Several years ago, I was part of a small group Bible study. We became good friends. I especially enjoyed playing with one couple’s 4-year-old daughter Karys. It’s fascinating to see how a mind that young works. One day we were outside, and she started talking to me about God. She said, “God is in the trees. And God is in the grass. And God is in the sky.”
I said to her, “And you know what else? God is in your heart.”
I think it’s funny that she had no problem believing God is in plants, animals, rocks and sky. But God inside me? Whoah! That’s where I draw the line!
It seems most of us think of God being outside, either above, out there, or all around us. However, some of the spiritual teachers who have had the greatest influence on me taught me to think of God being inside me. In the heart was usually the specific location, which is why I said that to Karys.
My last post was a spiritual exercise to get you to think of God’s position – inside or outside you – in a new way. I recently went through a small group study of a book called Exploring the Way: an Introduction to the Spiritual Journey by Marjorie J. Thompson and Stephen D. Bryant. There is a picture with three drawings of stick figures and a triangle. In the first drawing, the triangle is above the stick figure. In the second, the stick figure has a big triangle in his chest, and in the third the person is inside the triangle (Bryant, 23). If the triangle represents God, then it’s easy to see the three drawings show three different positions of God in relation to you or me: God above us, God inside us, and us inside God. Which of these is true? Which is Biblical?
In this view, God is out there, up there, above us. We must reach out and look to God to answer from the outside. Some examples from scripture include:
O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence — When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. (Isa 64:1, 3 NRS)
I bow down toward your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness; for you have exalted your name and your word above everything. On the day I called, you answered me, you increased my strength of soul.1 (Psa 138:2-3 NRS)
I lift up my eyes to the hills — from where will my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth. (Psa 121:1-2 NRS)
In this view, we don’t have to look for God up there or outside of us, because God is already inside us.
It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?” Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?” No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe. (Deu 30:12-14 NRS)
Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?1 (1Co 3:16; cf. 6:19 NRS)
To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Col 1:27 NRS)
But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit,1 since the Spirit of God dwells in you. (Rom 8:9 NRS)
God All Around
In this view, God is both inside and outside of us. God is in the very environment we live in and beyond.
…Indeed he is not far from each one of us. For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’ (Act 17:27b-28 NRS)
Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. (Joh 15:4-5 NRS)
…for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. (Col 3:3 NRS)
Which of these is right? Each of these views has support in scripture, and there are many more verses we could give to support each one. So I guess the first lesson from this survey is none of them is wrong. In upcoming posts, I will explore how each view of God informs a life of faith.