Vol. 6, No. 1
~ Page 15 ~
During the Gulf War, the radio stations oft repeated the emotionally provocative song, "From a Distance." The thought was that God was watching over his creation from far away, and, when he did so, he saw a better situation than mankind had made for himself. From a distance, there were no bombs, no disease. From a distance, everything appeared better than it really was. The song had its theological fallacies (i.e., a God who is too far away and views the world too naively to do anything about the real problems), but it made for a stirring emotional experience.
More recently, the astronauts in the earth-orbiting space station witnessed from far above the smoke rising toward them from the burning World Trade Centers. They expressed their sympathies and condolences, but obviously felt very helpless. Their feeling of helplessness, akin to most of ours, had to be magnified by the separating distance of an entire atmosphere plus.
More significantly than the astronauts, and more realistically than as depicted in the song, God looks on his world feeling the pain evil causes. He is not so detached as to be able to merely express sympathy. Nor is he so distant as to erase the problems of man from his thought. Rather, as Paul stated on Mars Hill, he is quite attuned to man's plight and everyday circumstances:
God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. Nor is He worshiped with men's hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being... (Acts 17:24-28a. Emphasis mine, AR).
Creator God is, indeed, intimately involved with the affairs of mankind.
In past times, God has wrought his supernatural power to impose his will on natural history. The ten plagues and the crossing of the Red Sea stand as the basis of the knowledge of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to most of the world of ancient times. The ultimate entrance into our world was through his Son, who, though Divine, became entirely human also for the suffering of death and the experiencing of temptation (Philippians 2:5-8; Hebrews 2:17-18). Deism is a religious philosophy that proposes God exists, but only created the world, wound it up like a clock, then sits back, inactively watching the course of events unfold. The biblical view of God is not that of Deism. God, through the miraculous, has been involved in the affairs of his prized creation.
If not more fantastic, still more difficult to understand is God's work in history when the miraculous does not overwhelm unsuspecting witnesses. God can, and does, still work in his providence to bring about his will. He instructs his people to pray, promising that their prayers will have an attentive Divine audience (James 5:16). Only a cruel God would elevate the hopes of people to be heard, only to never actively answer their petitions. Paul indicated that the plight of Onesimus, the runaway slave of the New Testament letter to Philemon, might have gone away from his master so that he could become a Christian. "For perhaps he departed for a while for this purpose..." (Philemon 15). The implication is that God was working through the events that unfolded so that Onesimus would have opportunity to learn and obey the Gospel. The Book of Esther doesn't even mention the name of God. No miracles are recorded. But the activity of the Almighty is unmistakably evident.
Through troubled times, whether of the Gulf War a decade ago, or the War on Terror today, God's people can be assured that he does not apathetically view the world through rose-colored glasses. No, he sent his Son to take care of the root of the problem of evil, sin. God's people can be further comforted that God views his planet in sympathy and concern, also possessing the power to help when called upon by the faithful. God is not distant. God is not helpless. Rather, God is the only solid source of help through troubled times.