Into God’s presence

by Barry Newton

Scripture records a mere handful of glimpses into God’s presence. Given what the Bible tells us about humanity’s inability to see God, we might wonder how even these were possible. Then there is also the question of “why?”

A straightforward reading of scripture suggests human beings are not sufficiently hard-wired to survive an encounter with God. God’s pronouncement, “You cannot see my face, for no one can see me and live” (Exodus 33:20) was not a personalized indictment against Moses, but a general truth regarding humanity.

Paul repeated this principle when writing to Timothy. “God alone possess immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no human has ever seen or is able to see” (1 Timothy 6:16). How then could anyone experience an epiphany?

While I suspect that as long as we live our understanding will be insufficient, a few clues suggest some possibilities. In John’s case, he describes himself as being “in the spirit” when he was invited to enter through an open door that ushered him into God’s throne room (Rev. 4:1,2). In Ezekiel’s case, “the heavens opened and I saw a divine vision” (Ezekiel 1:1). Such methods might also explain the other rare encounters.

Perhaps even more intriguing than how these epiphanies could occur is, “why happen at all?” God’s initiative had to cause these encounters. But why?

While scripture does not provide a frank answer, a similarity between John’s, Ezekiel’s and Isaiah’s situations suggest at least one possible motive for why God made something of his presence visible.

John described his situation as, “one who shares with you in the persecution, kingdom, and endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony about Jesus” (Revelation 1:9). Not just John, but also his readers were going through difficult times.

The subsequent letters to the seven churches reveal that the Christians were experiencing various powerful threats against faith. Temptation ranged from caving in to persecution to embracing a permissive attitude toward evil, from the allurement of a materialistic self-assurance to trusting in one’s own spiritual reputation.

The awe of God evokes perseverance.

Consider Ezekiel’s situation. He saw something of God’s presence when it looked like all hope in God and for his people had vanished. Where was God when the pagan nation not only completely devastated the nation, but even destroyed the Temple as well?

The awe of God evokes perseverance.

In Isaiah’s case, God had an overwhelming “mission impossible” for him. Once Isaiah’s eyes have been opened to perceive God’s majesty, God informed him that he was to proclaim a message others would reject. Furthermore, he must continue to endure preaching until cities would lie in ruins.

In the face of such discouragement, what could enable someone to remain faithful? The awe of God evokes perseverance. An epiphany does not remove the trial, whatever it might be, but when we gain something of an understanding of who God really is and what he is doing, we are encouraged to persevere with faithfulness in spite of the trial.

Perhaps the reason these brief glimpses into God’s presence have been recorded for us to read is because God desires the awe of his presence to evoke perseverance from deep within us also.

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Barry Newton

Married to his wonderful wife Sofia and a former missionary in Brazil, Barry enjoys trying to express old truths in fresh ways. They have two boys attending university.

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