Presence In a Time of Social Distance (Revelation 21:3)
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.” —Revelation 21:3
A child cries out in the middle of the night. A parent stumbles down a dark hallway, half asleep. A tear-stained face has just one request, “Will you sit with me?”
From a very early age we yearn for the presence of loved ones who will keep us safe. And as a difficult year draws to an end, we reflect on verses that offer comfort from the presence of our God.
We encounter this week’s verse at a particular moment in history. A global pandemic has brought disruption, suffering, and death to communities around the world. One of the most effective public health responses has been referred to as “social distancing.”
Psychologists have begun to explore the mental health effects of social distancing—increased anxiety, depression, and stress. But in many ways, we don’t need to wait for the studies, we have all lived it. Distance from family, friends, our church families, it has been painful, and it has been difficult.
In this moment of uncertainty and suffering, a loud voice speaks. It speaks from the very throne of God and it brings certainty and comfort. God’s dwelling will not be socially distant! He will dwell with His people. He will be with them. In person. As their God.
In the second to last chapter of the Bible, we return to a theme that has been there from the very beginning. In Genesis 2, God says, “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18). Then after Adam and Eve disobeyed God, they “hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God” (Genesis 3:8). Beginning with their son, Cain, the Bible tells countless stories of the social dislocation and isolation ushered in by sin.
But there is hope. Not only is the relationship-breaking impact of sin front and center in the arc of salvation history, so is the restorative beauty of God’s presence. It is visible in pillar of fire and cloud in the desert. It is represented by the ark and tabernacle and then the temple. The Lord’s instructions to Moses on Mount Sinai included the promise that He would “make [His] dwelling among” His people and “walk among [them] and…be [their] God” (Leviticus 26:11-12).
We also encounter this verse during the Advent season. Many of us are uncertain what our Christmas celebration will look like this year. But we are reminded by this week’s verse that God came to dwell among us (Matthew 1:22-23), is with His people always (Matthew 28:20), and will be with us when He makes all things new.
In many ways, 2020 has been a year where the brokenness of sin has been unusually clear. The world is broken. We are not able to make it right. Isolation is painful. We need a Savior. May the words of this verse bring comfort and encouragement to rest in God and proclaim the good news of the gospel at this challenging moment.
Which specific Bible stories are most powerful as you reflect on these themes of isolation and the impact of God’s presence?
Where have you seen the pain of isolation or the comfort of God’s presence this year?
What are some creative ways you can bring the comfort of God’s presence to people in your family or community during this season?