Worshiping God corporately in a large body of fellow believers is always a bitter-sweet experience for me. At one end of the spectrum, I'm with believers who I personally know, and I have the privilege of joining my voice with theirs. I have the added blessing of joining my voice with numerous brothers and sisters whom I don't know personally, but with whom I share a bond through Christ. At Resolved--the weekend-long conference I just returned from--there was the added dimension of singing hymns (in a new musical "dressing") that had been penned by Christians before me, so there was the sense of adding my voice to a that of a body of believers that spanned time and space.
At the other end however, its hard not to think of those that are, at the time, absent from me. I think of people with whom I've sung these songs before, of other such sessions where I was with different people. I am separated from some of these friends because of distance--they live in other countries, in other parts of the States, were busy that weekend so could not attend the conference with me--some I already know to be with our Lord. This separation hurts--sometimes to the point of it being physical--and it is then that a longing for heaven sets in that can be painful. For while I know that this setting--worshiping God together with a large number of believers--is a taste of heaven, I am very aware that is it NOT heaven. A distance still remains, between me and the people I love who are not there, and by the fact that I am still walking in faith and not seeing my God with sight. It is in heaven where I will not be plagued by imminent good-byes that will put distance between me and others as I fellowship and enjoy the time I have with them presently. Usually at this time, hymns that speak of death are sweet. I've had friends and acquaintances who find such hymns morbid, or unhealthy and disquieting, but it is at points like these where they offer hope. I'm reminded that this time, too, will pass, and the passing only hastens the time when heaven will be reality, and distance will no longer be an issue--between me, other believers, and our God.
With these thoughts coursing through my mind on Friday night before Rick Holland got up to speak, it was appropriate that his sermon was on God's transcendence and imminence, and how the two are held equally yet create a tension in how we deal with God. If He's so far, yet so near, how do we relate to such a Being? One of the verses he drew from was Jeremiah 23:24, "Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the LORD. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the LORD." This is a verse that I have struggled with in the past, in that, it has brought me both comfort and frustration. I came across it when my family was in the process of moving back to the States in late 2000. At one point, I knew that what I left behind was in God's care, and no one I loved was outside of His grip. I could trust them to His hand. At the same time, He would be there in the States, and was in fact preparing already for my family's "re-entry." However, there were days where, overcome by not understanding what was going on around me, or able to deal with feelings of grief inside me, it was hard to comprehend God's sovereignty in the situation and in my life. I in fact succumbed to many of these feelings, and threw God's love, goodness and sovereignty "out the window" for several years. It was then that I think I was more frustrated by the knowledge that I couldn't hide from God when I wanted to, and knew that He was ever near when I wanted Him to be far away.
I thought Rick Holland's assessment of the book of Job as a book that struggles with the tension between God's imminence and transcendence was a succinct one. My pastor in Roanoke did a series on the book of Job, which I benefited from a lot--through it, I came to better understand why I went through the phases of depression that I did, and how God's grace is still at work in those times--and Rick's summary added to that knowledge. How am I, a being bound by physical space and time, finite, to relate to a God who is infinite, an not bound in the ways I am?
Rick's final point was one that I need to ponder more: it is through Jesus Christ, the mystery of the divine incarnation, that I commune and relate to, God. The book of Hebrews has been one I have returned to again and again, because it is there that I have found the picture of Jesus as divine mediator, both man and God, to be very vivid. This book was reference throughout the conference, but Rick's chosen verse was 1 Timothy 2:5 "For there is one God,and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus..." It was a great introduction to the focus of the rest of the conference, as well as a reminder that God hasn't forgotten the questions and issues with which I still struggle.