“Am I only a God nearby,”
declares the Lord,
“and not a God far away?
Who can hide in secret places
so that I cannot see them?”
declares the Lord.
“Do not I fill heaven and earth?”
declares the Lord.
Don’t ever rob a bank, OK? Really. Don’t. But if you must, here’s a little free advice: screen your getaway car carefully.
As an illustration, consider the case of a 26-year-old man who held up the VanCity Credit union in Vancouver, British Columbia. The holdup went pretty much as planned, at least at the beginning. The guy demanded money, the teller gave it to him, and he ran out of the building and hopped into his getaway car.
A waiting taxi.
You need to know that the holdup took place about 10 years ago now, back before everyone had GPS on their phones and in their cars. Back then, in the dark ages, GPS was unusual. And this is where a perfectly good robbery went south.
The particular taxi our bank robber had chosen for the occasion was fitted with GPS.
You can see what’s coming. You can also see why it might make life difficult for a bank robber trying to make a getaway.
Our bank robber had no way of seeing it ten years ago.
Arriving just moments after the robbery, the police questioned witnesses who saw the “getaway” and immediately called the taxi company. They tracked the getaway taxi to an intersection just a few blocks from the bank, and the robber was quickly arrested.
It’d be tough to outrun a satellite, wouldn’t it? They don’t sleep. They have a bird’s eye view of things. They don’t make mistakes, and they can “see” anything. That robber escaped from the bank. He might have eluded the police indefinitely. But he wasn’t going to escape that satellite.
Remember Jonah, the AWOL prophet? He’s most famous for having upset the stomach of a big fish. But Jonah’s troubles started long before he became fish food. They started when he resisted God’s call on his life and tried to run away. Where do you go to escape God? Where do you go to get away from the One who created you and created the universe?
I never bought the argument that Jonah really thought he could get away from God. He was a prophet, after all. He knew God’s power. I think Jonah ran because God got too close. He challenged Jonah to get beyond easy religion. He called Jonah’s prejudices and provincial worldview into question. Jonah, I imagine, ran out of desperation. He experienced what David had experienced before him: “I can never escape from your spirit! I can never get away from your presence!” (Psalm 139:7)
See, that’s both our blessing and our curse. We can never get away from God. We can’t hide from him. He fills the heavens and the earth. “You know when I sit down or stand up. You know my every thought when far away...Every moment you know where I am.” (Psalm 139:2-3) David wasn’t sure what to make of that. Sometimes, he was moved to wonder and gratitude that God was so near him: “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too great for me to know!” (Psalm 139:6) Other times, he pulled the darkness around him like a security blanket and scuttled for the shadows when God’s dazzling light split the night.
Can you relate? I can. Many times I praise God for knowing what I need, for coming to earth in Jesus, for giving me his Spirit. I’m grateful that he knows my intentions and my desire to please him. I even pray, at times, that he scour my soul for hidden sin.
Other times, I’m horrified that he knows me so well. It seems intrusive. But only when I’m trying to hide. Only when, like Jonah, I’m running from what he wants. When I don’t want to deal with the messier parts of my soul, I run. When I don’t want to change my thinking or my attitude, I hide. Yes, I know I can’t get away from him, but sometimes I try just the same. I try because I don’t know what else to do.
But notice something, first about Jonah, then about God. In the fish, Jonah prays. “I cried out to the LORD in my great trouble...” And listen to his nerve -- “O LORD, you have driven me from your presence!” Ironic, isn’t it? The prophet who tried to hide from God winds up complaining that God hasn’t come for him! And you know the story. God came for Jonah. He tripped that fish’s gag reflex and Jonah was saved. Saved, and chastened enough to go and do what God had asked of him.
And that’s really the bottom line, isn’t it? Even if you’re made uncomfortable by God being so near, aren’t you glad he is when things are tough? Aren’t you glad he’s close when you hurt, when you fear, when you doubt, when you fail? Aren’t you thankful that he ignores your attempts to hide from him and evade him, and in his grace still comes to you?
Try something, will you? Invite him nearer still. I know, you’re not sure you want him nearer. This is, after all, the God of Sinai, the God of plague, the God of fire, the God who’s been known to strike people dead at the slightest provocation. But he’s also the God of the manger, the God of the cross, the God of the empty tomb. He’s the God who accepted the spit of centurions, the nails of Rome, and the rejection of the people he came to save. David, despite his uncertainties, ends his psalm with a prayer that you should make yours: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts.” In spite of his ambivalence about being known so intimately by God, in the end the blessings outweighed the risks.
I’m not sure that ultimately it’s omniscience or omnipresence that makes it impossible to hide from God. Sure, he always knows where we are. But does he care? We can’t outrun him -- but he could choose not to come after us. No, it’s his persistent, never-failing, never-changing love for us that prevents us from ever escaping him. We can’t hide because he searches for us, we can’t run because he pursues us. Can’t a God who loves us that much be trusted?
You can trust him, too. Don’t hide from him. Don’t run. Come near, bow before him, and humbly give him access to your heart and mind. Invite him near when it thrills you and when it galls you. You’ll be glad that you did, because he loves you.
Why would we want to run from that?