Surely, this commandment is not too far away. It is not in heaven; neither is it beyond the sea. No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe. – Deuteronomy 30:11-14 (NRSV, abridged)
I am very nearsighted. Without corrective eyewear, it is unsafe and potentially life-threatening for me to leave the house. I can’t recognize much of anything (or anyone) beyond three feet, and reading means literally putting my nose in the book.
My only comfort is that God is extremely near-sighted too.
Nearness isn’t a uniquely Christian idea, but it is distinctively Christian. The primary thrust of the gospel is Emmanuel, God with us, God getting close, God not only putting her nose into human life, but God expressed in a full human body.
Some might see the act of divine nearness as an act, God deliberately and temporarily descending a faraway, heavenly throne to look in on the earthlings, like a royal donning the clothes of a pauper to see how common folk are faring. These visions of paternalism, bordering on slum voyeurism, do not square with my sense of God as radically immanent and innate in addition to transcendent.
Perhaps the biggest mistake we make in the spiritual journey is to assume that God is somewhere else, something else or someone else. There is no “else” to God. God’s nearness is fundamental and immutable. God doesn’t move.
A near-sighted God is the One we need and the One we receive; a God who has a face and gets in ours, close enough to see every freckle, pore, wrinkle, and tear at the atomic level. This God is nearer still, present in our flesh, inviting us to draw near, look closely and love fully.
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, God near us, with us and in us.