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).