The God of Presence
Posted on April 18, 2016

While recently reading the biography of a famous 20th century performer, I ran across an account of the role entertainment played in helping people cope with the emotional stresses of the Great Depression. The book stated that Vaudeville and movies gave people a brief respite from the fears and strains of daily living, allowing them an emotional oasis where they could escape reality for a couple blessed hours.

As I read, I found myself thinking that escape had (and has) its benefits, but it in no way addresses the reality from which an oasis is needed. That reality is still there at the movie’s end, replete with all the pressures and pains we tried to run away from. What we need more than escape, I think, is a resource for dealing with life as it is 24/7.

In reflecting on the book I was reading, I remembered an article I ran across years ago. It was written by the younger son of a family that had lived through the Great Depression. As an adult, he became a journalist and wrote often of the things he had observed and learned during that indescribably difficult epoch in the history of our nation. In any event, in the article I read the man wrote of how his mother was the one who held the family together during those bleak times (and during all other times when any sort of devastation approached their doorstep). Among the other things he wrote, I found this line particularly interesting: “When things were really bad, we knew two things would happen – Daddy would bring out a bottle, and Mama would bring out a Bible.” No wonder it was the mother who held the family together whenever it appeared their world was falling apart. The father sought to escape. But the mother knew what they needed most of all, and she knew where to find it. She realized Who was their source both of strength and comfort when the tough times came.

Jesus’ words that “there will be wars and rumors of wars” (Matthew 24:6) are easily applied to a wide variety of crises, including but not limited to military conflict. There are other sorts of wars we sometimes have to fight: relational difficulties, physical illnesses, financial stresses, depression, grief, guilt, the list is long. In most cases, those realities cannot be circumvented. We do not go “around” the valley of the shadow, said David the Psalmist, instead we go “through” it. The secret to surviving that journey lies in the knowledge that we do not make it alone. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for Thou art with me.” (Psalm 23:4)That, as I understand it, is one of the three central promises of the Christian Faith. One promise is Eternity: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) The second promise is Grace: “For God sent his Son into the world not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:17) And the third foundational promise of our Faith is Presence: “I will be with you always.” (Matthew 28:20) We do not live in Shangri La. Eden is past. We live in a world of fear and faithlessness, hurt and harm, sickness and sin. But in the midst of all that is the God who promised never to abandon us to that world but always, instead, to walk with us through any valley, no matter how deep its shadows. That’s what that mom understood when tough times came and she brought out the Bible. She understood the promises that are better than temporary respites from reality. She understood God’s assurance of Presence – that wherever you go and whatever you face, you are not alone. God was there before you arrived, and God will walk with you through the shadows until daylight breaks again.

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