August 5, 2014

In God’s Presence

Today’s word is “numinous” – a word I’ve not heard before. It is an adjective, usually about a divine being that arouses spiritual or religious emotions or is mysterious and awe-inspiring. This word describes the early church in their reaction to Jesus Christ . . .  

Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. (Acts 4:32–36)

These verses say that they believed in Christ, were united as one, demonstrated their trust in God’s care by not clinging to their possessions, and they were in awe of Jesus Christ and His resurrection. They had this numinous response to Him, which was also a life-changing experience.

Daniel also had a sense of the numinous. He had a vision of a man who was either an angel or a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus Christ. When this man touched Daniel, Daniel was set trembling on his hands and knees. When this man spoke, Daniel stood up trembling, then turned his face toward the ground and was mute. The man touched his lips, then Daniel said, “O my lord, by reason of the vision pains have come upon me, and I retain no strength. How can my lord’s servant talk with my lord? For now no strength remains in me, and no breath is left in me.” (Daniel 10:10–20)

The apostle John also had this same sense of awe in the presence of the Lord. He was in exile on the island of Patmos and “in the Spirit on the Lord’s day” when he heard a loud voice telling him what to do. He saw “seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.” And John fell at his feet as though dead. (Revelation 1:9–20)

I’ve known Christians who claim to see the Lord or be given visions of God’s will and God’s thoughts and claim that He is their buddy. They say He laughs and jokes with them.

I cannot pass judgment on these reports except to say there is nothing like that in the Bible. When someone experienced the reality of God’s presence, they fell at His feet trembling and in fearful awe, with a strong sense of their own sinfulness and inadequacy. No friendly banter. No chummy chatting. No teasing and laughing, only the response described by this adjective “numinous.”

In my own experiences with the presence of the Lord, I’ve had a few surprises, but I realize that Jesus does not appear to people without changing their lives in a dramatic fashion. The early church saw Jesus and then banded together in mutual support, speaking the Gospel in great power. Daniel was given a powerful revelation of the future to inform and direct the people of God. John was also given visions that inform, bless and even terrify those who read them.

God’s presence is a comfort, but it is far more. He makes me aware of His majesty, and that I am a created being, a sinful one at that. In the biblical accounts, His presence was also accompanied by a holy fear, a sense of His power, and a life-change response.

In today’s church, that “numinous” response is often missing. God has not changed, but has our definition and description of Him? Being His friend and being able to call Him “Abba” are wonderful, but I don’t want my understanding of who God is to slip from ‘amazed awe’ to an unbiblical familiarity that has no effect on my life except to make me feel good.

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