As believers, is God always with us? When we are alone? When we gather as believers? In the good times as well as the bad? As Christians, we would generally say that he is. But just what does this little expression, “God is with us,” mean?
As Christians, we believe that God is both transcendent and immanent. Transcendence refers to his externality. God is external to his creation, not bound to it or by it. Immanence, on the other hand, refers to his activity within the creation. God is intimately involved in the governance of his creation. There is a lot of debate as to just how involved he is. But no one seriously questions that he takes an active interest in his creation, in humanity, and, especially, the church and believers.
In the opening pages of the Bible, we find God walking with Adam and Eve in the garden. At the end of the Bible, we find God in the New Jerusalem living with a redeemed humanity. And between these, you find God interacting with people, nations, and the created order. He is not a passive observer of the creation and all that takes place within it. He is an active participant in its affairs, guiding and directing according to his divine purpose.
God’s presence with Israel was obvious during the wilderness wanderings after the Exodus. At Mount Sinai, after the incident with the Golden Calf, God told Moses that he would not go with the people on their journey to Canaan because they were “a stiff-necked people” (Exodus 33:3-4). But Moses pleaded with God to accompany them on the journey and God relented (Exodus 33:12-17). And so, God was with Israel, leading them with a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of smoke by day. Where that pillar went, they went.
For Israel, during the Exodus, God is with us meant two things: that God was pleased with them (Exodus 33:16) and that he was providing them with direction (Exodus 40:36-38). This would continue to be true in the remainder of the Old Testament.
Emmanuel, God with Us
In the New Testament, we see God’s presence in an even more intimate fashion. When God reassures Joseph concerning Mary’s pregnancy, he tells him that the one to be born of Mary would be called Immanuel, or “God with us.” Jesus was Immanuel. He was God, in human form, living and moving among us.
Those who followed Jesus for the three years of his earthly ministry experienced the presence of God with them in a very intimate and personal fashion. During Jesus’ last night with his disciples, Phillip asked him to show them the Father (John 14:8). Jesus responded to him that if they had seen him, Jesus, they had seen the Father.
In Matthew 18:20, Jesus tells us that where two or three of us gather, in his name, he will be with us. While we no longer see his physical presence among us when we gather, we can be assured that he is with us. As the church, we are his body. Wherever we are, he is as well.
The Indwelling Holy Spirit
In the New Testament gospels, Jesus’ followers experienced the presence of God with them in the person of Jesus. Jesus was God in human form, walking, talking, and eating with them. I have often wondered what it would be like to have spent time with Jesus like that.
But the reality is, we have an even more intimate relationship with God now. While Jesus walked side-by-side with the disciples, we have the Holy Spirit living within us. For those who believe in Jesus, God is with us every moment of every day.
In John 14:16-17, Jesus said, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever — the Spirit of truth.” Jesus promised that the Father would give us another advocate, the Holy Spirit. This advocate would, like Jesus, be God.
Jesus said that this advocate would be with us forever. Unlike God’s presence with Israel, a presence that seemed to come and go. And unlike Jesus who walked with his followers for a limited time, the Holy Spirit will be our constant companion. He is God with us.
Jesus also said that this advocate would help us. The Holy Spirit does not just walk with us, he helps us to live holy and godly lives. He teaches us the things of God. And he empowers us for service in the kingdom. His help is indispensable for the follower of Christ.
What Does it Mean?
So, just what does “God is with us” mean? From a global perspective, it means that God is at work within his creation. He is not the god of deism, a god who creates a universe and then leaves it to itself. Instead, God has a plan for his creation, and he is working it out. It means that nothing that happens is apart from God’s ultimate purpose.
God is with us has a special meaning to those who have surrendered to the lordship of Jesus. God, in the person of the Holy Spirit, is with us in a very personal and intimate way. The God of all creation lives within me. He comforts me in challenging times. He teaches me his ways. And he enables me to serve him.
What does it mean? It means that I am never alone. Even in my darkest times, he is with me. I can trust that no matter what might come my way, he will keep me safe. We can have no greater privilege than to have God with us.
Photo Credit: Vienna - The Nativity paint in the presbytery of Salesianerkirche church by Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini (1725-1727).
©iStock/Getty Images Plus/arkira
Ed Jarrett is a long-time follower of Jesus and a member of Sylvan Way Baptist Church. He has been a Bible teacher for over 40 years and regularly blogs at A Clay Jar. You can also follow him on Twitter or Facebook. Ed is married, the father of two, and grandfather of three. He is retired and currently enjoys his gardens and backpacking.