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.”


 “Teeth: If you ignore them, they will go away.” That was the wry pronouncement of a rector I used to work for, who did not shy away from such declarations. At once it’s funny and it hurts.
    There are some things which, even if we ignore them, they don’t go away. Like the infection in the boil that must be lanced, they call us to an exercise of courage to face difficulty and pain. But there are other things that are good but we can lose them if we don’t attend to them. (And of course, even if we do attend to them, there are no guarantees.) These good things are, for instance, teeth.
    Lord, grant me wisdom to face the things that are not going away, and to nurture those things that otherwise will go away, and the wisdom to know the difference.
    Have you heard the one about how there are two kinds of people? There are, on the one hand, people who think there are two kinds of people, and on the other, people who don’t.
    Yes but (I want to say), nonetheless we can identify two characteristic, contrasting ways of looking at the world.
    The first sees problems that must be faced. And these problems are not going to go away on their own: we need to face them and confront them. Religiously speaking, here we find the people who, when they look at the world, see sin at work: war, racism, cruelty in all its forms. These are not necessarily “liberals” in our current political parlance: anti-abortion activists fit in here right alongside “social-justice warriors.”
    The other group sees things that must be preserved. They look at the world and see good things that need our attention lest they pass away. Religiously speaking, these people look at the world and see it as something fundamentally good. Again, they are not necessarily “conservatives” in current political parlance; they could be wanting to preserve the environment, say, just as much as to nurture neighborhoods or families.
    One group looks at the world and sees infection; the other sees teeth.
    Both are right, because each has hold of a Christian doctrine. The world is created, and thus good, and yet it is fallen, and thus infected with evil. But the long game is on the side of creation. In raising Jesus from the dead, God has vindicated creation. The struggle with evil will not go on forever and we already know how it will turn out.
    In the end, teeth win.
    Out & About. This Sunday, June 24, I am speaking on how “ordinary time” isn’t so ordinary. This is a young adults gathering, organized by the Church of the Transfiguration, and is at 5pm at the Flying Saucer Draught Emporium (what a name!) in Addison, Texas.

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The Rev. Canon Victor Lee Austin. Ph.D., is the Theologian-in-Residence for the diocese and is the author of several books including, "Friendship: The Heart of Being Human" and "A Post-Covid Catechesis.: