The Architecture of Reality: Sacred Time & Sacred Place in Holy Scripture
Lesson 3 – A Theology of God’s Presence: Common Presence
Christ Covenant Church, Centralia, WA
O Father, your Word says in Psalm 111:2 that, “The works of the Lord are great, studied by all who have pleasure in them.” And so we ask now that You would give us real pleasure, real delight, in studying Your great works, and that in so doing, we might receive the gift of understanding, that gift that you only give to those who keep your commandments. Purify us now, that we might ascend the mountain of God. We ask this in the name of Jesus, whose blood washes away all our sins, and Amen.
Review of Lesson 2
- Before we get into Lesson 3, let us briefly review some of what we covered a couple weeks ago. In case you forgot, we are on a year’s long (or more) journey to understand some of the most important symbols in the Bible, namely the Tabernacle/Temple and the things inside of them.
- And we are starting with what those structures symbolize in their broadest sense, that is, in the sense of being a special place where God lives. Metaphorically speaking, the tabernacle/temple is God’s home address on earth, and we want to get clear in our minds what that means and what that does not mean. Hence, the theology lessons we are working through now.
In Lesson 2 we gave an overview of the three ways in which God can be said to be present, does anyone remember what those three kinds of presence were called?
- 1. Common Presence: God is present in every reality as giving them to be (efficient cause).
- 2. Special Presence: God is present in a special way by grace in believers.
- 3. Hypostatic Presence: God is wholly present in Christ.
We then concluded with the question, under which of these three headings should we place God’s presence in the temple or tabernacle?
- To this we said that God’s presence in the temple/tabernacle assumes God’s common presence and is a sign/shadow of God’s special presence in us, and God’s hypostatic presence in Christ.
- Put another way, the whole point of these sacred structures is to teach us about God’s dwelling place in Christ and the Church. That is their primary special signification.
Introduction to Lesson 3
Tonight, we are going to work at understanding God’s Common Presence since that is (quite literally) the foundation for everything else.
- First, we will determine that God is present in every reality (as giving it be) from the Holy Scriptures.
- Second, we will give the formal explanation for how to say, “God is present in every reality,” such that we speak truth and not falsehood.
Q. Whether God is present in every reality?
- This is a Yes or No question, and then depending on whether you answer Yes or No, you must give an explanation.
- For Christians, what is our highest authority? God. So we should be asking, “What does Holy Scripture say?”
- And because the biblical standard for giving testimony is 2 or 3 witnesses, I have chosen 3 passages of Scripture to bring forward that make us to answer in the affirmative, “Yes, God is present in every reality.”
- Isaiah 26:12 says, “Lord, You will establish peace for us, For You have also done all our works in us.”
- Philippians 2:13 says, “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.”
- Acts 17:28 says, “For in Him we live and move and have our being.”
- Having answered Yes, let us now give our explanation for how this can be so. In what sense is God present in every reality?
- First, we recognize that with us among creatures, we say that something is present in whatever or wherever it operates. In scholastic terms, this is the notion of God as the efficient cause (the efficient cause of something is what makes that thing to be).
- For example, we say “the sun is in my eyes,” when we feel the effects of the sun blinding us. “Because the sun causes blindness, the sun is in my eyes.”
- Or we say to someone who loves us, “you are in my heart,” when we feel in ourselves their love for us. “Because your love causes me to feel loved, you are in my heart.”
- In both examples, the sun and the lover are not physically or spatially inside of our eyes or heart, but rather they are inside of us as the efficient cause that makes us to be blind or feel loved.
- In this way, as efficient cause, God is said in Scripture to be in every reality because He makes it to exist.
- An analogy that might help us to grasp this concept more fully is that of how an author is present to his story.
- For example, we might say that C.S. Lewis is omnipresent toNarnia insofar as He makes Narnia (and every reality in it) to be. Lewis is present in Narnia as efficient cause.
- Or we might say that J.R.R Tolkien is present in Middle-Earth in that He gives being to every place, person, setting, and scene.
- So to borrow the Scriptural language for a moment, we could say that “In C.S. Lewis, Narnia lives, moves, and has its being.”
- Or we might say, “It is Tolkien who worketh in Frodo and Sam, Gandalf and Gollum, both to will and to do of his good pleasure.”
- Neither Lewis nor Tolkien are spatially/physically inside of their stories (nor could they be!). Moreover, Neither Lewis nor Tolkien need or depend on their stories to continue to be C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien.
- In a similar way God relates to and loves His creation as giving every reality the gift of existence. God is in nowise dependent on His creation, nor can creation move or change Him in any way. For just as Lewis/Tolkien exist on a different ontological plane to their fictional characters, so also God exists on an infinitely higher ontological plane than we. “It is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves” (Ps. 100:3).
- Summary: Holy Scripture makes us to say that God is present in every reality as giving it to be, “for in him we live and move and have our being, and it is God who has “done all our works in us.”
- However, if we were to stop here in our understanding, we might go away with a very untrue and even heretical understandings of God’s presence.
- One such heresy would be Pantheism or Monism, which teaches that God and the universe are one. There are various forms of pantheism. More ancient versions posit God as a world soul (God fills the world like the soul fills the body). In pop spirituality this is the idea that “all is one” or that “we are all God” in that we all come together and compose God.
- Or some people think that God is like the force in Star Wars. He is an impersonal/personal(?) energy that is spread out and invisible but you can get in tune with that force and manipulate it for good/evil, light/darkness. God is basically the atoms and molecules that everything is made out of, or he is that “negative space” between all that is.
- This is heresy for many reasons, chief of which is because it makes God the material cause of creation (that which creation is made out of) as if God is this vast material body. Don’t make God a creature!
- Furthermore, we find examples in Scripture of various pagan nations thinking that different gods inhabit different locations (ex. god of the hills vs. the god of the planes, 1 Kings 20), and Christians sometimes fall into this error of spatializing/localizing God’s presence in this way.
- And we should note here that it would be extremely easy to read certain passages of Scripture (ex. the tabernacle and temple) as teaching that God is spatially/locally present when in truth, that notion is false.
- Hence, Solomon prays at the dedication of the temple, “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain You. How much less this temple which I have built!” 1 King 8:27.
- So having said that God is present in every reality as efficient cause (as causing it to be), we must now restate this in light of other truths that Scripture declares about God, like that He is perfect, undivided (simple), infinite, and incorporeal (does not have a body). It is these truths that Solomon has in mind when he prays what he prays about the temple.
- Next time, we will learn how to remove and negate the faulty notions of God’s Common Presence and affirm with greater understanding that He is present in every reality as efficient cause.