BEN: One of the more rich concepts you deal with in this book is God’s immanence or personal presence with various individuals and groups of persons. This is something different from the more nebulous notion of God’s omnipresence, not least because it is linked specifically to God’s free choices— for example, he chooses to appear to that scoundrel Jacob who is on the run, at the bottom of a heavenly staircase. What does the loaded phrase ‘I will be with you’ (Immanuel) really denote and in what sense is the notion kicked up a notch when it is predicated of and by
Jesus both in the incarnation, and after he is raised from the dead? Does this phrase necessarily connote the idea that God will always protect a person he is ‘with’ from…. shall we say, the pandemic we are suffering now? If not what is the real sense of the phrase ‘God be with you’?
RICHARD: I know a church newsletter that regularly accompanies its section on prayer with the slogan: “God is everywhere. So pray anywhere.” It is not exactly untrue, but it would be better to say that God has promised to attend to the prayers of his people in the name of Jesus. God, after all, can “close his ears” to prayer. The most important thing about God’s presence is that God makes himself present in many different ways to different people in different contexts. His presence is not a uniform, static feature of the world, but his personal action in meeting us and being with us. A full study of the expression “God is with” so-and-so in the Bible, attending to what that concretely means in different cases, would be worthwhile. You are right that climax of its meaning is the incarnation, Jesus as Immanuel. “God with us” does often suggest protection and blessing (God protected Jacob and prospered his activity), but in the New Testament certainly physical protection is not guaranteed. I guess the kind of safety in God’s love that we do have is expressed, for example, in Jude 24.