[May 29, 2010] The theme for our retreat is “practicing the presence of God.” The Scripture we have chosen to represent this theme is Psalm 36:9. Let me read a few verses back: “O Lord, Your loving-kindness is in the heavens; Your faithfulness reaches unto the skies. Your righteousness is like the mountains of God, Your judgments are like the great deep; You preserve man and beast, O Lord. How precious is Your loving-kindness, O God! Thus the sons of Adam take refuge in the shadow of Your wings. They are saturated with the fatness of Your house, and You cause them to drink of the river of Your pleasures. For with You is the fountain of life; in Your light we see light.”
In Your light we see light. Do we know how to be in the presence of God so His light can shine on us and give us light? Do we know how to let the light of His reality shine on us so we can see what we are in His light? Can we be with ourselves and see ourselves in His light? Actually, we cannot. We are so afraid of what we might see in the searing light of God’s presence that we refuse to look. Our mind uses all kinds of tricks to prevent us from seeing what is really there. I’m not asking if you’re afraid to really know yourself. I’m telling you this as a fact: you are afraid.
One reason we are afraid is because the light of God’s presence judges us. We have our backs turned towards God. The truth is that we consider God our enemy; we hate the reality of God. We want to have nothing to do with God; we want to be independent of God; and we want this because we know that the reality of God condemns us.
Yet the reality of God that condemns us is the reality of God’s love, His immeasurable love. It is so other than us, so transcendent, so overpowering, that we demand to be free of it, and that demand, if it were granted us, would cut us off from love and light and life. We would be, as Jude says, “wandering stars, for whom the gloom of darkness is kept for eternity.”
Well, the Gospel according to John shows us God’s reaction to our alienation. The Word—Who is God and through Whom all things came into being, this Word—became flesh and dwelt among us. He came among us as the presence of God in our midst, the “I Am” of God, the light of God, and the presence of life so invincible it was impervious to death. God was with us as a human being just like us, in relationship to us, face-to-face with us. He lived the human life as we would need to live it, if we were to absolve ourselves—He lived it with complete faithfulness to God and He embraced the judgment of God with boldness. He took the medicinal cure for our sinful condition, not because He needed it, but for our sake, because if we took it, it would destroy us. That medicine was the obedience and loving bearing of God’s judgment, a medicine that He took when He embraced the cross.
Now you ask me, how that helps. “We need to take the medicine, not Him.” But what if we could take Him into ourselves? What if we could become so one with Him that what He did was as good as if we did it? Well, we have no way to do this, to become one with another human being so that if they went through a process, it would be the same as if we went through it.
But while Jesus is the same as us, He is also different. He is entirely human but before that He was also, and is now at the same time, God. He dwells in the Father and in the Holy Spirit. Everything He has belongs to the Father and the Holy Spirit; and everything they have belongs to Him. What He undergoes, the others undergo with Him. This means that—just as Jesus contains everything that the Holy Spirit is—the Holy Spirit contains everything that Jesus Christ is: His divinity, humanity, virtues, accomplishments, and His human birth, living, death and resurrection.
We are still talking about the Gospel according to John. Do you remember on the evening of the resurrection how Jesus appeared to His disciples in the upper room and said, “Peace be to you”? Do you remember what happened next? He breathes into them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” What just happened? Imagine this. Before, He was always in only one place at any one time. That was how they knew Him. Then He passed through death and is alive—the life that animates Him is impervious to death—and there He is! Well, when He breathes into His disciples, the Holy Spirit enters them to become their life, their “breath” as it were. You understand that. The Holy Spirit is now inside them, in their spirits, mingled with their spirit, as their life, the gift of eternal life.
Now remember what I said about the Son and the Holy Spirit dwelling in each other. They each share 100% whatever the other has. The Holy Spirit has all that Jesus is and all that He went through both as God and human. So when the Holy Spirit enters us, Jesus Himself enters us. He becomes our life. He is in us. He is in us and we are in Him.
Now let us go back and look at what Jesus said to His disciples at the last supper. “If you love Me, you will keep My commandment. And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Comforter”—the first Comforter is Jesus Himself; when He says the Father will give you another Comforter, this refers to the Holy Spirit—“that He may be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth”—of reality, the reality of God, the reality of Jesus, our own reality in the light of God’s reality—“whom the world cannot receive, because it does not behold Him or know Him; but you know Him because He abide with you and shall be in you.”
What does Jesus mean: “but you know Him because He abides with you and shall be in you”? He means the Holy Spirit was abiding with them in the Person of Jesus, for the Holy Spirit and the Son dwell in each other. He was abiding with them, in Jesus. The Holy Spirit cannot abide in you, Jesus is telling them, until He Jesus passes through the judgment of God on the cross. After the resurrection, after Jesus takes the medicine that we need to take to become right with God, then the Holy Spirit will come to abide in you, and not just be with you.
Jesus then says, “I will not leave you as orphans; I am coming to you.” He is referring to His death and resurrection. “Yet a little while and the world beholds Me no longer”—this refers to His death—“but you behold Me,” he says; “because I live, you also shall live”—meaning, He shall be our life. “In that day”—the day He rises from the dead—“you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you.” You see, He went from saying that the Holy Spirit who is with you shall be in you to saying that after His death and resurrection He will be in you, and we shall be in Him.
When He breathes the Holy Spirit into us, He will come to dwell in us and we will dwell in Him. So, according to the Gospel of John, Jesus Himself really can dwell in us and we in Him. He does this through the Holy Spirit. When we believe into Jesus, we receive the gift of eternal life, Jesus’ own life which is impervious to death, because we receive the Holy Spirit.
In the Gospel according to John we do not find many commandments. The commandments of Jesus are essentially two: to believe into Him and to love one another. “He who has My commandments and keeps them, he is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will manifest Myself to him.” If we attach ourselves to Jesus, then, when He passes through death and comes out the other side in resurrection and goes to the Father in His humanity (John 13:1, 3; 20:27), a humanity that has passed through the judgment of God, then we go to the Father with Him, purified of our sins, and the Father loves us just as He loves the Son.
Jesus said, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and We”—the Father and the Son—“will come to him and make an abode with Him.” When we receive the Holy Spirit—because the Father, Son and Holy Spirit dwell in each other—all three come to us and make an abode with us.
To practice the presence of God is to practice the presence of the One to whom the Scriptures bear witness: Jesus Christ. He is the presence of God to us. How can we know the presence of God—really—apart from Him? He makes us right with God so we can be in the presence of God. If we give ourselves to Jesus, He “carries” us into the presence of the Father, where He is, beloved of the Father.
In that light, the light of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit, we can see light. Because we know the forgiveness of sins and the love of God—for the love that the Father has for the Son, He now has for us—we no longer have to be afraid to look at ourselves and see what is there. In Your light, we see light.