In Episode 163 of The Goon Show, the highly esteemed BBC radio comedy from the 1950s, Neddy Seagoon happens across the childlike Eccles in a dark, damp, coal cellar. “What are you doing here?”, asks Seagoon. Eccles replies: “Everybody’s gotta be somewhere.”[i]
Eccles, it seems to me, had a point. It is a simple matter of the laws of physics and of common sense that all of us, at any point in our lives, have to be somewhere. The fact that we are somewhere, means we cannot simultaneously be anywhere else. I am sitting in the shade in my daughter’s back garden in Bristol. I cannot simultaneously be sitting on the terrace of my apartment in Horsham.
Eccles was right. “Everybody’s gotta be somewhere.”
The same is not true of God.
John 4:24 summarises a truth which permeates Scripture. ‘God is Spirit.’ From the first verses of Genesis at the beginning of the Bible through to the closing verses of Revelation Scripture makes clear that God is not constrained by the laws of science. He is not limited by geographical or political boundaries. He is global. He is universal. Our God is the creator of all things and is present by His Spirit throughout His creation (Isaiah 40:28).
Unlike us, God can, by His Spirit, be everywhere at the same time.
We have a tendency to ‘compartmentalise’ our lives. We can easily start to see our work life as distinctly separate from our home life. Our behaviour during time spent with our friends can be very different from time spent with our family. Our expectations of our own behviour Saturday evening can be wildly different from our expectations of our behaviour on Sunday morning. Our attitude when driving our car can be completely different from our behaviour when visiting our Grandparents or our Grandchildren.
And yet another truth which permeates Scripture is the closeness of God. Wherever we go, regardless of our circumstances, God is always there.
23 Am I a God near by, says the Lord, and not a God far off? 24 Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them? says the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? says the Lord. (Jeremiah 23:23-24 (NRSVUE))
Where, asks the Psalmist, can I go to get away from your Spirit?
Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? (Psalm 139:7)
The answer, ultimately, is ‘nowhere’. A God who is fills his creation with the Presence of His Spirit is everywhere. His presence extends to us as individuals.
Always ‘remember’, says Jesus to His followers, ‘I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’ (Matthew 28: 20).
A God who is Spirit, who fills His creation, and is always present. When we’re facing an exam, or a hospital appointment, or a relationship breakdown, that can be a real comfort. When we’re dealing with bereavement, or anxiety about the future, or deep seated depression, that can be a lifeline.
God, we know, ‘is near to the broken hearted, and saves the crushed in spirit.’ (Psalm 34:18)
But of course a God who is Spirit, who fills His creation, and is always present, creates a huge responsibility for all of us. A God who watches over us and never sleeps sees everything we do (Psalm 121, 3-4), and knows every word we say, even before we say it (Psalm 139:4). Nothing, but nothing is hidden from Him. We can compartmentalise our lives as much as we like. We can make excuses for our less than appropriate behaviour in dark corners of our life, but we can never hide our activities, even our thoughts, from Him.
A God who is Spirit, who fills His creation, who is always present, who is all knowing. This can feel burdensome, even overpowering. It can feel as if we are constantly on show. As if every error we make is being seen and noted. Yet this is balanced by the sense of His loving presence supporting, encouraging and blessing us at every point as we walk through life with Christ alongside us.
As followers of Jesus, we need to remind ourselves that the sense of burden which comes with our recognition of that ‘responsibility’, only kicks in if we are doing things which we know we should probably not be doing. The burden becomes heavier still, if we try to compartmentalise our lives in such a way that there are areas of our life which we would prefer that God did not see. Dark recesses where we hope that the light of His presence will not shine. Yet we have just reminded ourselves that such a ‘hidden’ place cannot – does not – exist. Scripture says that however hard we try to do that, we simply can’t hide ourselves from Him.
My point is that it starts to look a bit like this. If we’re doing the right thing, His presence is a comfort, an inspiration and a joy. If we’re not doing the right thing, His presence is a burden
When I drive to the shops, I can stick to my responsibility by driving at or below the speed limit. It might take me a minute or two longer to get to my destination than I would have liked, but I will arrive in one piece and by driving gently I will probably be calm and relaxed when I arrive. Alternatively, I can disregard my responsibilities to observe the rules by driving at excessive speed. I may get to the shop a couple of minutes earlier, but I am likely to feel slightly hyped up by the drive, and probably annoyed by the slower drivers who were in my way and slowing my progress. Driving at speed increases the chances of my involvement in an accident. An accident is damaging and can easily be harmful, even life changing, for me and for others. And of course, if I’m having a really bad day, I’ll have a speeding ticket as a souvenir.
If I’m observing my responsibilities –if I’m doing the right thing – the Presence of God is an awesome thing. If I’m disregarding my responsibilities – going my own way – doing the wrong thing – His presence is something to be hidden from. Doing the right thing means that I can enjoy life to the full in His Presence. Deliberately doing the wrong thing creates a sense of anxiety and the desire to keep things hidden from God.
Adam and Eve tried to hide in the Garden of Eden. Jonah tried running away to escape from God. They all discovered that you simply can’t hide from God.
So, here’s the thing. Eccles was right. Everybody really has gotta be somewhere.
If you’re following Jesus, the teaching of Scripture is clear. Wherever that ‘somewhere’ may be, God will be there. You can try to hide. Or you can celebrate His presence. The choice is yours. If you are a follower of Jesus – you decide.