Scriptural Metaphors Used to Describe Experiencing God’s Presence (Part 1)

Because of my extensive research and writing on the theology of work, I deeply understand the value of experiencing God’s presence. It has become a critical theme that I am passionate to share with my brothers and sisters in Christ who work in ordinary jobs.  I want to empower others to be able to consistently integrate their faith at work and see God working in and through them.  God’s presence at work, despite the conflict and difficulties inherent to work due to Adam’s curse, can be a source of great joy, peace, and purpose in the places where we spend the majority of our waking hours.

However, based on some of the responses I have gotten, I sense that this idea of practicing the presence of God at work (many thanks to Brother Lawrence for that term) may be perceived as unique, radical, and a departure from orthodox Christianity.  A significant number of people just do not seem to get it, which is frustrating.

In this article, I want to show that this newly articulated concept ties in well with other commonly accepted biblical ideas. There are three main metaphors that are used in the Old and New Testaments to describe how Christ-followers can remain close to God throughout their daily lives.  Let us look at the images of walking with God, abiding in Christ, and being filled with the Holy Spirit.  Due to the depth of our discussion, I will present this in two parts.

Walking with God in the Pentateuch

The first recurring picture of humans who display a consistent personal faith in Yahweh that we see in the Old Testament is that of walking with God.  In Gen. 5:22-24, it states twice that Enoch walked with God.  This same metaphor was said about Noah in Gen. 6:9.  In the context of Yahweh’s covenant of circumcision with Abram in Gen. 17:1, the LORD commands, “I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless.”  One could argue that the prepositions with and before are not synonymous, but they both indicate close proximity to God.  Abram did in fact walk with God, as did his son Isaac.  This is confirmed much later when as Jacob was blessing Joseph’s sons (Gen. 48:15).  Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and Isaac all walked closely with God, living out their faith.

Moses also frequently uses this word to describe living a life of covenant faithfulness to the LORD. When Moses reiterates the Ten Commandments, he leaves them with this final imperative, “Walk in the way that the LORD your God has commanded you” (Deut. 5:33).  Moses exhorts the Israelites to walk in obedience (Deut. 8:6).  (See also Deut. 10:12, 11:22, 19:9, 26:17, and 30:16.)  As you can sense from reading these verses, even in the Old Testament context, living out this faith was never meant to be merely a Law-focused, trying to earn one’s salvation sort of thing.  It was a life of love, listening, submitting, and enjoying the blessings that come with adhering to the covenant.

It is interesting to note that in Lev. 26:12, God promises that He would walk among the Israelites if they followed Yahweh’s commands.  God’s presence with them in the tabernacle, a picture of the Immanuel that was to come, would function as a reward for obedience, motivating them to continue.  More importantly, His presence is the sole means to enable them to obey.  This idea is articulated quite well by J. Ryan Lister, in his book, The Presence of God. Lister indicates, “The presence of God is a fundamental objective in our redemption and, simultaneously, the means by which God completes this objective.”

Walking with God in the Psalms

This idea of walking in the way of righteousness (i.e., with God) is also a recurring theme throughout the Psalms.  At the very beginning verses of the Psalter, Ps. 1:1-6 presents a stark contrast – one who generally walks in the way of the unrighteous versus one who delights in God’s way.  Whichever lifestyle one chooses determines their destiny.  In Ps. 15:1-5, David uses the term walk to lay out what it means to be a man or woman who dwells in God’s presence by living out one’s faith by word and deed daily.  In the most well-known psalm, David describes the comfort that his Shepherd brings him through the most difficult walk, “the valley of the shadow of death” (Ps. 23:4).  He fears no evil because he knows, understands, and has experienced God’s real presence (Ps. 23:5) in his life.

There are many other psalms that directly use the metaphor of walking with God to indicate living out one’s genuine faith (see Ps. 56:13, 84:11, 89:15, 116:9, 119:1, and 128:1).

It should be no surprise to see that David’s son Solomon also leaned on the picture of walking extensively as well. (See Prov. 2:7, 8:20, 10:9, 14:2, and 28:18.)  One who walks in purity and wisdom is the one who truly walks with God.  The converse of that is also true, which was Lister’s point as described above.

Walking with God is the first scriptural image used to describe a genuine faith that is consistently integrated with our daily circumstances. It should be clear that this Old Testament image pairs well with my focus on experiencing God’s presence.  As I have walked with God the Father only by His mercy and grace for the last forty years, His divine presence, through Jesus Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit, profoundly affects what I think, say, and do everywhere I go.  It is a life of dependence on, obedience to, and intimacy with the triune God of the universe.

In our next discussion, we will explore the metaphors that Jesus and Paul used to graphically show what it means to live out one’s faith throughout our day, whether at home, in church, or at work.

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