The central promise in the Bible is not “I will forgive you,” although of course that promise is there. It is not the promise of life after death, although we are offered that as well. The most frequent promise in the Bible is “I will be with you.”

Before Adam and Eve ever sinned or needed forgiveness, they were promised God’s presence. He would walk with them in the cool of the day.

The promise came to Enoch, who “walked with God.”It was made to Noah, to Abraham and Sarah, to Jacob and Joseph and Moses and David and Amos and Mary and Paul and too many others to list. It is the reason for courage: “Do not be terrified;. . . for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”It kept them going in darkness: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me.”

God gave Israel the tabernacle and the ark of the covenant and manna and the temple and a pillar of cloud and another one of fire, like so many Post-It notes saying, “Don’t forget. I am with you.” GOD IS CLOSER THAN YOU THINK 16 The central promise in the Bible is not “I will forgive you.”The most frequent promise is “I will be with you.”

When God himself came to earth, his redemptive name was Immanuel — God with us. When Jesus left, his promise was to send the Spirit so that “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

At the end of time, when sin is a distant and defeated memory and forgiveness is as obsolete as buggy whips, it will be sung, “God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.”

“The unity of the Bible is discovered in the development of life with-God as a reality on earth, centered in the person of Jesus,” write Dallas Willard and Richard Foster. God is determined that you should be in every respect his friend, his companion, his dwelling place.

I Can Feel Him Walking Around

“Find a place in your heart,” said an ancient sage named Theophan the Recluse, “and speak there with the Lord. It is the Lord’s reception room.”Some people seem to find this room easily. Friends of ours have a daughter who said when she was five years old, “I know Jesus lives in my heart, because when I put my hand on it I can feel him walking around in there.”

Sofia Cavalletti is a researcher who has pioneered the study of spirituality in young children. She finds that children often have an amazing perception that far surpasses what they’ve already been taught. One three-year-old girl, raised in an atheistic family with no church contact and no Bible in the home, asked her father, “Where did the world come from?” He answered her in strictly naturalistic, scientific terms. Then he added, “There are some people who say that all this comes from a very powerful being, and they call him God.”

At this, the little girl started dancing around the room with joy: “I knew what you told me wasn’t true — it’s him, it’s him!”

Writer Anne Lamott was raised by her dad to be a devout atheist. She and her siblings all had to agree to a contract to that effect when they were two or three years old. But Anne started backsliding into faith at an early age. “Even when I was a child I knew that when I said Hello, someone heard.”

Some people seem to have a kind of inner radar for detecting the presence of God. Just as certain musicians have perfect pitch, these people have an ear for discerning God’s voice. They seem to be as aware of God as they are of gravity. Telling them how to look for God would be like telling a fish how to look for water — where else could they live?

But I am Adam. I believe my life hinges on the presence of God. I know that courage and guidance and hope all reside with him. But I am aware of the gap — even if it is only a hairbreadth. And in the midst of all my ambiguity — my weakness and occasional spiritual indifference — I long for the touch that will close the gap.

Dallas Willard (who lost his mother as a young child) writes of a little boy whose mom had died. He was especially sad and lonely at night. He would come into his father’s room and ask if he could sleep with him. Even then he could not rest until he knew not only that he was with his father but that his father’s face was turned toward him. “Father, is your face turned toward me now?”Yes, his father would say. You are not alone. I’m with you. My face is turned toward you. When at last he was assured of this, he could rest. Dallas goes on: “How lonely life is! Oh, we can get by in life with a God who does not speak. Many at least think they do so. But it is not much of a life, and it is certainly not the life God intends for us or the abundance of life Jesus came to make available.”

I want to live with God’s face toward me. I want to experience — in the dark of night as well as the light of day — the reality that Moses prayed for: “The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you.”

From God is Closer Than You Think by John Ortberg

Copyright © 2005 John Ortberg, Published by Zondervan. Used with Permission.