Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Intimate Distance

Blaise Pascal once wrote that each of us has a “God-shaped hole” in our lives and that we are forever restless and incomplete until we fill that hole with the only Reality in the universe for which we were made – God.

Most of us don’t have to scratch very deeply to know that Pascal was right. We are hungry for God. That’s why we go to church, attend revivals and crusades, watch television preachers, read the books and listen to the tapes. We want to know God, and we’ll drive for hours if someone says: “Come with me and you can experience God.” What an appetite! Philip spoke for us all when he said to Jesus one day: “Lord, show us the Father, and we’ll be satisfied” (John 14:8).

At the heart of the Christian story is the message that the eternal, immortal, invisible God has become ephemeral, mortal, and visible in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. The Church calls it Incarnation (literally “in-fleshing”), and it means that the God Who created the universe - Who is so sovereign that “no man has seen God at any time” and so holy that mere mortals don’t see Him, just His glory (His shekinah) - this God has a face, a name and address. Jesus of Nazareth – who lived briefly, died violently and rose unexpectedly – is none other than the Eternal One Himself in blood and bone and bile.

I have, on other occasions, described the Incarnation as “intimate distance.” Do you hear the dissonance in that? Intimate distance means that one is near enough to gain a hearing, but distant enough to be heard. Every parent knows what I mean. As parents, we walk a fine line between being “chummy” enough with our children that they feel free to share their most intimate secrets with us, but not so chummy that we can’t be parents and make the tough decisions and hard calls when their best interest demands it. Intimate distance: at bottom that’s what Incarnation means – that God in Jesus has become enough like us to understand us, and yet enough unlike us to save us.

Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? But if we’re honest, we’ll admit that there’s a side of us that prefers a God Who “keeps His distance” to an intimate God Who comes to us, as Jesus does, and “rattles our cages,” disturbs our status quo, and questions our most cherished prejudices – who tells us to love our enemies, to reach out to the outcast, and to reject all forms of power as pagan and irredeemable (see Mark 10:42-45). But that’s not the kind of God Christianity offers. It gives us a God Who comes close, gets personal, moves in and stays…at least for a while. The Distant One has become Intimate with us.

And therein lies the test, and the secret, of the Christian faith - Incarnation. That, as one creed put it, “Very God of Very God who for us and our salvation came down.” The Apostle Paul once put it this way: “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself” (2 Cor. 5:19). I call it Intimate Distance. It may not be the kind of God I want, but it’s the kind of God I need.

You too?

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