So Near, So Far

For your discernment:

One concept I struggled with over the years is the distinction between “nearness of appearance” vs. “nearness of approach” in our journey to the Lord. I have read a number of descriptions of the idea, but I had trouble putting it all together.  I found the use of images helpful in wrapping my head around this, and am sharing it with anyone who might read this who has had the same struggle.

Let’s consider the image below, a photograph of the famous Christ the Redeemer statue in Brazil:

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This picture is from some distance away, and the statue appears rather small, almost human sized. You could even hold up your hand and block the image entirely.   Jesus Christ does not look that different from me when viewed this way, especially for someone indifferent or lukewarm to their faith. This is what I will refer to as nearness of appearance.

But this is an illusion of course.  But in a way it is a good illusion, as it doesn’t scare us away.  Jesus has cloaked his majesty in flesh to make himself accessible to us.

And now the soul responds, and begins its journey. You have to drop a lot of baggage to get through the rough terrain in the picture. No heavy clothing, suitcases, big egos, etc.

And after some time, you get closer. The people who get really close, which we call saints, have described the experience in their writings.  Consider the next image, which is true nearness of approach:

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Photograph By Mike Vondran, some rights reserved.

Whoah … He’s a lot bigger up close. The closer one gets, saint or not, the more apparent the “ever greater” nature of Jesus and the Father through him becomes. We are nearer, but ever more aware that we are not like the Son or the Father. We are not God.  If you put your nose right up against the statue, all you would see is a wall of stone. Instead of covering the image with your hand, His hand covers you.

And so the experience of Moses comes to mind:

But He said, “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!” Then the LORD said, “Behold, there is a place by Me, and you shall stand there on the rock; and it will come about, while My glory is passing by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock and cover you with My hand until I have passed by. Then I will take My hand away and you shall see My back, but My face shall not be seen.”

Exodus 33:20-23.

The little statue you could cover your hand with in the first photo is now the Lord that can cover you with his hand. And when I think about the “dark nights of the soul” described by some mystics, I wonder if it may be the shadow of the Lord, protecting them from a glory they could not see and live.

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