Acts 17:28
This title, “The Power of Dynamic Presence,” might lead some to believe I’m going to expound on how to influence people or make dynamic presentations. Thankfully, I’m speaking here of something vastly more important.
In fact, I’m increasingly troubled by the notion that even though we are surrounded each moment of our lives by the presence of God, we can sadly resemble the proverbial fish in water complaining of thirst!
Well, at the risk of being outrageously reductionistic and laughably simplistic, let me suggest that “it’s all in our heads.”
Although volumes have been written on related topics from theology to cognitive neuroscience, here’s a simple formula of sorts. If we take the doctrine of omnipresence to be literally, rather than merely figuratively, true, God is present everywhere all the time. As Aubrey Moore wrote in Lux Mundi (1891), “Either God is everywhere present in nature, or He is nowhere.”
Or, as Orthodox Bishop Kallistos (Timothy Ware) has stated more recently regarding “externalist” theologies:
“Among all too many Christian thinkers…there has been…a widespread tendency to speak as if God the creator were somehow external to the creation….All such imagery is sadly defective.”
If we concede this truth, our options quickly narrow. Rather than claiming that God is ever absent (something we may understandably feel in the darkest and most difficult moments of life), it makes vastly more sense to claim that what is absent is our awareness of His presence.
What’s the cure? Although there are no simple solutions, it is worth the effort to investigate the “root metaphors” that profoundly — and unconsciously — shape what we see and how we think. Though many books have been written on how we cannot think without metaphors, for now just consider “root” metaphors to be assumptions you make about reality that are so fundamental that you’re unaware of them. Somewhat like the absent-minded professor who can’t find his glasses because he’s wearing them.
For example, if your root metaphor of “transcendence” is spatial — and you have tacitly assumed (like a good deist) that God started off the show with a Big Bang and then exited the stage — it will obviously be a challenge to sense the presence of One you fundamentally assume to be distant! To put it bluntly, having to imagine God’s presence is one thing; actually sensing His presence is something else!
If, on the other hand, you rightly understand transcendence to be an ontological rather than a spatial reference (that is, He is radically “Other” in the nature of His Being, while never distant), He is then the “living” God of the Bible who is both utterly transcendent and the one in whom “we live and move and have our being.”
When it comes to the vital difference between being able to sense the presence of God and having to imagine His presence, is it any wonder that the apostle Paul exhorted us to “be transformed by the renewing of our mind”? Perhaps if our minds were sufficiently renewed, we would cease being thirsty fish.