God Is Not (Only) Distant

Growing up, Bette Midler wrote a song called “From a Distance” that I loved to belt out in our wood-paneled van (yes, I had an old lady soul even as a child). It seemed like such an inspiring anthem at the time, but with a war in Europe happening as I write, its well-intended lyrics show themselves as a weak solution.

“From a distance the world looks blue and green and the snow capped mountains white…From a distance there is harmony and it echoes through the land…It’s the voice of hope ,it’s the voice of peace, it’s the voice of every man. From a distance we all have enough and no one is in need and there are no guns, no bombs, and no disease, no hungry mouths to feed.”

Though the words sound lovely and the music melodic and though the sentiment seems sweet, the song has no logic upon which to stand.

To simply step away far enough until you cannot see the problem does nothing to fix the problem. Without a transcendent reality, perspective and distance do nothing to help us with war.

What Christianity offers is the unique reality of the Triune God who is both transcendent (other, far off, holy) and immanent (near, close).

A Powerful Name and A Particular Name

I had the people of Ukraine on my heart and in my prayers this week as I was studying Exodus 3 where God reveals himself to Moses at the burning bush. It struck me that God identified himself with two primary names to the would-be-deliverer-who-points-to-a-better-deliverer.

When Moses asked God what his name was, he was essentially asking for more information about his nature and character, as name represented so much more than a mere series of letters in his culture. God’s response is both telling and two-fold.

“God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM’ (Exodus 3:14).

He first identifies himself as the transcendent, self-existing, uncreated One in an ontological statement (a statement of being). But God does not stop there.

“God also said to Moses, ‘Say this to the people of Israel, “The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob has sent me to you.” This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations’.” (Exodus 3:15).

In addition to the transcendent name, God offers an immanent name. He is God All-Powerful and Self-sufficient, but he is simultaneously the immanent God who has drawn near to a particular people. In fact, he so closely identifies with these people that he choses to include his relationship to the name by which he wants to be remembered and known.

This dual reality is astounding and should rightly lead us to bow our knees in wonder while we lift our heads in hope.

In fact, prior to the conversation about names, God initiated conversation with Moses with two realities. He shows up with a miraculous sign: a bush burning though not consumed. He commands Moses to take off his sandals in light of God’s holiness (his transcendence). Yet, he tells Moses that his reason for such a miraculous sign is an immanent one.

“I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:7-8).

Contrary to Bette Midler, our God offers hope that is solid rather than merely sentimental. Rather than stepping back so far as to blur our broken world, our God stepped into this world in the Second Person of the Trinity.

This is the hope we have to offer a war-torn Ukraine: God sees you, hears you, and leaned into your suffering to the point of becoming the Suffering Servant (Isaiah 53). He took upon himself the sludge of sin so we could have the presence and promises of God in the midst of our very real problems.

The God of the universe is also the God of his Ukrainian children.

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