I remember when . . .
Today I'm crawling deep into the attic of my mind. There is a memory there I need to retrieve. So I push my way past boxes of memorabilia. There's a carton stenciled, WEDDING. No, that's not it. I see another box, HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATION. Nope, too recent. "Keep looking," I tell myself. Then I see it. CHILDHOOD MEMORIES!
I shout in triumph: "There it is!"
I open up the box, peer inside, and begin to rummage through my memoirs: Shooting off firecrackers in the woods, Pee Wee football, playing nighttime hide-n-seek, my first baseball mitt, spin the bottle . . . SPIN THE BOTTLE! Nope, not the time to tell about that one! I keep looking until I find what I'm after. It's there . . . way near the bottom. I pull it out of the box. The memory is dusty, but this is what I see:
It's 1968 or close to it. The state has finally begun work on I-95's missing link. It is a short bike ride from our home. My brother and I are exploring where 9 and 10 year old boys have no business exploring, along the embankment of the soon-to-be interstate highway. For two kids raised on the flatland of Florida this is a mountain! We climb to the top and notice an uninstalled concrete culvert running perpendicular (no, we did not use that word) to the embankment. It's big! Big enough for my adventuresome brother to explore -- so he does -- for about five feet. Then he gets stuck. I begin to panic! It must be past quitting time because there is no one around to help.
I'll leave you right there with my racing heart, because I want to ask you a very important question: Where was God at that moment?
To answer that question, we must understand God's omnipresence.
To say that God is omnipresent, we mean that God is everywhere present in the totality of his being. We read in Jeremiah, Am I a God at hand, declares the LORD, and not a God far away? Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the LORD. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the LORD.1 And Paul says, In him we live and move and have our being.2 But it is the words of the Psalmist that comfort me the most:
Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.
Psalm 139:7-10 ESV
Where shall I flee from your presence? The question is rhetorical. God is present everywhere. He might as well have said,
If I get stuck in a culvert on the side of I-95, even there your right hand shall hold me.
Stuck in a culvert . . . stuck in traffic . . . stuck in a bad relationship . . . stuck in a bind . . . stuck in the blues . . . stuck in the hospital . . . stuck in the mud. It doesn't matter. Even there his right hand shall hold me--and you too!
God is present, says Wayne Grudem, to punish, to sustain, and to bless. But "most of the time that the Bible talks about God's presence, it is referring to God's presence to bless."3 That's an important lesson for anyone who is stuck, but wants to be free.
Oh, about my brother. He wiggled free.
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1 Jeremiah 23:23-24 ESV
2 Acts 17:28 ESV
3 Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, page 176.