As believers, is God with us? When we are alone? When we gather as believers? In the good times as well as the bad? As Christians we would generally say that he is. But just what does this little expression, ‘God is with us’, mean?
As Christians, we believe that God is both transcendent and immanent. Transcendence refers to his externality. He is external to his creation, not bound to it or by it. Immanence, on the other hand, refers to his activity within the creation. He is intimately involved in the governance of his creation. There is a lot of debate as to just how involved he is. But no one seriously questions that he takes an active interest in his creation, in humanity, and, especially, the church and believers.
In the opening pages of the Bible we find God walking with Adam and Eve in the garden. At the end of the Bible we find him in the New Jerusalem living with a redeemed humanity. And between these, you find God interacting with people, nations, and the created order. He is not a passive observer of the creation and all that takes place within it. He is an active participant in it’s affairs, guiding and directing according to his divine purpose.
During the Exodus
God’s presence with Israel was obvious during the wilderness wanderings after the Exodus. At Sinai, after the incident with the Golden Calf, God told Moses that he would not go with the people on their journey to Canaan because they were a stiff-necked people (Ex. 33:3-4). But Moses plead with God to accompany them on the journey and he relented (Ex. 33:12-17). And so, God was with Israel, leading them with a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of smoke by day. Where that pillar went, they went.
For Israel during the Exodus, God is with us meant two things. That he was pleased with them (Ex. 33:16). And that he was providing them with direction (Ex. 40:36-38). And that would continue to be true in the remainder of the Old Testament.
The Incarnation: God is With Us in the Flesh
In the New Testament we see God’s presence in an even more intimate fashion. When Gabriel reassured Joseph concerning Mary’s pregnancy, he told him that the one to be born of Mary would be called Immanuel, or ‘God with us’. Jesus was Immanuel. He was God, in human form, living and moving among us.
Those who followed Jesus for the three years of his earthly ministry experienced the presence of God with them in a very intimate and personal fashion. During Jesus’ last night with his disciples Phillip asked him to show them the Father (John 14:8). Jesus responded to him that if they had seen him, Jesus, they had seen the Father.
In Matthew 18:20, Jesus tells us that where two or three of us gather, in his name, he will be with us. While we no longer see his physical presence among us when we gather, we can be assured that he is with us. As the church, we are his body. Wherever we are, he is as well.
The Indwelling Holy Spirit: God is with Us in Spirit
In the New Testament gospels, Jesus’ followers experienced the presence of God with them in the person of Jesus. Jesus was God in human form, waking, talking, and eating with them. I have often wondered what it would be like to have spent time with Jesus like that.
But the reality is we have an even more intimate relationship with God now. While Jesus walked side by side with the disciples, we have the Holy Spirit living within us. For those who have believed in Jesus, God is with us every moment of every day.
In John 14:16-17a Jesus said, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever — the Spirit of truth.” Jesus promised that the Father would give to us another advocate, the Holy Spirit. This advocate would, like Jesus, be God.
Jesus said that this advocate would be with us forever. Unlike God’s presence with Israel, a presence that seemed to come and go. And unlike Jesus who walked with his followers for a limited time. The Holy Spirit will be our constant companion. He is God with us.
Jesus also said that this advocate would help us. The Holy Spirit does not just walk with us. He helps us to live holy and godly lives. He teaches us the things of God. And he empowers us for service in the kingdom. His help is indispensable for the follower of Christ.
What Does It Mean?
So just what does “God is with us” mean? From a global perspective it means that he is at work within his creation. He is not the god of deism, one who creates a universe and then leaves it to itself. Instead, God had a plan for his creation, and he is working it out. It means that nothing that happens is apart from God’s ultimate purpose.
God is with us has a special meaning to those who have surrendered to the lordship of Jesus. God, in the person of the Holy Spirit, is with us in a very personal and intimate way. The God of all creation lives within me. He comforts me in challenging times. He teaches me his ways. And he enables me to serve him.
What does it mean? It means that I am never alone. Even in my darkest times, he is with me. I can trust that no matter what might come my way, he will keep me safe. We can have no greater privilege than to have God with us.
The views expressed here are solely mine and do not necessarily reflect those of any other person, group, or organization. While I believe they reflect the teachings of the Bible, I am a fallible human and subject to misunderstanding. Please feel free to leave any comments or questions about this post in the comments section below. I am always interested in your feedback.
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This article was first published in Christianity.com on December 19, 2019