Lately there has been a lot of talk about the presence of God. Many Christians have a growing desire to seek the presence of God. I have even had a crisis about the presence of God and what feelings should accompany that. I started to really wonder what happened to the passion I used to have. I was getting worried that maybe my faith was becoming nothing more than routine and dead orthodoxy. Focusing so much on learning, and seeing my charismatic friends being in such a state of emotional zeal, I started to wonder, am I missing something?
I know that what I have is true, as I remember the moment God became real and the emotions and the passion that I had for Him. But I started to wonder where it went and if I was missing an important part in my faith. On top of this, lately there is a real growing desire from God’s people in worship and in daily living to “feel” the presence of God. It is a genuine desire to experience the reality of God, and to go beyond having mere knowledge of God.
In the following, I will discuss the two extreme sides and what the presence of God is and the emotional implications of it.
When it comes to the presence of God, one extreme side makes it all about feelings. This may not be every case, but in general it is the norm. They want to feel God’s presence or equate a sensation or feeling to God’s presence being there. This is usually in a setting of emotive music and lighting that promotes such sensations. This group tends to seek and emphasize the emotional aspect of faith.
The other extreme is to completely distrust emotions and not seek any kind of emotional response at all. I believe it is true that you can never truly trust your emotions, but when I survey the Bible, the presence of God was always accompanied by an emotional response.
First, as we study the presence of God, it must be understood what is meant by God’s presence. John Frame in his systematic theology talks about how the name of God is Lord. The word Lord comes with three areas of influence. The three things that God must have to be Lord are authority, control, and presence. Therefore when we talk about the presence of God, we are talking about where His authority and control are manifested.
Fienberg in his systematic theology also talks about how God is present everywhere ontologically but with some He is morally and spiritually present. He details it in this way to explain how God can be everywhere but in some places, God can be understood to not be present. With this understanding, those that are believers, when talking about the presence of God most likely are referring to the spiritual presence that brings blessings. God promises Moses His presence and blessings that come with it in Exodus 33:14. In 2 Kings 13:23 God was gracious and His presence remained because of His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
In Psalm 16:11 it says that in God’s presence is fullness of joy. Here the Scriptures detail for us how the presence of God brings blessings and emotional joy. Note that the emotion is not the presence of God, but a result of it. That’s why in Psalm 95:2, the people are called to come to His presence with thanksgiving and to shout with joy. The reality of the presence of God should bring joy to God’s people.
With this said, the presence of God is not just about God showing up, for He is everywhere, but it is also our mindset towards God. R. C. Sproul commenting on Coram Deo, which means “before the face of God,” which is understood to mean living before God in His presence states, “Living Coram Deo is to live ones entire life in the presence of God, under the authority of God, to the glory of God.”
Therefore, experiencing the presence of God is about living with an awareness and conviction of the reality of God. It is to be reminded of His greatness, goodness, love, and holiness. It is to live fully overwhelmed by the beauties of God and to fully believe in all that He is and has said, it is to be in holy fellowship with Him. If you want the presence of God then live in mindful, holy loving obedience to His word.
To better understand this I first want to quickly survey how God’s presence was with us, was lost, and is with us today. When we look to the beginning we see that God was present with His creation. He walked with Adam and Eve, which is evident since after the fall, it says in Genesis 3:8 that they “hid themselves from the presence of the Lord.” It is evident from this that God had a pure open relationship with Adam and Eve but their sin brought fear and separation. We see this separation widen when Cain sins and kills Abel, it says in Genesis 4:14 that Cain cried out how he was driven from God’s face and in 4:16 that Cain went out from the presence of the Lord. From this it becomes clear that the greatest hindrance to the presence of God is sin.
Because of God’s love for His people and great desire to be with Him, we see that throughout history God kept making ways to be with His people. In Exodus 33:7-11 we see that He would come to the “tent of meeting” and talk with Moses face to face. In 1 Kings 6 we see the building of the temple, God’s house. In 2 Chronicles 5:11-14 we see that when the priests dedicated this temple to the Lord, His glory filled the temple nocking the priests down.
But, sadly the sin and idolatry of the people again cause a separation. This time we see in Ezekiel 10 that God’s presence leaves the temple. His glory departs. It is reminiscent of the time when Samson in Judges 16:20 “did not know that the Lord had departed from him.” It is the scariest and saddest thing to have God’s presence leave you, and especially to not know it has. But, the point is that we see because of sin, God’s presence must depart or destroy.
Even though God’s spiritual and moral presence, or his presence of blessing had departed, God still desired to be with His people. That is why in the New Testament, God sent His Son, who is Immanuel, God with us. God the Son takes on flesh so that once again God can dwell with His people. Not only that, through the perfect life, death, and resurrection of God the Son, we are given once again access to the presence of God.
In John 14:22-23 Jesus states how He has given the glory to His followers and that they are one and that He makes His abode in them. In 1 Corinthians 3:16 states that we are the temple of God and that the Holy Spirit dwells in us. For believers in the New Testament, the presence of God is no longer in a building, but in them. Because of Christ’s sacrifice, we now have become where the presence of the Triune God dwells.
When we look for the presence of God, it is to just realize we already have Him abiding in us. This fact should cause an emotional reaction. It seems weird that anyone who would have this understanding would not be moved by it. If someone gave me a million dollars, I would definitely be thankful and show the emotions of it. How much greater is it to know that we are forgiven and have been made the dwelling place of God.
The mind that focuses on the greatness of God should be overwhelmed by that same greatness. It is not that we go seeking the emotions. To have emotions without truth is superficial emotionalism. But to have a wonderful knowledge of a great God without any emotional response to that truth is dead orthodoxy. It is signs of one that has forgotten his first love. To be unmoved by the greatness of God as seen in His word, seems to be a deficiency. But also just as great is to only be moved by a setting is just as empty.
The answer to finding a balance in this is to be reminded that the greatest hindrance to God’s presence is sin. If you want more of the Holy Spirit, and the presence of God, then you must be saved. You must be reminded of how great a salvation you have. You must be reminded how great God is and how sinful and wretched and lost we truly were. You must be convicted of sin and repent of your lack of love for God.
In Acts 3:19 it states, “Repent therefore and return, that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the Presence of the Lord.” Constantly God’s people are told to remember what He has done for them. Remind yourself of that conviction, that somewhat subjective moment when you just fully knew that God was real. Remind yourself over and over again of how great and loving He is, and let the emotions that come be what they may. Do not fear the emotions that come with the knowledge of God, but let them encourage you to rejoice in the reality that you have the presence of God in you. The greatest feeling to come from God’s presence is the joy of His love. The love He puts in your heart for Himself and His people.
In conclusion, we see that God’s presence isn’t about seeking a feeling, but it is usually greatly accompanied by feelings and emotions. Let those that only seek an experience seek God through His word and those that completely avoid emotions become passionate like when they first were saved (Revelation 2:1-7). There is no need to fear the emotional aspect of going after God’s presence.
Our faith is grounded on what is real, but the reality of conviction by the Holy Spirit should spawn in us an emotional response. When we share about our loving Savior Jesus Christ, we don’t just quote facts but with hearts of love and passion, share what great news He really is. I want to live with a heart of flesh and it comes with seeking to live in His presence.