The Presence of the Divine

“But – we may well be asked – has it any meaning to ask for ‘the presence of the Divine’? Does not that Sacramental idea at once cancel itself, when thought out? Is not God ‘omnipresent’ and ‘really present’ always and everywhere?

Such a view is often put forward, and with a confident air of assurance which is in sharp conflict with the testimony of genuine religious experience; so much so, indeed, that one is tempted to venture a very blunt reply to it. We say, then, that this doctrine of the omnipresence of God – as thought by a necessity of His being He must be bound to every time and to every place, like a natural force pervading space – is a frigid invention of metaphysical speculation, entirely without religious import. Scripture knows nothing of it. Scripture knows no ‘Omnipresence’, neither the expression nor the meaning it expresses; it knows only the God who is where He wills to be, and is not where He wills not to be, the deus mobilis, who is no mere universally extended being, but an august mystery, that comes and goes, approaches and withdraws, has its time and hour, and may be far or near in infinite degrees, ‘closer than our breathing’ to us or miles remote from us. The hours of His ‘visitation’ and His ‘return’ are rare and solemn occasions, different essentially not only from the ‘profane’ life of every day, but also from the calm confiding mood of the believer, whose trust is to live ever before the face of God. They are the topmost summits in the life of the spirit. They are not only rare occasions, they must needs be so for our sakes, for no creature can bear often or for long the full nearness of God’s majesty in its beatitude and its awefulness. Yet there must still be such times, for they show the bright vision and completion of our sonship, they are a bliss in themselves and potent for redemption. They are the real sacrament, in comparison with which all high official ceremonials, Masses, and rituals the world over become the figurings of a child. And a Divine Service would be the truest which led up to such a mystery and the riches of grace that ensue upon the realization of it. And if it be asked whether a Divine Service be able to achieve this, let us answer that, though God indeed comes where and when He chooses, yet He will choose to come when we sincerely call upon Him and prepare ourselves truly for His visitation.”

Rudolf Otto