The Hiding Place of God

by David Atkins on March 29, 2009

His name was Bill Blumert. He was 85, an old man by anyone's standards, when Sherry and I started our ministry at the Montclair United Methodist Church of Oakland in 1972. We lived across from the church. So did Bill. He was our next door neighbor. He was the pillar, driving force, and patriarch of that church long before we arrived and for a few years after we left to come to Wesley. Bill passed from this world at the age of 98.

There are many things I remember about Bill, such as his trip with me to the Holy Land when he was 88, and saying at Church Council meetings, "I don't want to hear what you are against. I want to hear what you are for."

But my favorite memory of Bill was in Bible Studies or church gatherings when he would turn to me and say, "David, would you lead us to the throne of grace?" "Would you lead us to the throne of grace?" What an absolutely beautiful statement.

In those days I understood the throne of grace to be located in some heavenly realm. No, I did not image God in a white robe, sitting on a great throne. I'm not sure exactly how I did imagine this throne of grace, but through the years and with the help of the scriptures and spiritual guides, I have come to a realization that this throne of grace is within us. I now know that if Bill were sitting with me and said, "David, would you lead us to the throne of grace?" I would think of that dwelling place of God within each one of us. It would be an invitation to go within and experience the fullness of love and acceptance that is always there.

One of the scriptures that so vividly relates this truth is the promise that comes through Jeremiah in chapter 31:31-34, the passage read by Anne Scott a few minutes ago.

There are two statements in this passage that I find so remarkable, both in verse 34. The verse reads: "And no longer shall each man teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, `Know the Lord,' for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord;"

How remarkable, and again, how inclusive - they shall ALL know me. Not just the scholars. Not just the spiritual seekers. Not just the good people. Not just those who have followed all the rules. Not just those who have had a remarkable conversion experience. No, they shall all know me. Remember that beautiful statement in Philippians 2:5-11. (Read) "Oh," someone will say, "so you believe in universal salvation. It doesn't matter what you do - you will still be saved." I would rather say that I believe in ultimate salvation, that ultimately, eventually, every soul will return to God, the creator, the source of life, for this inclusive love and grace of God will ultimately prevail in this realm or the next. This truth pulsates in the scriptures throughout and is a universal principle.

And, as if that were not wonderful enough, look at the phrase again. What is it that they ALL shall do? They shall KNOW ME. It does not say they shall know about me. It does not say, "they shall finally be able to follow the rules and obey every commandment." It says, "They shall know me." This promise is about relationship, not right actions. Right actions, right attitudes, right thoughts come from right relationships. The invitation, no, the promise, is that we will be in full relationship with the Lord God, Jehovah.

Now look at John 12:32, the other passage Anne read: "And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself." There is that little word again, "all." And what does Christ do? He draws us to himself, into relationship. Again, it does not say, "I will make all people obey the laws." No, I will bring them into relationship. I will draw them to me, to my divine love, to the experience of grace and forgiveness, just as a butterfly or a honey bee is drawn to the beauty and sweetness of the flower.

Our relationship with God is about loving and being loved. It is not about following laws. We know that the law kills, but the spirit gives life. We know that we can never follow all the laws, we will break them. Even when we have the best intentions, we still fall short. Paul wrote to the Romans: "For we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God."

In his remarkable book, The Shack, Wm. Paul Young has the main character, Mackenzie, encounter God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit at an old shack. Mack has been angry with God and with the circumstances of his life for a long time, but the message in this book is about the possibility of experiencing and living in the love of God, During one encounter, Mackenzie poses this questions to God: "But why me? ... (pp. 188-189).

"But why me? I mean, why Mackenzie Allen Phillips? Why do you love someone who is such a screwup? After all the things I've felt in my heart toward you and all the accusations I've made, why would you even bother to keep trying to get through to me?"
"Because that is what love does," answered Papa. "Remember, Mackenzie, I don't wonder what you will do or what choices you will make. I already know. Let's say, for example, I am trying to teach you how not to hide inside lies--hypothetically, of course," she said with a wink. "And let's say that I know it will take you forty-seven situations and events before you will actually hear me--that is, before you will hear clearly enough to agree with me and change. So when you don't hear me the first time, I'm not frustrated or disappointed, I'm thrilled. Only forty-six more times to go! And that first time will be a building block to construct a bridge of hearling that one day--that today--you will walk across."
"Okay, now I'm feeling guilty," he admitted.
"Let me know how that works for you." Papa chuckled. "Seriously, Mackenzie, it's not about feeling guilty. Guilt'll never help you find freedom in me. The best it can do is make you try harder to conform to some ethic on the outside. I'm about the inside."

So God's promise is not about responsibilities. It is about relationship. In another passage in The Shack, God says to Mack, (p. 207),

"You won't find the word responsibility in the Scriptures. ... Religion must use the law to empower itself and control the people in order to survive ... If I simply give you a responsibility, I would not have to be with you at all. It would now be a task to perform, an obligation to be met, something to fail."

And now, for the second statement in that 34th verse of Jeremiah 31: "for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more." Ah, so there you have it. This is why it is so wonderful to go to the throne of grace. That is exactly what it is, grace, acceptance, forgiveness.

I do believe Jesus knew what he was saying and meant what he was saying from the cross when he said, "Forgive them, for they know not what they do." (Luke 23:34).

I believe that it is hard to fathom the fact of forgiveness, even though the world we live in is speaking to us of forgiveness in every fiber, in every cell, in every microscopic organism, because forgiveness is the continuous flow of life, the continuous surge of energy, of love, without our being worthy of it. Forgiveness is about the loving heart of the giver. We can not stop the flow of life any more than we stop the existence of God, the great "I AM." God is. Life is. Love is. That is what I call the trinity of truth. God is. Life is. Love is. It has always been and will always be. Timeless. Indestructible. Taking different forms, but never ceasing.

I sit at the desk in my office at home on a daily basis, looking out to the flowers and trees that border my lawn on the North. In the last weeks I have seen the pear tree quickly spring from bare limbs to a myriad of blossoms, and from that to a covering of soft, green leaves. I look at this movement of life and I see forgiveness, for I see life flowing regardless of my thoughts or actions. I walk in my back yard and smell the hundreds of orange blossoms and I smell the love of God which is given freely to the world. The constant presence and flow of life is a statement of forgiveness, of the never ending stream of blessings available to us.

Richard Rohr, a Roman Catholic priest, writes this in his book titled Everything Belongs: "This world is the hiding place of God and the revelation of God. ... This bodily self, this physical world, participates in whatever it is that God is doing. Now even the new physics tells us that matter is merely the manifestation of spirit, but spirit, consciousness, relationship itself is the real thing. We used to think all the energy was in the particles of the atom; now it seems that the energy is, in fact, in the space between the particles." (p. 118-119)

You see, God's energy is flowing everywhere, including within our very being, in the spaces between the material particles that give us shape and form. The particles make up about 1 percent of our body. The rest is space. This shape we call our body is not really who we are. It is merely the arrangement of particles that change over time. And my how they do change. But the essence of who we are is within, is in the heart, and the heart of mankind is filled with the love of God. Meister Eckhardt, the medieval Dominican mystic, says, "God is closer to me than I am to myself." It is when we are quiet within and connect with that essence of love that we experience the love of God, and thus the law of God written in our hearts.

Sawan Singh Ji has put it this way in Volume IV of The Philosophy of the Masters:

We have to enter the laboratory of this body in order to realize God and experience Him, in the same manner as a student of science enters his laboratory. He shuts the outer door so as to exclude noise and avoid distraction. All the instruments which have been cleaned are placed on a table. His science teacher stands by him and he then carries out the experiment according to the teacher's instructions. He succeeds, though perhaps not at the first or the second attempt.

In a similar way, one has to sit inside this body, close the outer doors and open the inner door. This `going inside' means gathering the attention at the headquarters of the soul in the body. In other words, the attention which is diffused in the outside world and is pervading every cell of the body and activating it, should be gathered at the headquarters to the extent that it become oblivious of the body. All the outer doors should be completely shut, and one should sit inside.

You know that the ultimate law of God is the law of love, and you know that as we are made in the image of God, this is also our essential nature. In fact, that is the essential nature of all things. Love endures, love never ends, love keeps flowing. When we connect with that love, we act and speak in loving ways, because love is flowing from our hearts. Jesus called this life and love within a spring. Listen to these words spoken to the Samaritan woman at the well. (Read John 4:13-14)

God has given us the freedom to accept love or to reject it; to accept life as it is being manifested around us or to fight it; to be a spring that flows with the movement of love or to block it and experience stagnation.

Sin is not so much doing wrong things as it is separating ourselves from the loving presence of God. I do not believe God is keeping a record of our wrong doing, waiting to punish us. Love does not keep a score of good deeds and bad deeds, and sin is not about doing the wrong thing. Besides, Jeremiah 31:34 refers to sin in the singular. It does not say, "I will remember their sins no more." No, it says, I will remember their sin (singular) no more. Sin is not doing the wrong thing. Sin is our declaration of independence from God, our separation from the source of life. Sin is the mistake of running away from the giver. God gives us our freedom. God lets us go. And God is always waiting for our return.

We, like the prodigal son, declare our independence and separate ourselves from the Father. We, like the prodigal son, experience the consequences of this independence, the pain of separation. We, like the prodigal son, when we have had enough of this suffering of separation and finally come to ourselves, return to the father and are received with joy. Do you remember that line in the story, "And when he came to himself he returned home? It is the separated self which is in pain and the self reunited with God that is in joy. The prodigal was not his true self when he declared his independence.

But this sin of independence is the sin that Jesus overcomes with his love when he pronounces on the cross, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." We are ignorant because we are separated from the law of love that is written in our hearts. The instant we are reconnected, we not only know God, we live out of the law of love that is written in our hearts.

The hiding place of God is within. It is within all things, and most certainly within us.


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