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.