Living Loved: God Is With Us

How can one know God’s presence? How can one live in the presence of God?

Everyone has a need to feel worthwhile. Paul addresses this universal yearning in his sweeping overview in Romans 8 of the constancy of God and how a walk with God can meet this need. He begins the chapter with a proclamation that moves to stamp out humanity’s guilt complex by declaring that there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus. Then he describes how all things can work for good in the lives of those who are dedicated to seeking and walking with God. At last Paul grandly proclaims the stability of God’s love, and His commitment to being present always, even in any sort of ghastly situation that one would imagine.

So with such expansive promises, what could be the problem? The problem is we often do not sense that God is with us. We often feel alone, depressed and forsaken. Why?

God is to each individual the basis of security, mental health and the basis of character.

But in most instances, respecting boundaries and individuality, God is not pushy. Despite the occasional testimony of a forceful encounter with God, He typically acts in the way described in Revelation 3 — He stands at the door and knocks.

With a commitment to cling to God’s extravagant promises of our worthiness, let us focus on two aspects of God’s presence. Perception and power. There is nothing we can do to make God love us more and nothing we can do to make God love us less.

Perception How we perceive things becomes the character of our lives. If one is in trouble, it is helpful to discern what is occupying the mind. Almost always, one’s anxieties, phobias and stresses bounce around in “Brainworld,” typically demanding more real estate than is warranted by the actual root issues. Psychologists have dedicated much effort to the strategy of encouraging clients to align themselves with reality. An effective cognitive behavioral strategy has been for one to decatastrophize, to challenge overwrought negative self-talk. The Nedley Depression Recovery program encourages participants to sharpen cognitive skills by utilizing good physical habits. With the combination of improved physical and cognitive strength, one can combat inappropriate perceptions. In fact, one of the signature books recommended by the program is entitled, Telling Yourself the Truth.1

The book offers insights about common misbeliefs. Some examples are: Misbelief in Anger, Misbelief in Fear of Change, Misbelief in Never Taking a Chance, Misbelief in Lack of Self Control, Misbelief in Self-Hate, and Misbelief in Depression. Disciplining one’s mind, with attention to confronting the harmful lies that overwhelm if allowed, will make space for a focused invitation for an invasion by the Holy Spirit.

God’s presence in our minds is the major way that we know Him. But, this is something that we must choose. Just as one trains intensively for any endeavor, a person seeking to know God’s presence must learn to concentrate on God. Much like when one wants to focus on a particular person in a crowded room, one may have to move closer to the person and to tune out other sounds and distractions. Jesus said to seek first the kingdom of God and He also promised that God knows what to give and will not neglect to give good things to His children.

Facebook selfies in fantastic settings and glossy ads of “must have” products have insidiously led many to adopt a false existential narrative that states, “The ordinary life is meaningless.” Yet, deep down, most of us relate to Dorothy’s over the rainbow quest, which ended with her renewed certainty that all she needed was in Kansas and there was no place like home. Still in some ways, we pine for a certain place or guru which will enable us to reach a spiritual highpoint. Let us remember that Jesus lived immersed in tedious activities and His stories describe kingdom work amidst common life transactions. Weddings, trips, deaths, beggars, harvesting, foot washing, dealing with day laborers. Believers can be sure that God’s presence is in the mundane activities of which we all partake. A few centuries ago Brother Lawrence penned a description of the process of “Practicing the Presence of God.” His humble book describes his growing confidence of living in God’s grace, while performing humble tasks as to the Lord. The book serves as a simple guide for Christians who want to attend to kingdom living now – with the recognition that small spheres can become big spheres. One’s everyday actions can be significant. And God is there.

The discipline of developing a perception of God requires commitment and an attentive meditation on scripture and the life of Christ. Disciplining oneself to see each person as a being created in God’s image is beneficial. That is to say regularly choosing to make an effort to look at other people through “God’s eyes” will help one to become more aware of God’s presence. But in all this we can have peace and rest assured that there is nothing we can do to make God love us more, and nothing we can do to make God love us less.

Power Paul elaborates on Christ’s kind of power in 1 Corinthians 1:18-20, 23-25:

For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, 'I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And the cleverness of the clever I will set aside.’ Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?...

But we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”

In the human frame of mind, who has less power than one crucified on a cross? But it is on the cross that God used power to overcome the world. This God is not an angry being who brings disasters. If we think about the cross we will get a notion of what sort of power God uses. God uses a self-sacrificing power that does not insist on lobotomizing others so that they will follow Him.

Since the Augustinian influence on Christianity in the fifth century, there has been a large theological voice that permeates much thought and it equates power with control. This assumes that if God is all-powerful, then He must control everything that happens. However, I would suggest that it would be wise for believers to have a healthy caution in attributing Satan’s evil actions to God. Believing God is a consummate puppeteer manipulating everyone, many misguided folk attempt to give a rationale as to what God is trying to teach when He (assuming He is in total control) allows a child to die or a husband to abuse a spouse or a tornado to strike. But this assumption does not align with what Jesus taught in relation to the evil He encountered. Jesus did not cause afflictions in order to teach, and He never once suggested that afflictions came from God. Jesus dedicated His public ministry to freeing people from the bondages and pains that came from the evil one (Acts 10:36-38).

A human view of power equates it with control. This is the kind of power after which humans lust. However, let us stay focused on God’s power that was revealed in Jesus Christ.

Some translations of Romans 8:28 do give the impression that God does cause everything:

“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them.” (New Living Translation)

Apparently, the Greek that has been often translated to imply that God “causes” all, also has the aspect of a togetherness that yields synergy. The word has a root that is similar to the term ergonomic. Think of how properly designed ergonomic equipment greatly enhances whatever task we do. Likewise, God is so smart and uses His kind of power in such a way that He will come along side on the journey through life, even in the midst of nasty people and horrible situations. He works with each one in an optimal fashion. That is to say if one is committed to God, He will be with us in all things, enriching one’s perspective and skills, just as ergonomically designed equipment is ideal when one is attempting a task.

“We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” (New Revised Standard)

Rather than projecting the human definition of “power” in the interpretation of Romans 8:28, one would be wise to focus on God’s kind of power as revealed in Jesus, whose life was dedicated to subverting the assumptions of religious people. Many times one will sense God’s power only after the fact, when a person will note that results exceeded one’s own innate abilities. And it is then that one will know that God was in the event.

A few guidelines can help one surrender and get into the stream of God’s kind of power:

First, let go of any fixation of maintaining one’s own image in the eyes of others.

Secondly, let go of a rigid commitment to what one wants to accomplish.

Third, fear not. If God is for us who can be against us? And, His strength is made perfect in weakness.

Remember the parable of the talents in Matthew 25. The servant who did not please the master was the one who feared the master. “Master, I knew you to be a hard man…So I was afraid.” A fearful frame of mind led the servant to miss opportunities for growth, adventure and service. In anxious dread, the servant chose to just sit on the property with which the master had entrusted him.

Put yourself in the position to join the flow of God’s power. The journey will be unconventional and include unexpected joys and learning opportunities. Practice God’s presence. Fear not. There is nothing you can do that will make God love you more. There is nothing you can do that will make God love you less.

Holy One, God of Mercy. There are things we cannot bear to see. We turn away from the flaws in our character and the failures in our conduct. We avert our gaze from our own talents that lie buried and gifts that go wasted. We struggle to deny or wallow in our own imperfections. To descend into awareness, God, is a painful journey, but do not let us to settle comfortably in fool’s paradise. Let us know that your Spirit travels with us, sees for us, and loves us with a faithfulness that defies our fears. Help us to move toward the truth that sets us free.”2

Notes: 1. Telling Yourself the Truth by Backus and Chapian, 1980, Bethany House. 2. Rickeman, Virginia, The Well Is Deep, United Church Press, Cleveland OH, 1999, p. 137

The following sermons were influential in this essay: How Is God With Us? How Can We Know It? By Dallas Willard, May, 2011 When Surprise Shows Up by Greg Boyd, November, 2015

Carmen Lau is a board member of Adventist Forum, the organization that publishes Spectrum. She lives and writes in Birmingham, Alabama.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7482
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Because this article appears on this forum, we should assume most of us here have had a lifetime of theory - theories about God and His relationship to us corporately and individually. When life gets “real” theory doesn’t cut it.

Romans 8 follows Romans 7. Seeing that the manuscripts from which our Bibles were created didn’t have chapters and verses, it’s very telling that the turmoil of chapter 7 - …So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin. culminates with Romans 8 - Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ. , leaving a question as to what the “therefore” refers to. The answer goes back to the first part of verse 25 of chapter 7 - Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! Based on the descriptions of the first part of Romans 7, and read in context, Paul states: On the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on there other, with my flesh the law of sin. Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

It’s only during times of real trial, that theory, either becomes experience, or shrivels into dust.

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There is a history within Adventism that God is manipulative. Ellen White has written that God held His Hand over critical passages to mislead the early though leaders of the Millerite movement and the emerging Adventists. Yes at times I have been mislead but never by God. Even then He did not forsake me. The Americam evangelical landscape is covered with o utlandish claimss of God’s hand in American tragic events. Billy Graham’s offspring seem to lead the way in misreprentations. Eg o centric headline seekers. Tom Z

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I believe that God does have total control but, in divine wisdom, does not always choose to exert this control. This relates to universal free choice and is connected to the issue of sin. Many times, disaster and tragedy occur and, while it is impossible to nail this down in human reasoning, I suggest that we look at the nails on the cross and that will be sufficient for now. I am familiar the theory that God does not have total control or total foreknowledge and I cannot see the logic for it as revealed in the scriptures. There is a conceptual gap in our reasoning on this issue and we need individual faith to bridge the gap. Rene G.

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Living Loved – God is with us.
I think we in Western culture of abundance have different perspectives than what others can.
Some of my homeless friends. They have to see this sentence different than I do who has an apartment with heat and air, hot and cold water when I want, can bathe when I want and wash clothes, and have food readily available on the shelf and refrigerator. Have a vehicle to conveniently make it to the store.
Yesterday, I was talking with a Baptist Minister. He had been over in Ethiopia several times with a group. He said that in this one area there were 350,000 starving Ethiopians. In another several 1000s. It was a result of famine. Lack of water. There was lack of water even for drinking. He said several 100 would show up every day, and there was only 1 doctor, 1 nurse.
How to respond and feel God is With ME, if I am one of those persons.
I have a DVD titled — God On Trial. It is in a Jewish death camp, in a men’s barracks. they had just been lined up in front of a doctor and 2 guards. The doctor absent mindedly would tell each to go either left or right. When they get back to the barracks a train load from Poland arrives a day early. So these men come in and are to take the others sleeping spot when they go off for gassing. They struggle as to why God allows this to them, the chosen. Is God guilty of breaking His contract?? The end of the story shows the men outside in single file walking with a guard behind them.
Could WE love a God like THAT?
How about in the Old Testament when Babylon came along. Seeing the fun they had killing men, women, children. As it says, holding infants and small children by the feet and slinging their little heads against brick walls. Could we feel Living Loved. Saying — Immanuel!, Immanuel!. God is with US!

Daniel and his 3 friends. Trudging along the hot and dusty trail with many 100s of others on the way to Babylon. There would be no way to envision that this evil ruler, the one who commanded all these horrible things to be done at Jerusalem, would one day write a chapter in his book, praising the God of the Hebrews, who had then become HIS God. But those months and years had to be similar to those who put God on Trial, and come up with a Verdict.

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There is no doubt God loves us it is just that He has a strange way of showing that love.

If a human parent where to inflict the kind of pain and hellish suffering on his/her child that God inflicts on His there would be universal condemnation.

I think the problem is all in our concept of “God”.

For my part I would sooner worship a God that can’t than a God that won’t.

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Our life invariably interprets God’s message. There are many metaphors for God’s word. Through this well written article by Carmen, we see into God’s purposes and into the destiny that God desires for us. In some ways we become the “app” on God’s “computer” helping us to better understand the themes of judgment and salvation. Yes, God is in control!

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If we divide the world into natural and supernatural we set ourselves up for problems. A God immersed natural (all in all) invaded by the subnatural (sin and separation) makes more sense.

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