The Creator Is Closer

I too often forget that God sustains all he has made. /

One of the most beautiful works of the Holy Spirit (whom Abraham Kuyper calls “the one omnipotent Worker of all life and quickening”) is the sustaining of the world. Yes, he made all things, but both the Old and New Testaments clearly (and lushly) teach that he sustains all things, too.

In the same love that the Spirit bent and brooded happily over the unformed waters, in the same love that he spoke all things into being in harmony with the Word and the Father, so he sustains all things. This is the constant providence of God’s Spirit. He holds up all of creation, keeps all nature like so many plucked notes in a universal symphony, according to the laws that he has made. Inexpressibly complex music are we all; brilliantly simple.

Think of it. At no moment from our conception until now has the Holy Spirit’s ceaseless sustaining work failed to hold our inmost molecules in order. He is with us, with everything, the Weaver of all of reality, as present at every point of the warp and woof of creation as at every other, strumming the loom, shushing the threads into place. Mathematically, all points can be considered the center of an infinite plane, and by this all places may be called the Spirit’s home. He is as present with us this moment, keeping the nuclei of our inner atoms revolving, as he is in the farthest nebulae, in the most untouched crevasse of a glacier unexplored by human feet, at the fire and magma in Earth’s deep core. Sustaining, watching. In his own way, sanctifying all things according to their nature. Being. Making be. Loving. Being beloved.

Somehow, I numb to the wonder. I forget that every action I take in this rich and multiform creation affects countless other precious notes in the symphony of God. I forget that the Spirit views my treatment of all his “very good” as extensions of my heart toward himself. My thoughtless casting of a reusable resource in the trash, my barely touched heart on hearing of human or ecological disaster and suffering.

I am not alone in my forgetting. We Christians forget the closeness that the Creator of all things keeps with his creation. In our overwhelming emphasis on God’s transcendence (a rich doctrine, and beautiful), we often forget his intimacy with the whole world. Worse, we forget that we have forgotten it. We feel uncomfortable sometimes in the presence of such thoughts—perhaps feeling guilty for looking for God in the wood and water and light around us as much as in our conceptions of heaven. As in everything, balance is needed. Pantheism (the belief that “all is God”) is counter to the Bible’s vision of the Almighty. To a certain extent, bare Panentheism (“God is in all”) is contrary to the vision, too, since the effect of such doctrine is to decentralize God’s presence and minimize the truth that he is both transcendent, a being utterly beyond, and immanent, a being utterly here.

God is truly above, and truly below. Utterly there, and completely here and still outside of all such categories of space-time. In all places without diminishment or dilution, yet in every age choosing to center his presence specially in particular places—a garden, a mountain, a tent, a temple, a man, a church aflame on Pentecost. When we lose our sense of God’s immanence, of his dwelling, even if invisibly, in sustaining power throughout all that he has made, we forget this—that in every life we take of man or beast, in every natural place we mine or harvest, in every eye that we gaze into or look away from, we encounter something utterly strange, utterly familiar, utterly sacred.

Sacred I say, not only with its inherent worth as a thing once called “very good” by the voice of God, but as a place that he lives and works in at this very moment. We forget to approach all of creation with reverence for its maker, because we forget that he is truly closer than a brother, closer than our breath is to our throats, than our skin to our sinews.

“Grant it, I beseech thee,” runs an old Armenian liturgical prayer to the Holy Spirit, “that thy divinity may be everywhere revealed in all things, and glorified with the Father and the Son with equal honor.” Amen and amen.

What would it mean if this were true?

Would it mean that cutting the grass can be a sacred act? Might planting and harvesting transform from rote toil into encounters of worship for the Creator’s Spirit who sustains even the dormant grains in our fingers? Could the clandestine scattering of wildflower seeds in a ditch be a holy partnership with the one who makes even galaxies to bloom?

We would look at animals differently, would we not, as creatures limited in faculty, but rich in value, worthy of holy kindness and respect? We would honor the Giver of all life, even with the arrow on our bowstring, even as we use their flesh and skin. We would, with St. Francis, perhaps even find in the ravening wolves echoes of their Maker, that Spirit of love who sees fit to sustain predator and prey, bringing that dearest freshness deep down to even the fiercest of the creatures that he has made.

We would begin to look on others of our own kind in the light of those “ah! bright wings.” We might begin to cast off forever the broken ways that we exploit and judge and rate and value and devalue our brothers and sisters. For of all the mysteries of our physical world, all the life that the Holy Spirit has called up from carbon, all the family of breathing beings, humanity is the crown, the clearest unity of body and spirit, the form God himself chose to wear when the Creator himself became a thing that had been created.

We would love differently, long differently, fight differently, make peace differently. We would grow differently, cultivate differently, prune differently, preen differently. We would make, unmake, remake, buy and sell differently. Learn and teach, rest and work, look into every mirror differently.

Things that seem silly now would be revealed as sacred—the pouring of a glass of pure water, the kindling of a fire in the woodstove, the entering of a new-built house for the first time. Blessedness would reveal itself—the full breeding blessedness of a God ever present in glory, but who for his own reasons usually makes us uncover his face from the elements that veil his smile. A God who, even while building a house of worship in an eternal kingdom, can be found in a tree, on a mountain, in the loins of a light-footed deer panting for fresh water.

We would live whole-heartedly, truly human, set apart, if we lived as if the sustainer of all things is as present in our world as our doctrine tells us he is. The Puritan preacher Walter Cradock, whom I quoted earlier, wrote beautifully of the sentiment that he wished his church members could express in relation to this. He wished that they could say:

God hath appeared two hundred times, two thousand times to my soule. I have seene him one while in the Sacrament, I have seene him among the Saints, I have seene him in such a country, in such a condition, in such a place, in such a medow, in such a wood, when I read his word and called upon his name.

And so, I will say it, here in my home at the edge of the burned forest, where on the flowering of a lush spring day I look through my window upon the trees breaking, as if for the first time, into a new year’s growth.

I have seen him too.

Adapted with permission from The Face of the Deep: Exploring the Mysterious Person of the Holy Spirit, by Paul J. Pastor, published by David C Cook. All rights reserved.

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Issue 37 / December 10, 2015
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    Issue 37: Children question God, how you beat your DNA, and keeping Creation together. /

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