Thursday, November 29, 2007

How can the Omnipresent be more present at some times?

In our recent conversation about real presence and omnipresence, we could hardly help coming up against this question a few times: how can the omnipresent God be "more present" at some times and places than others? I've been pondering that and have some tentative thoughts.

Some of God's appearances are a glorious presence: the burning bush, the pillar of cloud and fire, the revelations to Moses, the cloud and glory filling the Tabernacle and the Temple. One thing setting these apart from omnipresence is that God chooses to make his presence known to the people. Omnipresence is hidden from our senses. But in these cases God makes his presence visible, directly available to our senses. He does this so that we will see him. He makes sure that we know he is there. He also tends to have a special purpose when he makes himself known. When he appeared in the bush it was to call Moses. When he appeared in the pillar of cloud and fire it was to lead the people. In appearing to Moses he gave the Torah to the people through him.

The Tabernacle and the Temple are two special cases. Here God displays long-lasting presences, persistent or recurring presences. God's presence here is not bound to a particular person or a particular event. Here God's visible presence itself is the main message: he is with his people. His purpose seems to be that his people should understand that he is with them.

Then there are times when God appears without visible glory, sometimes even in human form. When he saw Adam and Eve naked, he clothed them. He visited Abraham when he was recuperating at Mamre, from which the ancients derived the principle that it is godly to visit the sick. I suspect that if we were to trace it through, all the acts of compassion which Jesus described in Matthew 25 are probably things God has been known to do for his people. (I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was a stranger and you welcomed me ...)

So all that is background to the things we had discussed about God's presence. What I see is that God's special presences are for us and for our benefit, and in each one of them there is some sort of blessing God gives his people. He may not be "more present" but he's certainly more known, more self-revealing. His visible presence lets us know where to go for his blessing, for his compassion and his forgiveness. Whenever he shows himself in this way, he shows himself as being for us and with us.


Anastasia Theodoridis said...

There is no difference in degree of presence; the difference is in degree (and kind) of *access.*


japhy said...

Anastasia, do you mean that the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist is not different (in degree) from his presence in Scripture or in the prayer of the assembled faithful, but rather our access to Jesus is different when we receive him in the Eucharist rather than we "receive" him in Scripture?

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Yes, that's what I mean. Christ is FULLY present everywhere and at all times -- and therefore everything is holy, and to be offered to God with thanks. Everything is Eucharist.

Everything gives us access to Him, if we have the spiritual eyes to perceive it. But not everything gives us *direct* access to Him. In the Holy Eucharist, we ingest Him. That's a different kind AND degree of *access*, and the most intimate of all.


Weekend Fisher said...

It was kind of interesting, reading up on the special presences. God was always up to something (if you'll pardon the irreverent turn of phrase). Blessing someone, calling someone, revealing something ...

Abraham was called and Moses was called with shorter presences. Then an entire nation was called and gifted with an enduring presence. Then when the Word became flesh, the whole world was called. Interesting how God works.

Steven G. said...

Anatasia, how would you answer the following two questions given that statement? They are all interrelated. Is it Christ’s presence that justifies (forgives our sins and makes us righteous) us? Is Christ present even in unbelievers?

By the way, I think that the difference lies in the promise. Christ has promised us that He is present in His Word and Sacraments. By the way this is kind of my definition of "Sacrament", a Sacrament is where Christ has promised to be and because where Christ is, there is the forgiveness of sins, and where the forgiveness of sins is, there is life and salvation. Of course the only way to receive these benefits is to believe the promise. This is why I think St. Paul admonished the Corinthians to examine not so much their conduct but their faith.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

No, it is not Christ's presence that justifies us. It is the mystical union with Him that does. When we are "joined at the hip/heart" with Him, we participate not only in His righteousness, but also in His eternal life. That means that in Him, we are in a place (His bosom) where the Law's condemnation cannot reach us. The Law's sentence cannot apply to those who have already been given eternal life.


Weekend Fisher said...

Just to pick up where Anastasia was speaking, being in Christ is being in a place where the law has already executed its judgment. The law has already condemned us to death in Christ. We have already died when we died with him. We have already been raised to new life with him. So "there is now no condemnation for those in Christ".