Psalm 119:145-152, “145 With my whole heart I cry; answer me, O Lord!
I will keep your statutes.
146 I call to you; save me,
that I may observe your testimonies.
147 I rise before dawn and cry for help;
I hope in your words.
148 My eyes are awake before the watches of the night,
that I may meditate on your promise.
149 Hear my voice according to your steadfast love;
O Lord, according to your justice give me life.
150 They draw near who persecute me with evil purpose;
they are far from your law.
151 But you are near, O Lord,
and all your commandments are true.
152 Long have I known from your testimonies
that you have founded them forever.”
How do we experience the nearness of God? If we were to ask that question of several people, we would likely get a number of different answers. Some of the answers might border on the sappy; others would be more biblically and theologically robust. But how many would say that they experience the nearness of the Lord in His Word? To bring it a bit closer to home, how many of us would say that we sense that God is near when we are reading and meditating on Scripture?
In systematic theology, we refer to the nearness of the Lord as His attribute of immanence, which tells us, among other things, that our Creator is always near to and present in His creation (but not identified with His creation) regardless of whether we feel like He is close. The biblical teaching on divine immanence also tells us that God promises to manifest His presence in special ways and at special times. For example, under the Old Covenant, our Maker manifested His presence in a unique way in Israel’s tabernacle and temple. During the earthly ministry of Jesus, God revealed Himself most clearly in Christ, who is the Word of God made flesh (John 1:1-18). And under every administration of the one covenant of grace, God’s closeness is manifested when His people study His Word. In other words, both Old Covenant believers and New Covenant believers have been able to count on His presence with us when we read Scripture, meditate on it, and study it.
One of the biblical passages that tells us as much is Psalm 119:145–152. Note particularly the contrast that the psalmist establishes in the conclusion of today’s passage. The enemies of the psalmist draw near to attack him even as they are far from God’s law (v. 150). However, the author is confident that God will rescue him, and he notes the nearness of the Lord to him while praising the truth of our Creator’s commandments (vv. 151). There is a connection here between the writer’s sense that God is near and the confidence the author has in the truth of the Scriptures. That is because the Lord comes alongside His Word, making it effectual for His purposes (Isaiah 55:10-11). Indeed, to have the Word of God is to have God Himself, for when Scripture speaks, God speaks (2 Peter 1:20-21). When we read the Bible and hear it preached and taught, we are enjoying a personal encounter with the very Lord who made us. And He attends every word of Scripture, for every word was given by Him and embodies His authority and truthfulness (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
Although we do not always feel as if God is near to us, we can be sure that He always draws close to His people when they study His Word and hear it preached. The Holy Spirit attends the reading and hearing of His Word, instructing us, convicting us, and conforming us to the image of Jesus. We do not need to look for special “mountaintop” experiences to know that God is near, for He is always near in His Word.