God’s Presence in an Age of Social Distance

If you’re anything like me, you had never heard the term “social distancing” before this spring. Now it’s a phrase that is permanently part of our parlance. I read  speculation that it will be named the word (phrase?) of the year, and I suspect that’s true. Even when the economy begins to open up again, we’ll still be told to practice social distancing for months to come. Like you, I haven’t been to church in a month or fellowshipped face-to-face with anyone but family in weeks. Are we halfway through? Almost done? Still at the beginning? Who knows? Thankfully we’re still able to connect via platforms such as Skype, Zoom, WebEx, Facebook and Instagram Live, FaceTime, and Duo. I’m grateful that I’ve been able to watch a sermon from my pastor each Sunday and to have a modicum of connection with the real world—even if through virtual means. But it’s not the same, and none of us would dare say differently. Seeing someone’s face on a screen is a nice but poor substitute for being with them in the same room. Aren’t you glad that our God doesn’t have to practice social distancing? Though we may be cut off from everyone else, God is still near.

At the end of his most famous psalm, Asaph the choirmaster proclaims, “The nearness of God is my good” (Ps. 73:28). I must admit that I haven’t exactly lived those words every moment of the past few weeks. I tend to think that the nearness of my family is my good. Or the nearness of friends. Or the nearness of my brothers and sisters at church. While those things are good, as we’ve learned this spring, they can be stripped away. What remains is still good. God’s nearness. And that hasn’t changed. It’s not virtual. It’s not “next-best.” It’s the same good it always has been.

The most common command in all of Scripture is “Do not be afraid.” Often paired with that directive is God’s declaration, “for I am with you.” Consider these words from the prophet Isaiah:

Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand. (41:10)

The author of “How Firm a Foundation” paraphrased that and other verses in the passage for the final stanza of his hymn:

The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to his foes;
that soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake. [1]

Some sing this hymn to the tune of “Adeste Fideles” (aka “O Come All Ye Faithful”) and repeat the final line of each verse. That means in the final two lines, God reiterates ten times His enduring faithfulness. David Powlison comments on this:

Our hymn takes God’s simple ‘I will not’ and says it ten times in a row: ‘I will never, no, never, no never—never, no, never, no, never forsake you.’ Far more than a mere doubling, this is a promise to the power of ten. It is pastoral wisdom, helping us to hear the fierceness and triumph of God’s lovingkindness. You will never be abandoned. You will never be alone. He will never give up on you. Never forget this. Never forget. Never, never, never forget that he will not forsake you.” [2]

Fear, anxiety, panic, and dread have taken hold of our world. My husband commented recently on the palpable fear inside a store he’d entered. People wearing masks, a quiet pall hanging over the entire building, marks on the floor to help shoppers maintain a safe distance. We understand that we’re living in a new world, one that’s not likely to change anytime soon. However, in the midst of the worry, anxiety, uncertainty, and constant change resounds this wonderful promise from our God who will never leave us or forsake us: “Do not be afraid, for I am with you.”  

My friends we don’t know what tonight’s news will tell us. We don’t know how long before we meet again. We may fear for our health, our retirement funds, our jobs, and our loved ones. But in this age of social distance, let’s cling to the One whose nearness is our good. Today, tomorrow, and forever.  Do not be afraid, for He is with you!

[1] “How Firm a Foundation” https://hymnary.org/text/how_firm_a_foundation_ye_saints_of

[2] Powlison, David. God’s Grace in Your Suffering, pg. 112

One thought on “God’s Presence in an Age of Social Distance

  1. Great reminder Cindy, Thank you for sharing truth. Christmas, to Easter, and back again. Emmanuel, God with us! Blessings to you and your family.


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