I’ve been noticing a lot lately that, in church settings, people often speak of ‘entering into God’s presence.’ The more I think about this phrase, the more I think it can be unhelpfully misleading.
Imagine you are someone who has no experience of church, no experience of church language and the things that get said at church. Imagine you are in a service or at a conference, and someone at the front makes mention of the fact that, in that specific time and place, you are in God’s presence.
If it was me, I’d honestly take that to mean that God’s presence is not necessarily elsewhere – it is, for that moment in time, in that location only that God’s presence dwells. It sounds silly to suggest this, but if someone who does not ever talk of God is told that we are entering into God’s presence in a certain place and at a certain time, I would suggest that it could lead very quickly to an idea of the exclusivity of God’s presence.
There is a risk with this that people will think the presence of God becomes something tangible only at church services, or at conferences where we ‘invite God’s presence in.’ This is dangerous, as obviously we believe that God’s presence saturates this earth, and is present in everything at all times. God’s presence never leaves or disappears, never departs or lessens. It is encompassing and eternal – something hugely comforting and also hugely important in our understanding of God.
Please note, I’m not trying to point fingers or accuse people. I know I’ve been guilty of making these mistakes as well. I also recognise that it is not practical to have a theological explanation of God’s presence every time we speak of it. And honestly, I’m not sure yet what I would suggest we say instead.
My concern is only to ensure that we speak of God, and in this case His presence, in an accurate way, and one that is a truth of who God is. This way, we are proclaiming God for who He truly is – all-powerful, all-knowing and present in every aspect of our lives.