By the Revd Dr Peter Sanlon
God with Us
As we travel through this world we have God with us. Each person of the Trinity together works in distinct ways to love, comfort and empower pilgrims. The presence of God with his people is one of the great themes of scripture, and is taught in the doctrine theologians call “communion with God.”
Early church fathers noted that the New Testament often describes believers as being ‘in Christ.’ At the reformation Calvin made the living presence of Jesus by his Spirit a central theme of his teaching. Subsequently the teaching was crystallised by the puritan, John Owen. He defined communion with God thus: ‘Our communion with God consisteth in his communication of himself unto us, with our returnal unto him of that which he requireth and accepteth, flowing from that union which in Jesus Christ we have with him.’
The Christian life then is one of experiencing God giving us Himself. We sense and feel God’s grace, comfort and power. God does not just speak to us from a distance, He draws near and grants us the experience of knowing and partaking in His holiness. We are called to trust God, fight sin, serve the brethren — we do have duties to discharge on our pilgrimage. But we do not labour in those duties with the meagre resources our human flesh grants. No, our vital union with God grants us His power to battle sin and keep trusting his promises.
Deism was the incorrect idea many developed with regard to how God created the world — it posits that God made the world like a watch that he wound up, and then left to act on its own power. The God of Deism steps back from his world and leaves it to its own energy. Many today have a Deism-type view of the Christian life. We live as if God tells us what to do and leaves us to do the best we can with our own energy, knowledge, and effort. The Christian view on the other hand is one where we experience God in our souls — God empowers and comforts and leads us. We use the means of grace to cultivate and nourish our communion with God — and as we do so we discover that God is with us each day of our pilgrimage to the heavenly city. There we shall see face to face the God who has been with us each step of the journey.
Rev. Dr. Peter Sanlon is rector of Emmanuel Anglican Church, Tunbridge Wells: www.emmanuelanglican.uk