Shame and Grace Part 11 - The Nearness of God

Dec 20

Shame and Grace Part 11 - The Nearness of God

Thu, 12/20/2012 - 06:49 — Thabo Mokete

There is a solution to the main problem in our existence. There is an answer to each and every question. But these will not be handed out on a plate. God works in our situation through the enabling and illumination of the human will as we live and breathe.

God's response to our questions is not to send answers by telephone or by email. He does not announce them on the television news. Neither does He print out a manual on how to get things right. Nor does he send a magical resolution to our anxieties and leave us to be spectators in life.

We have already seen how the law itself is not the answer to our moral problem as some have made it appear to be. We have also seen that the knowledge of good and evil does not empower us to do good. Otherwise many of the church folk would have become little innocent Adams and Eves by now.

The nature of existence is such that we have lost a great deal of the ability to participate meaningfully in life. We have become strangers to nature: the plants, the animals, the weather, even our own selves. It is as if we will need a manual just to navigate our own internal environment. People engage in behaviours they cannot even begin to understand. The human will is unable to fulfill its divinely appointed purpose of coordinating human consciousness effectively and creatively.

It is like a person that inherits a very powerful machine with many buttons as well as green and red lights. When he sees red lights flashing on the console he panics. He hears an alarm he trembles and presses any button out of desperation. Man understands not his own machinery. He starts with an intention to do good but ends up with an evil result. How? Why?

We have needed help from someone with a deep understanding of the machine close at hand. To guide, illuminate and enable.

God comes to the situation of man. Not to condemn him but as a friend. A friend in desperate need. When we said 'Immanuel'1, we meant that we sense God to be with us. We could not be saved from a distance. If man descends to the depths of hell, the Hero comes in to hell to save him.

We have thought that there are places that God will not come to because they are evil. By this we merely project our own hatred of evil. God's hatred of evil is not as that of human beings. Our hatred involves fear. We typically want those who do evil to burn in hell. However, God wants to save these evildoers from the hell they have descended into. Christ has descended into man's hell and saved him from there.

The book of Daniel in the bible records a beautiful story of three Hebrews boys who were thrown into a burning fire for disobeying a king's command to worship him.2 The God of heaven did not prevent the king from throwing them in the fire. Instead, someone who looked “like a divine being”3 had descended with the boys down into the furnace and saved them from burning.

This story illustrates something very profound about the nearness of God to us and the situation we find ourselves in. God could have commanded the fire not to burn from his throne on high. But He came down and became one of the men in the fire. His victory over the fire became their victory over the fire.

The point has been made that God knows the ultimate answer to the problem in our existence.4 But he does not give it to us upfront from his throne on high. He comes into our struggle and strives along with us to victory. In spite of knowing the answer, it appears that He even 'forgets' that He has the final answer, but strives with man towards the answer by the empowering of his Spirit.4

Sometimes we will hear someone say, "Let him rot in jail". Little do they know what the convicted person will go through. They think they are excluding him from participating in life. What they don't know is that God comes along to prison with us unseen. Many a person has been incarcerated and found grace there.

Many a person was relegated to death because of an incurable disease. God will not prevent these diseases from coming. But He struggles along with us in our sickness and bears those weaknesses along with us. He brings healing and comfort down in our souls, where no one else can reach.

The aim of providence is not to make us holy robots. Many a time people are reluctant to surrender their helplessness to God because they are afraid of becoming religious fanatics or holy robots. But that is a distortion of reality.
The healing power of grace is not meant to deprive man of his freedom. In fact quite the opposite is true. In the current existence man is enslaved by his own freedom. By grace we are empowered to meaningfully participate in our freedom. To realize our calling and be able to shape our destiny as free beings.

It enables us to become the creators and builders of our own reality that we were meant to to be. That work has to happen with and through the will of man. To give it wisdom, knowledge and skill. To give it strength, persistence and perseverance. To give it vibrancy, vision and focus. All these and other virtues of the will come to us by God's grace in the course of the struggle in life.
From the tragedies of life, God has not excluded Himself. He has become one with us and bore the full weight of the tragic struggle of man on Himself.

If man is drowning in the sea of life, God does not perform magic to make him stay afloat. That's not grace. Instead, God comes down to the sea where man is drowning. He goes in the water to rescue him. He brings him up to safety and resuscitates him back to strength again.

It is only our ego that limits us from seeing how near God really is to us. As one Theologian has already said it, He is nearer to us than we can be to our own selves, knowing even the things that are deeply hidden in the unconscious.5

The doors of life open as we courageously step through them, not as we sit and wish for them to open. In the same way miracles of grace happen as we walk through life's journey, not as we sit and wait for a miracle answer. It all becomes possible because of who we are walking with.


1. Isaiah 7-8
2. Daniel 3:1-30
3. Daniel 3:25. The Jewish Study Bible. Oxford: Oxford University Press, Inc., 2004.
4. Tillich, Paul. Systematic Theology, Volume 2. London: The University Of Chicago Press, Ltd., 1957.
5. Tillich, Paul. The New Being. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons , 1955.