The Elusive Presence
“Draw near to God, and God will draw near to you.” – James 4:8
James makes knowing God sound easy, but I’ve never found it so. When I was a young man, and had outgrown my Sunday school faith, I hungered to know God, not just as an idea, but as a living relationship.
I sought out people who knew God. They seemed so sure, so certain. I wanted to be like that. In time I found mentors and teachers who helped me along the way.
I also sought out writers who inspired me with their sense of the everyday presence of God. Many were from other traditions and faiths: the Trappist monk, Tomas Merton; the Jewish philosopher Abraham Joshua Heschel; the Roman Catholic poet Gerard Manly Hopkins; and the writer Annie Dillard. The list could go on and on.
The written words of these God lovers were incandescent with the light of divine fire. The world they wrote about was “charged with the grandeur of God” to employ a phrase from one of Hopkins’ luminous poems.
In the end I never climbed the mystical ladder to constant intimacy with the living God. God remains a real but elusive presence in my life. It is the human face of God in Jesus Christ that persists as my most accessible experience of the divine.
The truth is, I am more of a Paul guy than a James guy. James wants us to work at “drawing near” to God, whereas Paul invites us to accept God’s love as free gift, pure grace. I resonate with Paul’s words about being known fully by God, even if not knowing God fully (yet!). “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12). I’m good with that. It’s something to look forward to.
Draw near to us, O Elusive Presence, that we may know you and love you, through Jesus Christ our Savior.