How Close is God?
God is very strange. Start with the discovery that he is the creator, the one who gives existence to us and to everything that exists or happens, for as long as it exists or happens. God is the reason why there is anything in the first place.
If this is so, then it is clear that God can’t be one of the things that exist or happen. If God is the cause of the universe, God cannot be something that is in the universe. And if God is nothing in the universe, two important things:
First, there are no idols. For an idol is something in the universe that pretends to have power over the universe. There are no idols because nothing is divine, everything is created. The sun is not divine, the river is no god, and pouring your newborn child’s blood onto the field will not make the crops grow. To see that God is creator is to see that there are no gods. It’s liberating! It’s the first good news, in fact.
But also, if God is nothing in the universe, he is also nothing outside the universe. Here is one of the strange things about God. If Sam the Spider exists, and if Sam the Spider is not inside my house, then it follows that Sam the Spider is outside my house. But God exists, and God is not inside the universe . . . yet God is not outside, either. God is no thing; it makes no sense to say he is inside or outside.
If your very good friend is alive, and if she is living outside the United States while you are living in Denton, then she is far away. If she were living on the moon she would be even farther away. If somehow she were living on a planet outside our solar system, she would be all the farther away. But wherever she lives, she is someplace in the universe.
But God, although he is alive, occupies no place in the universe. Nonetheless we would be wrong to say he is very far away. Because for God, things like “distance” don’t apply.
In fact, there is a sense in which God is “closer” to me than anything else could be. God holds me in being. God is the reason I am writing these words (and the reason you are reading them). God is closer to each of us than any intimate friend, any lover, any parent or child or compatriot. God is in fact closer to us than we are to ourselves! (He knows my thoughts better than I do!)
This is not closeness of distance, but the inescapable closeness of the creator to his creation. Like an author’s closeness to her characters—think Dorothy L. Sayers’s closeness to Lord Peter Wimsey, for example—so is God close to us.
How close is God? Closer than we can say, or think, or imagine.
Out & About. On Sunday, July 8, I’ll be preaching at the Episcopal Church of St. Thomas the Apostle, 6525 Inwood Rd., Dallas. The services are at 8 and 10 a.m. Then at 11:30 I’ll speak on “Love, Caring, Death, and God.”