By Jim McDonald
Among the many blessings of eternal nature that faithful Christians expect to receive is to be in God’s presence. While we know not yet what we shall be, -we know that, if he shall be manifested, we shall be like him, for we shall see him, even as he is” (1 Jn. 3:2). Such a passage as this doubtlessly inspired the words of the familiar hymn: “Face to face with Christ my Savior, face to face, what will it be?” God has promised that there we will dwell in his presence and that he and the Lamb will be our eternal light (Rev. 21:23).
Such promises are pregnant with comfort! Paul believed that to depart and “be with Christ” was far better for him than to dwell in his uncertain, troubled state (Phil. 1:23). When he wrote to strengthen the Thessalonians, because some had had loved ones to die, the assurance he gave them was that when Jesus comes: “. . . the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we that are alive, that are left shall together with them be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:16-17). Jesus sought to assuage his Apostles’ sorrow by assuring them that although he was going away, it was but to prepare a place for them: he would come again to receive them unto himself that where he was, there they might be also (Jn. 14:1-3). Such a hope was not intended exclusively for the Apostles: Paul said that his hope of the crown of righteousness would be equally realized by “all them that have loved his appearing (2 Tim. 4:8).
Who can comprehend what it will mean to be in the presence of God? Such is as incomprehensible as is the watchful, providential care God extends to us in this present life. The Psalmist said: “Such knowledge is too high for me, I cannot attain unto it” (Psa. 139:6). The Christian is confident that God’s caring, attentive eye is on him even now for his eye is on the sparrow, he clothes the lilies of the field: surely he cares; he sees and supplies the needs of his children! We demonstrate littleness of faith when we forget these things (Matt. 6:30). David viewed God as his Shepherd, furnishing his needs, protecting him from danger, watching as he slept: ready to guide him through death’s dark passageway (Psa. 23). With such refreshing hope and blessings arising like water from a spring, David was prompted to exclaim: “My cup runneth over” (v. 7). Christians draw comfort that even now we “dwell” in his presence and in David’s anguished, penitential prayer he earnestly besought God, “Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy Spirit from me” (Psa. 51:11).
But to dwell in God’s eternal presence! Ah, like the eternal character of God we cannot fathom such: such a mixture of thoughts and emotions would surely rush through our soul; our whole being! Awe, fear, wonder, joy and peace all because we will be home, no longer strangers and pilgrims! Earth’s struggles, sacrifices, persecutions, disappointments with self and others; tears, doubts: we can cast all these aside with Paul as “light, momentary afflictions”(2 Cor. 4:17). We will join Abraham and others of his faith in the city they (we) sought, a city without foundation, whose builder and maker is God. Above all, God, our eternal, loving Father, will be there! “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men and he shall dwell in them and they shall be his peoples, and God himself shall be with them and be their God: and he shall wipe away every tear from their eyes and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain, any more” (Rev. 22:3-4). To be in God’s eternal presence might be somewhat similar to the comfort a sick child draws from mother’s presence at his bedside; the frightened child’s assurance by his father’s presence in a darkened bedroom; to the bridegroom as he sees his beloved make her way to him down the aisle; to the college student turning in the drive way to see her parents standing at the door to meet her; to the parents when all their brood: children and grandchildren, sit down at a table laden with the bounties of life, hold hands and give thanks: all this and more. Truly: “in thy presence is fullness of joy” (Psa. 16:11). Fulness of joy: every happy, joyful expectation realized in God’s presence!
What utter emptiness, loneliness and despair then must sweep upon the faithless when that awful sentence is sounded: “Depart from me, ye accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 15:41). To depart from Christ will mean banishment from his presence: a warning uttered by Paul who wrote that Jesus would render “vengeance to them that know not God and to them that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus: who shall suffer punishment, even eternal destruction from the face of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (2 Thess. 1:7-9). All attendant joys to be experienced by the faithful will be unrealized by the faithless: forebodings, like mountains, will weigh down upon them in their wretched state.
Banished from his presence, banished from his care. We may be oblivious to God’s care now much as was Israel in Isaiah’s day (1:3). Still, whether we are thankful or unthankful; conscious or unconscious, God’s care is there sustaining, filling our lives richly with blessings. But that care will be removed in hell: we will suffer for our own devices, removed from the care we knew on earth.
Banished from his presence, not allowed to sing the new song; the song of Moses and the Lamb; the song of redemption: never privileged to blend our voices with earth’s redeemed ones for such a song I could not sing: I rejectea that redemption offered me by the Savior.
Banished from his presence, never again to cast our petitions into his ears whom once we knew would both hear and answer: the only response we could expect to receive will be silence; broken silence by shrieks and piercing wails of others who share the same fate as we: we rejected his call, there he will reject our calls.
Banished from his presence, no strength for my anguished state. No hope for future betterment, no relief from pain, no release ever from the state I chose for myself by rejecting the gospel and tasting for a little while, the pleasures of sin.
Divorce all punishment inflicted unon us in hell from simple banishment from his presence and the latter would be anguish overwhelming! God forbid that such ever be our plight! Oh, brother, sister: let us live and serve God; let us serve and help each other; let us so live, labor and love that never do we hear these tragic, fateful words: “Depart from me!”
Guardian of Truth XXXV: 19, pp. 586-587
October 3, 1991