Bestselling author John Ortberg has an excellent new book: God Is Closer Than You Think. The message is one we all need to hear: God’s deep desire – and his promise – is to be with us, everywhere, all the time, no matter what.
Q: What’s the essence of your book, “God Is Closer Than You Think”?
A: During the first year of our marriage, Nancy and I spent two months traveling around Europe. The highlight of one day in Italy came after standing in line for hours at the Vatican to view Michelangelo Buonarroti’s brilliant painting of God and Adam on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. If you look carefully you notice that the figure of God is extended toward the man with great vigor. He twists his body to move it as close to the man as possible. His head is turned toward the man, and his gaze is fixed on him. God’s arm is stretched out, his index finger extended straight forward; every muscle is taut.
Adam is more difficult to interpret. His arm is partially extended toward God, but his body reclines in a lazy pose, leaning backward as if he has no interest at all in making a connection. Apparently one of the messages that Michelangelo wanted to convey is God’s implacable determination to reach out to and be with the person he has created. This picture reminds us: God is closer than we think. He is never farther than a prayer away.
Q: You say the story of the Bible isn’t primarily about the desire of people to be with God; it’s the desire of God to be with people.
A: The central promise in the Bible is not “I will forgive you,” although of course that promise is there. It’s not the promise of life after death, although we’re offered that as well. The most frequent promise in the Bible is “I will be with you.” When God himself came to earth, his redemptive name was Immanuel — God with us. When Jesus left, his promise was to send the Spirit so that ‘I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’ God is determined that you should be in every respect his friend, his companion, his dwelling place.
Q: What are some of the foundational truths of a person’s life with God that you list in your book and recommend that people review regularly to practice God’s presence?
A: God is always present and active in my life, whether or not I see him. Coming to recognize and experience God’s presence is learned behavior. My task is to meet God in this moment. Whenever I fail, I can always start again right away. My desire for God ebbs and flows, but his desire for me is constant.
Interview courtesy of Zondervan