It was my first broken heart. I was a junior in college, dating the person I thought I would marry. But then, instead of a proposal, I was hit head-on with a breakup instead. Reeling from the shock and emotional pain, I called a friend on the day of the breakup. And I’ll never forget what she did.

She came over to my apartment, towing her pale pink sleeping bag under her arm. She walked into my room, laid her sleeping bag on the floor next to my bed, and spent the night so that I wouldn’t be alone. While more than twenty years have gone by since that painful summer night, the memory is forever etched on my mind because of the power of her physical presence. In other words, she was with me. And by being with me in my distress, she reflected the very heart of God.

We don’t have to look far or look hard to see that the theme of presence, or “with-ness,” permeates the pages of Scripture. Why? Because a fundamental truth about God is that He is a God who is with His people.

From the very beginning in Genesis, we catch our first glimpse of this God, who walks with Adam and Eve in the garden. Fast-forward to the wilderness generation and the tabernacle, where God dwells with Israel. And later in Israel’s history, God dwells with them via the temple. This is no Deist god who simply sets the universe in motion and then takes a step back, distancing himself from his creation. Rather, this is a shockingly and consistently personal God who is always initiating, always stepping closer to His people. The Old Testament gives ample witness of a God who is with His people—a God who is completely different from and completely better than the gods of the surrounding nations and peoples.

But then, God manifests His presence, His with-ness, in a stunning way when Jesus takes on humanity to become Immanuel—God with us. He ate with people, talked with people, wept with people, and rejoiced with people. And because He succeeded where Adam and Israel failed, He secures the fulfillment of the best promise of all, which we find in Revelation 21:3: “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God” (emphasis added).

This is a shockingly and consistently personal God who is always initiating, always stepping closer to His people.

Much ink is spilled discussing what it means for believers to be godly, to be like Jesus, to reflect the imago Dei. Yet how often in our relationships with others do we really take to heart that to be godly, to be Christlike, to be true image bearers, means being with those who are hurting and in need? It is a good thing to pray for people. It is far better to pray with them. It is a good thing to weep for people. It is far better to weep with them. It is a good thing to text or call. It is far better to be with them in person (when possible). In doing so, we most clearly display the image of the God who is with His people. This presence with others is love most beautiful—a love that God Himself determined would be the defining feature of His children when He said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).

Just as the God who is love does not remain distant or detached from His children, so we as His children, learning from the perfect humanity of our elder brother Jesus, cannot remain distant or detached from those He’s joined us to as family—our truest brothers and sisters. Let us ask ourselves: What keeps me from initiating conversations and relationships with people so that I can learn about their lives, their burdens, and the places they need others to walk with them? What keeps me from moving toward others as God has moved toward me in Christ? What makes me content to stay a few degrees removed rather than truly walking with others?

I remember the first time I heard this comment from R.C. Sproul: “The hardest thing about being a Christian is serving a God you have never seen.” Those words were memorable because they resonated with me by way of personal experience. In the already but not yet, we relate to a God who is indeed with us—and through the Holy Spirit is even in us—yet faith has not yet become sight (2 Cor. 5:7), and we love Someone we’ve never seen (1 Peter 1:8). We must wait until the consummation of all things for the physical reality to catch up with the spiritual reality, and as embodied souls, this is difficult.

And so, one of the greatest ways we can reflect the glory of God, one of the greatest ways we can do good to others during this fleeting earthly life, is to make visible and tangible God’s love by being with people, walking with people, until the day we are together with God visibly and tangibly forever.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on January 26, 2022.

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