When someone says, “I feel the presence of God,” how do they feel? How is God’s presence known? Do the hairs on the back of the neck stand up? Is there an emotional reaction? Does His presence feel oppressive? Or light? Or threatening?
The word “holy” is used more than 650 times in the Bible. Many of those references describe the nature of God. This word basically means “other than” or “different.” God is not like us. He is set apart, lofty, even mysterious. He is without sin and never makes mistakes. He is beyond our comprehension. Yet He made Himself known and we can see what He is like by taking a good look at Jesus Christ. Jesus is God’s revelation of Himself, and the way we know Him.
That said, how then can we “feel the presence of God.” Is that feeling based on what He says about Himself? Or is it possible to “make God in our own image” and sense something that is not God?
He has been showing me that how I understand Him will have a definite bearing on what the “sense of His presence” feels like. If my understanding of God is as He revealed Himself in the Bible, “sensing His presence” will be the same as those who described it in Scripture.
On the other hand, I’ve been thinking about the people who describe God’s presence as playful, teasing, their buddy, and with other very familiar qualities. I’ve sometimes thought about God like that too, but is this an accurate understanding? For me, incorrect thoughts of God affect my worship, my obedience, and can result in me being less alert to His commands, and to His words of correction.
Biblical thoughts about God deepen my worship, heighten obedience, and affect everything that I do. They also bring a far better response to His discipline, as the writer of Hebrews describes . . .
See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire. (Hebrews 12:25–29)
Job and the psalmist both wrote about this reverence and awe toward God. Job said, “Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding.” (Job 28:28) and Solomon wrote, “To know wisdom and instruction, to understand words of insight, to receive instruction in wise dealing, in righteousness, justice, and equity; to give prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the youth— Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance, to understand a proverb and a saying, the words of the wise and their riddles. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Proverbs 1:1–7)
John also wrote, “Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.” (Revelation 15:4)
Scripture is filled with descriptions of God’s holiness and power, His grace and glory. While He made us in His image, that reflection is flawed because of sin. Without Christ, we don’t look like God as He intended.
With Christ, He tells us to obey Him and to be holy as He is holy. I’m to be different than I once was and different from those who do not believe, but I know that is impossible apart from Christ. Without Him, I am helpless and would be lost forever.
I also know that the Bible says that He will never leave me or forsake me. This is wonderful, yet I cannot find any description of Him as my playful companion. Instead, everything He says about Himself should fill me with awe. He saved me, the chief of sinners. I should feel a deep awareness of His holiness, but also remember my own sin and shortcomings with a willingness to be led, even rebuked and corrected when necessary.
Most of all, when those who wrote Scripture were in His presence, they fell on their face in humble adoration and worship. When I am aware of God’s nearness, I also should be filled with awe. This is God Almighty, the Creator of all things, the Mighty One who died for me, and the Lover of my soul who will never leave me or forsake me. This God is an awesome God.