JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series has plenty of reasons to capture your attention. The mythical creatures and characters with medieval-period battle styles combined with elements of super-natural powers cause the fighting to stand out; and with the classic good vs. evil struggle with interwoven layers of plot line all on a landscape to make your mouth water… almost anyone would be drawn into this saga!
One subtle but very important element is the companionship. There’s a scene that highlights this (but you could go back and watch/read these stories and ask yourself how the presence of another comrade impacted any particular scene). Frodo tries to go off alone at the end of the Fellowship, but Sam catches up to him and confesses that he has left Frodo on a few different occasions finishing with the line: “but I don’t mean to.” From there the two set out on their own shared story and at a couple different times Frodo expresses his thanks and gratitude that Sam is with him. Because Sam has jokes? He cooks? He is Frodo’s body guard? Definitely not! (although there are moments Sam holds his own with a sword) By and large, the strength that Sam adds to Frodo is his presence. The mere presence of another who cares about Frodo and also about what is most burdensome to him goes a long way!
There is great power in the subtle nature of presence, and this seems to be the result of mankind’s reflection of the image of God, who is Himself a God who is present. The idea of presence is consistent in Scripture as the chief blessing from God to His people, because it meant provision, protection, stability and permanence, intimacy in care, personal forgiveness, and experiential love from their loving God. The best thing that could happen for a broken, wandering people was God’s presence.
God Dwelling with His People is What He Does
In the Bible this idea is communicated in the language of “dwelling.” In the garden, God dwelt with Adam and Eve (Gen. 1-3); the tabernacle was purposed in order that God would dwell with the Israelites (Ex. 40:34-36); Jesus becoming a man was described as the moment when God “made His dwelling among us”, literally “tabernacled among us” (John 1:14). Jesus said He was going away to prepare a place, a type of dwelling, for His people in Heaven (Jn 14:2-3). The final promise of renewal for God’s creation has as its pinnacle the reality of God making His dwelling with His people forever (Rev. 21:3). And that’s just a quick overview!
God Dwells with His People through the Spirit
For us today, perhaps the most poignantly practical image is the dwelling that God has established through His Spirit in us. No longer are we seeking a Tabernacle or Temple. Instead, this is a very real presence that the Bible lays out as the foundation of every other aspect of our transformed identities. The Spirit of God is actually inside of every individual who has trusted in Christ by faith. If you have faith in Jesus, then God is in you; always with you.
How valuable is this? Jesus made it to be pretty important; scratch that, vitally important. John 16:7 makes it crystal clear: Jesus says, “I tell you the truth (i.e., Listen to me, I’m serious): it is to your advantage that I go away…” Advantage? How could Jesus say it was better that He be gone? Show of hands of who thinks they’d be better off seeing Jesus’ face when you’re struggling? What could be better than a physical breathing Jesus in front of our faces when we’re trying to grow in our faith?! Well, for one, we’d probably still find a reason to doubt (check some of the disciples’ reactions before Jesus commissions them in Matt. 28:17, “some doubted”; Luke 16:19-31 also shows us that we don’t actually know what is best for belief help).
Jesus answers our pondering in the same verse:
— “for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.” Jesus said He was going to ask the Father to send the “Helper” (the Spirit) who would “be with you forever… and dwell with you and be in you” (Jn 14:16-17).
A Better Type of Presence?
It is better that Jesus go, the individual who was with one group of people at a time while on earth, so that God would be present with all His people without limit. In other words, part of God’s plan for sending the Spirit is to universalize (among His people) His personal presence. God was making Himself dwell among all His people individually. This is incredible!
As I mentioned above, this is foundational to our entire identity shift as a follower of Jesus! From initial faith to ongoing spiritual growth, from proper living by God’s wisdom and knowing His will to speaking truth and receiving a hard word in a way that brings conviction and giving up sinful vices. This is ALL the Spirit in us. And more than that — the whole “United with Christ” theme (which IS our hope for salvation and eternal life) is the result of God’s Spirit connecting us to Christ (the Bible term there is “engrafting”) and therefore into God Himself (see all of John 16). Read Paul’s letters and count every time he uses the phrase “in Christ.” You will find out real quick how important this idea is—and it is all because God has made Himself to dwell in us by His Spirit. Amazing!
There are a number of applications for us to consider, a few of these we’ll cover in future posts—e.g., how it impacts Trials, our Growth, and our own presence in Community. But for now think about the blessing of God’s presence, and wherever you are I pray there would be a sense of encouragement knowing that you are not alone.