Where is God? Is God right here, with us and all around us? Or, is God distant from us, entirely removed from our perceptions and our capacity to understand?
Like Grover, the fuzzy blue monster of Sesame Street, we are befuddled by a simple question of "near" and "far." We want, simultaneously, to know God as an intimate experience and also to sense God as the infinite and ultimate power beyond our understanding. Which is it?
Interestingly, though, the story is introduced by a statement of distance. Before the gathering, God instructs Moses, "Come up to Adonai, with Aaron, Nadav and Avihu, and seventy elders of Israel, and bow low from afar. Moses alone shall come near Adonai, but the others shall not come near, nor shall the people come up with him.” (Exodus 24:1). Why should there be all of this emphasis on the elders keeping their distance when they are about to have afternoon tea at the same table as the Holy One of Blessing?
It's the whole near and far thing. One cannot exist without the other. We need to be able to think of God as being the grounding source of all reality that is far beyond our ability to fathom. No other kind of God would be equal to the awe we experience when we consider the grandeur and immensity of creation and our tiny place within it. We need to be able to think of God as being our intimate partner who cares for us and enters our lives. No other kind of God would be equal to the inner peace and equanimity we experience when we know ourselves to be touched by divinity, loved and forgiven.
We each need to "bow low from afar," to reach deep into our selves and far beyond ourselves at the same time. We need God to be both near and far.
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