The Semantics of God’s Presence

Some Christians have a way of overstating their experiences. Others understate them. Multiple people may experience the exact same phenomenon—whether it be a church meeting, a conference, a retreat, a convention, a particular manifestation of the Holy Spirit, or a shared encounter.

One person may describe it as “unbelievable!” … “incredible!” … “awesome!” … “beyond description!” Another may describe it as “refreshing” … enjoyable” … “encouraging” … “delightful.” Still another may describe it as “good” … “fine” … “a blessing.”

Point: People often use very different vocabulary to express the exact same thing. For instance, Watchman Nee used a unique phrase when he referred to his fellowship with the Lord. He called it “touching the Lord.” Others use the phrase “sweet communion.” Others use “divine encounter.” Others use less phenomenological phrases.

To describe fixing one’s heart upon the Lord, some people use the phrase “turning to the Lord.” Others use the word “gazing.” Others say “beholding” or “looking into the face of God.” Still others say “contemplating,” “centering,” “abiding,” or “partaking.” Others describe it as “meditating.”

By and large, it’s semantics.

I’ve observed this phenomenon all my Christian life. People express the same experiences differently. This is due to many varied factors. Some of which are the person’s temperament, the specific vocabulary that is used in one’s religious tradition, or a specific “effect” they wish to have on those who hear them testify. (Sometimes this isn’t so well motivated.)

In addition, to say that a Christian is to “seek” a feeling of God’s presence is bad theology. Plain and simple. There’s no such exhortation in all of Scripture. Try to find it in the New Testament, and you will discover that it’s glaringly absent. It’s just not there.

An oft-quoted passage used to support the idea of seeking God’s felt-presence is Psalm 22:3. In the King James Version, it reads, “Thou [God] that inhabitest the praises of Israel.” This text has been traditionally used to invoke or summon God’s presence by singing praise and worship songs.

Strikingly, except for the KJV, the New Jerusalem Bible, and the New Century Version, most other versions take a different view of the translation. For instance, the Revised English Bible translates it this way: “You, the praise of Israel, are enthroned in the sanctuary.”

The New American Bible takes the same approach: “Yet you are enthroned in the holy place, O glory of Israel.” The New International Version does likewise: “Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the praise of Israel.” The New Living Translation translates it as follows: “Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.”

The term praise here is seen as a reference to the One who Israel praises. The text is an affirmation of an Old Testament reality. Simply put, the presence of God dwells in the holy of holies in the temple at Jerusalem. It in no way indicates that God is somehow made present by our praises.

According to the scholars who have translated this passage in the above versions (1) the text must be understood in the context of Old Testament temple worship; and (2) it is God Himself in His presence in the temple who is called “the Praise (or Glory) of Israel.”

What’s more, we must be cautious about literally applying statements about Old Testament temple worship to Christian worship. Consider the implications of Jesus’ words in John 4 in this regard.

Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.… Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth. (John 4:21, 23–24)

Worship of the living God can occur at any place and at any time.

From Revise Us Again by Frank Viola, author

Advertisements
Categories: Uncategorized

Post navigation

Comments are closed.

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: