"There are over many who have much knowledge and little virtue," said the blind saint, Malaval," and who often speak of God while rarely speaking to Him."
These words were written a long time ago; whether they were true of Christians in Malaval's day I am not able to say; we have but his word for it. But I can testify that they describe vast numbers of Christianity today.
The Bible teaches plainly enough the doctrine of the divine omnipresence, but for the masses of professed Christians this is the era of the Absentee God. Most Christians speak of God in the manner usually reserved for a departed loved one, rarely as of one present; but they do not often speak of Him.
Since errors are not equally harmful I suppose it is better to think of God as existing in some remote region of a lonely universe than not to think of Him at all or, worse, to deny outright that there is any such being as God. But truth is always better than error, and with the inspired Scriptures before us we need not think wrongly about such an important matter as this. We can know the truth if we will.
An Absentee God is among other things inadequate. He does not meet the needs of the being called man. As a baby is not satisfied away from its mother, and as life on earth is impossible without the sun, so human beings need a present God, and they can be neither healthy nor satisfied without Him. Surely God would not have created us to be satisfied with nothing less than His presence if He had intended that we should get on with nothing more than His absence. No. The Scriptures and moral reason agree that God is present.
Adam and Eve hid themselves from the presence of the Lord among the trees of the garden. Their fear and chagrin for the moment overcame their conscious need of God. Sin never feels comfortable in the divine Presence. Jonah, in his determined refusal to obey God's command, rose up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. Peter, with a sudden acute consciousness of personal guilt, sought not to flee from the Lord's presence but begged the Lord instead to depart from him. Men need God above everything else, yet are uncomfortable in His presence. This is the self-contradictory moral situation sin has brought us into.
A convinced atheist is more logical than a Christian who tries to worship an Absentee God. The atheist can ignore all moral and religious precepts without fear because he believes that there is no God to call him to account. His mental state is the same as that of a burglar who has talked himself into the belief that there are no policemen, no courts and no jails. Both may enjoy peace of mind for a while - till the truth catches up with them.
The notion that there is a God but that He is comfortably far away is not embodied in the doctrinal statement of any Christian church. Anyone who dared admit that he held such a creed would be considered a heretic and avoided by respectable religious people; but our actions, and especially our spontaneous utterances, reveal our true beliefs better than any conventional creed can do, and if we are to judged by these then I think it can hardly be denied that the average Christian thinks of God as being at a safe distance looking the other way.
One advantage gained from thinking of God as being absent is that we may assume that He is pleased with whatever we may be trying to do, as long as it is not downright wicked. There would seem to be no other way to account for the vast amount of religious nonsense being carried on these days in the name of the Lord. Ambitious persons burned up with desire to promote the kingdom hatch up religious schemes so moronic as to be altogether beyond credibility, and which would never be believed by serious-minded persons if they were not put on display in every city, town and hamlet throughout the country.
Since Protestants have no pope to keep them in line and since God is too far away to be consulted, the only limit to our modern religious folly is the amount the people will stand; and present indications are that they will stand plenty and pay for it, too. That the divine method and manner for evangelizing the world, and conducting public services are set forth in the Holy Scriptures never seems to occur to the busy planners whom an Absentee God has left in charge of His affairs while He is away.
At the far end of the spectrum are the conventional churches. I thing it is the deep-seated notion that God is absent that makes so many of our church services so insufferably dull. When true believers gather around a present Christ, it is all but impossible to have a poor meeting. The drabbest sermon may be endured cheerfully when the sweet fragrance of Christ's presence fills the room. But nothing can save a meeting held in the name of an Absentee God.
~A. W. Tozer~