The Physical Presence of God

In his sermon on Sunday, my pastor Tom Bartley mentioned a conversation he had, in which a person had said that our situation today is different from the time of Jesus, because we no longer have “the physical presence of God” with us. Tom wasn’t happy with that statement, and gave examples of acts of kindness that deserve to be considered “the physical presence of God.”

I wonder whether we can take this completely seriously, and not only as a pointer towards something else supposedly happening behind the scenes, particularly within the context of panentheism or a radically-emergent theism.

When some talk about the “physical presence of God” they mean, most likely, Jesus, understood as God incarnate, having come into the world in a way that God is not normally present.

But if one views all things as existing within God, and/or God as a reality that emerges out of the interaction of all things, then we can literally say that “God is love.” When there are acts of compassion, they are pointer towards transcendence, towards a reality that is not something else than these actions and events, but the sum totality of them.

In some ancient stories included within the Bible, God did indeed have a physical presence – God could go with the Israelites, or stay behind. Few people if any think in those precise terms now. The question is how we ought to think differently in our present context.

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  • Mark Farmer

    Thanks for this, James. It is surprising how many books with a naturalistic/ evolutionary viewpoint don’t even mention Emergence, which is so rich in meaning and explanatory power. The links to your posts on Clayton’s book are quite useful.

  • Michael Wilson

    James, it seems to me that one of the things that the Gospel of John wants to communicate is that the presence of God that Jesus represents in his life is the goal of all of his followers. From this perspective it is silly to complain that Christians are worse off because God is not there in the person of Jesus since God should be present in all of his followers, instead of one Jesus, Christianity ought to imagine its self as millions of Jesuses. Am I reading that right? I often find perspective among evangelicals that the life of Jesus was a golden age, the life of the apostles a silver age, and we are all stuck in a gutter until the time Christ returns from heaven. It seems contrary to at least John’s teaching.

    • James F. McGrath

      That’s certainly one way of understanding it – the same Spirit, the same presence of God, that dwelt in Jesus now dwells in his followers.

  • R Vogel

    What’s the picture on the bottom from?

    • James F. McGrath

      Just an image I came across when I was looking for images to accompany the post. An example of the physical presence of God.