The Presence of God by J. Ryan Lister: A Book Review
Sometimes a book is conceived long before it is born. Seeds for The Presence of God were planted in the summer of 2000 with the author’s study of Psalm 16:11:
You make known to me the path of life;
In your presence there is fullness of joy;
At your right hand are pleasures forever.
Letting Scripture direct his steps, Lister began an expedition to understand the biblical motif of God’s presence and the result is an exhaustive chronicle of the presence of God throughout biblical history. His book is a theological feast which requires a slow digestion. As I was reading, it occurred to me that working through Lister’s book, section by section, alongside a trip through the Bible in a year would provide enriching backstory to each day’s reading.
The Presence of God is based on several big-picture concepts:
1. Defining the “presence of God” requires two distinct delineations. Eschatological presence is the immediate and fully relational presence of God seen only in Genesis 1-3 and Revelation 21-22 when the believer finally enters the dwelling place of God for all eternity. After Adam and Eve’s rebellion, there is a change that occurs in the presence of God.
“Adam’s sin disturbed the whole universe, hung up the great curtain in the temple, and dug the hole for the coming cross of Christ.”
God’s redemptive presence comes with the goal of restoring all that sin has destroyed. From that point on, the divine presence is at work in history to bring about a New Paradise that will cover the whole earth completing what the first creation began.
2. The presence of God is a central goal in God’s redemptive mission, but at the same time, it is the agent by which God accomplishes that mission.
3. It is not contradictory for a God who is transcendent to also be immanent. In fact, it is God’s transcendence that allows for His immanence, and, the glorious truth of His immanence is based on the intimacy that has always existed among the members of the Trinity.
Lister argues that each of the Old Testament covenants revolves around God’s promise of a place in which to house the divine presence and a people to revel in that presence, thus reflecting His glory. He helps us to see that “God’s commitment to be present with His people is overwhelming — strong enough to conquer sin and death.” Spotlighting the presence of God as the center of redemptive history, Lister works his way through Old Testament time until Matthew trumpets the entry of God in the flesh, when redemptive presence takes on flesh and blood, sweat and sandals. From this point in Scripture, “our Lord is pulling the common threads of all the previous covenants together to create the beautiful fabric of the New Covenant.”
Following the trajectory of God’s presence across the story arc from Eden to tabernacle, from temple to exile, and from Jesus to the New Jerusalem is well worth a Christian’s reading time, but J. Ryan Lister goes the extra mile in his final chapters to answer the “so what?” question. The magnificent truth that God is with us gives deeper significance to our great salvation, to our identity as the church, and to our anticipation of the future coming of Christ when He will, once again, usher in His unmitigated presence. The fact that He has drawn near to us opens the door of relationship for us to draw near to Him. The Pentecost reversal of Babel’s alienation points to the Spirit-initiated work of reconciliation that God desires for the world. In the believer, the Spirit does the work of sanctification, empowering the miracle of killing sin and displaying righteousness. Manifesting the presence of God in this age, the Church waits for Christ’s return, not so that we can quibble over the WHEN, but so that we can rejoice over the WHY: that our story and His story may once again be one.
Disclosure: This book was provided by Crossway in exchange for my unbiased review.