In our hard times and weak moments, there’s the tendency to think that the skies are made of steel and God looks the other way, some sort of indifferent, as He awaits the day of judgment when He will open our books and consider what we’ve been up to in this life. This couldn’t be further from the reality. Because God is God and we are but men and women, there inevitably has to be some appropriate ‘distance’ placed between God and man. But don’t let that distance fool us into thinking that God’s distant from us personally. The God who in one sense is so ‘far’ repeatedly urges upon us His ‘nearness’, His attention to every micro event in our lives, and His unbelievably active involvement in our lives. It seems He even works out for us a large number of possible futures, knowing as the master chess layer that if we decide X then events Y and Z will then occur; if A, then events B- K. Man is not alone. You are not alone, I am not alone; “For I am with you”. God is with us for us in His Son. Of course, we must draw near to Him (Ps. 73:28); and yet He is already near, not far from every one of us (Acts 17:27). David often speaks of drawing near to God, and yet he invites God to draw near to him (Ps. 69:18). Yet David also recognizes that God “is” near already (Ps. 75:1). I take all this to mean that like us, David recognized that God “is” near, and yet wished God to make His presence real to him. Truly can we pray David’s prayers. So often, prayer is described as coming near to God (Ps. 119:169 etc.)- and yet God “is” near already. Prayer, therefore, is a way of making us realize the presence of the God who is always present. God's people are told to "keep not silence" in their prayers to God (Is. 62:6). But the same Hebrew word is translated "Give Him no rest" in the next verse (Is. 62:7). Insofar as the voice of prayer is never silent world-wide, so far God is never, in that sense, at rest. The extent of His activity for us is simply huge. Just consider all the apparently insignificant details added in to God's plan for making Saul king: "Then you shall go on from there farther and come to the oak of Tabor. Three men going up to God at Bethel will meet you there, one carrying three young goats, another carrying three loaves of bread, and another carrying a skin of wine. And they will greet you and give you two loaves of bread..." (1 Sam. 10:3,4). One of this, two of that, three of those... why such detail? It's the same question as to why is the cosmos so vast, the range of plant and animal life on earth so huge and varied. Perhaps in Saul's case all the detail was necessary in order to try to build faith in him, and to demonstrate for all time the capability of God to have micro level involvement and control in human experiences.
The Man Will Not Be In Rest
The lovely story of Ruth speaks of our redemption. Her “kinsman redeemer” [Heb. Go’el] was the “mighty one”, Boaz. We find this word especially used in Isaiah’s prophecies to the Jewish exiles in Babylon, urging them to return from that Gentile land to Judah, and take the Gentiles with them. They had the impression there in Babylon that God had somehow forgotten them. The book of Ruth appears to have been written up [perhaps in Babylon] in order to encourage them to return- after the pattern of Naomi and Ruth returning to the land and being redeemed by their Go’el. But this Go’el is none less than God Himself. So many passages in Isaiah allude to the Ruth story: “I Yahweh am your Saviour and your redeemer [Go’el], the mighty one of Jacob” (Is. 49:26). Judah were urged in Is. 55:6 to call upon God “While He is near”- the same Hebrew word translated “kinsman”. The servant songs go on to explain how Yahweh could become our kinsman through His Son, our representative, of our nature. Judah in captivity were likewise encouraged by Jeremiah to return to the land- with full allusion to Ruth: “Turn again, O virgin of Israel, turn again to these thy cities... for the Lord has created a new thing in the earth: a woman shall compass a man” (Jer. 31:21,22). This refers to the way in which Ruth summed up the courage to ‘go after’ Boaz, to present herself to him for marriage- reflecting the spiritual ambition of all those who seek redemption and restoration in Christ.
And so likewise the statement that God will not "rest" for Zion's sake (Is. 62:1) must be understood in the context of the faithful at that time urging God not to "be still" [same Hebrew word translated "rest"] for His people (Ps. 83:1; Is. 64:12). This is an allusion to Boaz not being at rest until he had redeemed Ruth and Naomi. God is not at rest, He is not distant from us; and yet His people in Babylon felt that He was. It's no wonder that we are tempted to feel the same. Yet we must give Is. 62:1 it's full weight- God is answering the complaint of His people by stating that no, He will never rest for them. In this same context we read that He that keeps Israel will "neither slumber nor sleep" (Ps. 121:4). The fact that God will never 'hold His peace' for His people's sake (Is. 62:1) means that we should likewise not 'hold our peace' for them (the same Hebrew is used in Is. 62:6). In our prayers for them, we are to give God no rest (Is. 62:7). And so the connection between Is. 62:1 and 6 socks us with an amazing challenge: His restless activity and concern for His people should be ours. It must be ours, if we are His children. Being bored from having ‘nothing to do’ just isn’t part of the believer’s life; His huge activity, the endless surging of His Spirit, is to be replicated in us as we too seek the good of others. If this connection is firmly established between His activity and ours, His Spirit and ours… then quite naturally we will seek to maximize our time for Him and be minimalists in the hours we spend upon the things of this life. As He never slumbers nor sleeps in His restless activity and thought for His people, so we shall likewise be in the Kingdom age; and our desire to be there is not because we fancy an eternal tropical holiday with palm trees blowing in the mind, but because we wish to be more closely aligned with His activity, with His Spirit, and not be held back by the limitations of our current natures.
The cosmos hasn't been created, wound up by God as it were on clockwork, and left ticking by an absent creator. There are many Bible verses which teach that God is actively, consciously outgiving of His Spirit in the myriad things going on in the natural creation, every nanosecond He is sensitive to the needed input from Him- and He gives it. The Lord Jesus defended working for His Father on the Sabbath because "My Father works hitherto, and I work" (Jn. 5:17). "Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your Heavenly Father feedeth them" (Mt. 6:26)- God consciously feeds the birds with their every mouthful. "If God so clothe the grass of the field. . . shall He not much more clothe you?" (Mt. 6:30). In the same way, God individually and consciously cares for each blade of grass. Fundamentally, they do not grow so much as a result of chemical combination or photosynthesis, but due to the conscious care of God using such processes. - One sparrow " shall not fall on the ground without (the knowledge of) your Father" (Mt. 10:29). God is aware of the death of each bird- He does not allow animals to die due to their natural decay (the clockwork mechanism) without Him being actively involved in and conscious of their death. Again, Jesus shows how God's knowledge and participation in the things of the natural creation must imply an even greater awareness of us. “The very hairs of your head are all numbered. . . ye are of more value than many sparrows" (Mt. 10:30,31). God "makes His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust" (Mt. 5:45). God consciously makes the sun rise each day- it isn't part of a kind of perpetual motion machine. Hence the force of His promises in the prophets that in the same way as He consciously maintains the solar system, so He will maintain His Israel. Ps. 104 is full of such examples: " He waters the hills. . causes the grass to grow. . makes darkness (consciously, each night). . . the young lions. . . seek their meat from God. . . send forth Your Spirit (Angel), they are created" (not just by the reproductive system). There are important implications following from these ideas with regard to our faith in prayer. It seems to me that our belief that the world is going on inevitably by clockwork is one of the things which militates against faith. To give a simple example: we may need to catch a certain train which is to leave at 9 a.m. We wake up late at 8:30 a.m. and find it hard to have faith in our (all too hasty) prayer that we will get it, because we are accustomed to trains leaving on time. But if we have the necessary faith to believe that each individual action in life is the work of God, then it is not so hard to believe that God will make the action of that train leaving occur at 9:30 a.m. rather than at 9 a.m. when He normally makes it leave. The whole of creation keeps on going as a result of God having a heart that bleeds for people. “If he causes his heart to return unto himself”, the whole of creation would simply cease (Job 34:14 RVmg.). His spirit is His heart and mind, as well as physical power. Creation is kept going not by clockwork, but by the conscious outpouring of His Spirit toward us. In times of depression we need to remember this; that the very fact the world is still going, the planet still moves, atoms stay in their place and all matter still exists… is proof that the God who has a heart that bleeds for us is still there, with His heart going out to us His creation. And the spirit of the Father must be in us His children.
One insight beyond the [apparent] steely silence of the skies is to be found in the visions of Ezekiel, Daniel, Zechariah and Revelation. Don’t just turn off when you read of monsters, cherubim, Angels and incense. Half close your eyes and see it all at the broad outline level. Quite simply, events here on earth are related to huge mega movements of Divine power in Heaven. The sky, the trillions of kilometers between Heaven and earth, are in fact no ultimate distance. That’s the simplest message of those visions. In Revelation we see the incense of human prayers arising into Heaven, resulting in Angels coming to earth, pouring out bowls, blowing trumpets, and major events happening on earth (Rev. 5:8; 8:3). Prayer is noticed; it brings forth quite out of proportion responses. The Angels discuss their plans for us in the court of Heaven, coming up with various possibilities of how to act in our lives, discussing them with God (1 Kings 22:20-22). They play some part in the whole process of our prayers. When we read that “Surely the Lord does nothing without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets” (Am. 3:7), we might tend to take that as a statement of absolute principle that is obvious to all the Angels. But we find an Angel discussing with others: “Shall I hide from Abraham [who was a prophet] what I am about to do?” (Gen. 18:17). My point quite simply is that the Angels have more debate, expend more mental and physical energy than we surely realize, in order to operationalize things which we might consider to be standard and automatic in God’s work with men. In our context, what this means is that when men reject the machinations and schemings of God’s love, they reject an awful lot; and it grieves and disappoints Him, and appears tragic to those like the prophets who see things from His viewpoint. Dan. 10:2 records that Daniel prayed for three weeks, presumably for his people’s restoration. In v. 12 Daniel is told by the Angel that "from the first day... your words were heard, and I am come for your words". So because of his prayer ("words" - perhaps put like that to emphasize the power of the 'mere' words uttered in prayer), an Angel was sent from God to give him the understanding he had asked for. His very first prayer for this was answered- but the actual answer came three weeks later. The reason for this was that the Angel had been withstood by the prince of Persia for 21 days (v. 13). Three weeks is 21 days. So Daniel's first prayer was answered, but it took the Angel three weeks to work out the answer in practice; but during this time Daniel kept on praying, although at the time it must have seemed to him that no answer was forthcoming. God wasn’t silent- although Daniel may’ve been tempted to think so. His Angels were earnestly working out the answers during the apparent ‘silence’.
The Father restlessly watching for the prodigal's return matches the woman searching for the lost coin “till she find it” or the unusual shepherd who searches for his lost sheep “until He finds it” (Lk. 15:4,8,20). This involves God in huge activity- setting up providential encounters, nudging consciences through circumstance. The huge amount of ‘work’ is one thing; but the mental energy of concern and thoughtfulness is phenomenal beyond our comprehension. God rises up early seeking His people- rather like us somehow being able to wake up early in the morning without an alarm clock, because our internal clock is restlessly wanting to be up and on our mission for the day. In all this we are to manifest God- for we too are to seek and save the lost. In all this, I’m not so much saying ‘We ought to be the more active, focused, better managers of our time’… as appealing to us to align our heart / mind / spirit with that of God. And quite naturally His priorities and passions for the lost become ours. We will have a life to live, rather than mere existence to be existed through until the time comes when old age forbids us frittering any more time online or completing the latest Sudoku. This is how a lost world spends its lostness; it is for us to go seek them.
Let’s quit forever the idea that God is somehow indifferent to human behaviour and experience now, and will only open the books and consider it all at judgment day. No. The essence of judgment is ongoing now; “we make the answer now”. God’s present judgment is often paralleled with His future judgment. Thus “The Lord shall judge the people...God judges [now] the righteous, and God is angry with the wicked every day...he will whet his sword; he has [right now]bent his bow, and made it ready.” (Ps. 7:8,11-13). We are come now “to God the judge of all” (Heb. 12:23); God is now enthroned as judge (Ps. 93:2; Mt. 5:34 “the heaven is God’s throne”). We are now inescapably in God’s presence (Ps. 139:2); and ‘God’s presence’ is a phrase used about the final judgment in 2 Thess. 1:9; Jude 24; Rev. 14:10. Hence “God is [now] the judge: he putteth down one and setteth up another” (Ps. 75:7) – all of which He will also due at the last day (Lk. 14:10). So “The day of the Lord is coming, but it is even now” (Mic. 7:4 Heb.). God isn’t passive to human behaviour- right now “To every matter there is a time and a judgment (krisis)” (Ecc. 8:6 RVmg.). He perceives our actions right now as critically important. And this should highlight to us the crucial importance of life and right living today. For God isn’t a God far off; ultimately the High and lofty one who inhabits eternity also inhabits the heart of the humble today. Prayer makes a difference; the words of prayer really do ascend to Heaven and are heard. Are we merely muttering the same trite phrases to God, half asleep as we drift into our nightly unconsciousness? Rattling off the same sentences over meals...? Several times we’ve seen that it is our serious prayer which makes Almighty God so restless for us. His restless, creative Spirit is to be ours. Not for us the mire of mediocrity, existence rather than life...