Forthright Magazine

The God who walks

The holy prophets ridiculed idolaters by noting all the things their idols could not do. They couldn’t even perform the basic actions of normal people, much less work godlike wonders. They had to be carried, because they couldn’t walk for themselves.

The true God walks. For the most part, walking is a metaphor for that continuing, deepening relationship that man can have with God. The Lord is a spirit, John 4.24, so he has no body and no legs with which to walk. The Bible uses figurative language for God’s actions, so we can better understand his nature and his will. But when God takes human form, he literally walks with and among mankind.

God walked with Adam and Eve. What was so stunning about the Garden of Eden was not its flora and idyllic conditions, but the walking of God with the first pair. “When the cool evening breezes were blowing, the man and his wife heard the Lord God walking about in the garden. So they hid from the Lord God among the trees” Genesis 3.8 CEB. Evidently, this was God’s practice as he came to meet and mingle with his favorite creatures. This verse in Genesis records the fact after man sinned, perhaps as a reminder of what man really lost.

In these encounters and in such walking, God allowed himself to be known by Adam and Eve. He was not a God who merely spoke from the heights of heaven. He was present, available, nearby. This was, after all, the motivation behind creation.

One of the messengers who appeared to Abram seemed to be more than an angel. Some identify him with the Christ. The Bible says that the Lord appeared to Moses, and not just an angel, Genesis 18.1. In the narrative it is the Lord speaking and leaving. Moses records that Abram walked with them as they were leaving. “Now Abraham was walking with them to see them on their way” Genesis 18.16b. It’s good not to make too much of this verse, but again the whole narrative shows how God makes himself present and available to his people. The whole dialog with Abram illustrates well the friendship that he offers to his chosen one.

Then came Jesus, who walked among men. Literally. In a metaphor of the temple, John wrote that “the Word became flesh and took up residence among us” John 1.14. Peter told Cornelius, who went around doing good, that “Jesus traveled around doing good” Acts 10.38 CEB. Jesus moved among mankind and could be moved by him.

So while we acknowledge that walking with God is a metaphor, let us also recognize that it is more than a mere metaphor. It represents the original, literal intent of God. And the work of redemption will one day restore that intent as we walk with God in heaven. Instead of playing harps in our hammocks under a shade tree, heaven will be the place of ultimate fellowship and friendship with God. People of the nations will walk by the light of the heavenly city, Revelation 21.24.

I remember as a boy hearing discussions about figurative language in our songbooks. Was it right to sing songs that affirmed sentiments such as this, “And He walks with me, and He talks with me”? Such concerns about songs that teach only what is scripture are good and right. I don’t mean to belittle them in any way. We ought to be aware of doctrinal problems in songs. This song, however, serves as a testament to the resurrection of Jesus Christ and to the truth that, when we seek to be near him, he comes to us, John 14.23.

For we have a God who walks.


J. Randal Matheny
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