Previously I wrote about ways to experience God’s presence through our senses. Today I’d like to look at another way, inspired by conversations I had recently with my sister regarding blessings and healings. We talked about how all good things come from the original source of good, God (James 1:17), and how many people interpret these good gifts to be answered prayer or blessings. Now, of course they can certainly be both, but I think they are also random in many cases as well. Here’s why:
God does not discriminate: “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt. 5:45). What’s more, a blessing to me could be a curse to someone else. e.g. Sunshine on a wedding day is ideal, but maybe someone drowned that same day because the warm sun had them out swimming. It occurs to me that for God to specifically grant my wish for a sunny day, knowing that it would lead to John Doe’s drowning, seems immoral of him. But if the day is sunny just because it’s nature taking its course, then it’s still a blessing to me and I can and should give thanks to God for every good gift, but it has not been given to me at the cost of someone else. The sunshine was given to everyone and sadly, tragedies do occur, rain or shine.
It comes down to the “life is unfair” thing. See, the only way life could be fair is if everyone had identical experiences – rendering free will and individuality impossible.
Another blessing/good gift in life is being healed of physical ailments, especially dangerous ones. And the human body is designed by the Great Physician to regenerate. When the immune system works properly (and we have access to good nutrition, medicine, successful surgery, and the like), we are healed. We rightly give thanks to God for healing us because he is our Creator and “in him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). Prayer can play a significant role in healing too, don’t get me wrong, but God also heals people who haven’t prayed for healing. Unbelievers regenerate successfully too, just as the sun and rain are sent without discrimination. (Please note, I am not discrediting miracles. By their very definition, they can only occur once in a while, not regularly.)
This leads me to the question of God’s presence in conjunction with love.
Jesus said that love was not unique to believers. He said even the pagans love each other; of course they do! We all know this. But he also said, I’m holding you to a higher standard when it comes to love – I want you to love your enemies too. So it’s not love that is unique to Christians but rather enemy love. What’s more, and this is important, “God is love” (1 John 4:8). If God is love then it follows that he is the original source of love as well. That’s what he is, Love Himself.
In the same way that every experience of good is coming from the original source of good (Good Himself), and healing of the body comes from the original source (the Great Physician), all manifestations of genuine love also come from the original source, Love Himself. So, isn’t it possible that the more goodness, health, and love one has in their life, the more they will feel the presence of God? The obverse is true as well, which is why I wanted to write this blog piece in the first place.
A lot of Christians do not palpably feel the presence of God in their lives. They look at the Christians who seem to have it all together, enjoying lots of love, good health and blessings, and think that God must be playing favorites, or that they’re somehow less lovable (and thus, less worthy of his presence) than those who seem to enjoy it continually.
In this way, when you think about it, a happy atheist could in theory feel more loved by God than the most devout Christian.
If she had a loving family, lots of good things in life, and good health, and if the Christian didn’t have any of those things, who is most likely to feel the loving presence of God? I mean tangibly, not intellectually. Jesus said to Thomas, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). Imagine the depth of faith it takes for the Christian who still believes in Christ when they haven’t enjoyed his presence like others have. They believe without seeing.
Now let me clarify something: I’m not saying that some Christians feel God’s presence simply because they have a good life or a good support system (i.e. that God is just a psychological illusion) – what I’m saying is that Love comes from God, so any experience of love is the experience of God’s presence, whether God is acknowledged or not. It’s not a trick or an illusion.
Love enables us to feel close to God, but if we don’t feel loved, we often can’t feel him either.
And because life is unfair, there are many unloved people; and worse, the brutalized. Attachment hunger (loneliness, isolation) is really love hunger and being deprived of love eventually leads to emotional starvation. So if someone is deprived of love – they’re also being deprived of the source of love – Love Himself. And so they don’t feel his presence. God loves them as much as everyone else but the people around them are like unjust border guards, refusing to let that love in by refusing to love the person they are blocking God’s presence from. I wonder how many people have come to Christ because the first person who ever loved them was a Christian. It’s a magnet and rightly so.
A Christian who feels unloved could in theory feel the loving presence of God in the home of unbelievers or the home of a family from a different religion – if it was a warm, loving home. This is because it’s all the same source: love originates from Love Himself.
If we believe that all good things originate from Good Himself, and if we believe all healing originates from The Great Physician, and if we believe that all love originates from Love Himself, isn’t it possible that we have actually felt the presence of God many times in life without recognizing what it was?
If I cuddle my child and feel their love for me emanating and mine for them in turn, in that moment of warm joy I have felt Love Himself too. “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them” (Matt. 18:20). When I’m hungry and given something to eat, when I’m thirsty and given a drink, when I’m a stranger invited in, when I need clothes and am clothed, when I’m sick and looked after, when I’m visited in prison, in those moments I am loved, and I feel the presence of God. And if you know the passage I’m referencing from Matthew 25, then you know that in some mysterious way, those who give to the one in need, are also giving to Christ who is disguised within the one in need. Both giver and recipient experience the manifestation of Love. Thus his presence is everywhere, even in the most “God-forsaken” places.
What if one decided to test this . . . to try and catch glimpses of God this way. I wonder, reader, is it worth a try?
In closing, I think of the woman in Luke 8 who’d been bleeding for twelve years. No physician had ever been able to heal her; all she did was touched Jesus’ cloak as he passed by her, and she was healed. He stopped and said, Someone touched me! and the disciples said, Are you mad? There’s a crowd jostling you and you ask, who touched me? And Jesus said, I ask because I felt power go out of me.
“Power go out of me” . . . so what if each little (or profound) experience of feeling genuine love is the chance to touch the cloak of Jesus passing by? If our eyes are open to it, a transmission can take place and power goes out of him. We receive. And for as long as the moment lasts, we feel his presence.