Most people experience God at times as incredibly near, as if we are dwelling in the very presence of God. Yet at other times God seems remote or distant, and we seem to be dwelling in a cloud out of which cannot see. I am glad then that David Lamb, in his excellent book, God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist and Racist?, probes this question: Is God distant or near?
David begins where one ought to begin on this topic: with the lament psalms, those psalms where the psalmist complains about God’s distance or about God’s non-involvement, or even God’s seeming lack of care. As in “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” He focuses a little on Psalms 13 and 22.
Those laments work like this: invocation, complaint, petition, trust and praise. The notable feature of these psalms is that they emerge from a kernel of faith, and the psalmist prays because he or she believes in God and believes there’s some hope by speaking with God. In this one finds a critical feature for the experience of God’s distance.
But at work in all of this is the stubborn, rugged presence of God with God’s people: the biblical expression is that God is with us. David has one of the best sketches I’ve seen of this “with us” theme in the Bible. God speaks and God walks with Israel and Judah and the church.
By the way, in his sketch of God’s presence, David utters one of my all-time favorites about Adam: “… he made the first man out of mud and breathed into the mud-ball’s mouth to give it life” (167).
God speaks with, God walks with, and God dwells with the people of God. The incarnation, of course, is where we focus, but if we think through this God has been with us in so many ways: sacrifice, tabernacle, temple, worship, Spirit, and then Incarnation.
Jesus embodied this with-ness in table fellowship with sinners, in hearing and listening and sharing stories and in hundreds of ways. This with-ness must be a factor whenever we wonder if God is distant.
This is a good book because it addresses important apologetical topics, but it does so by asking us always to consider the fuller story of each them. Yes, some focus on distance, but distance must be connected to with-ness.