The Bible and the Bhagavad Gita 49: In Front and Behind

Lynn Canyon Suspension BridgeLynn Canyon ParkVancouver, Canada, by Diego Delso. From Wikimedia Commons

You are behind me and in front of me; I bow to you on every side. Your power is immeasurable. You pervade everything; you are everything. (BG, 10:40)

Arjuna continues to praise Krishna. His words remind me of Psalm 139:

You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. …Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. (Psalm 139, 5, 7-8 NRSV).

Both scriptures point to the inescapable presence of God. The Psalm even makes it sound deliciously terrifying: How can I escape? The author doesn’t want to escape, of course. The author is simply reveling in the intimacy of a God who sees and loves every inch of us, down to the cellular level: For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made (vv. 13-14). This is one reason the story of Adam hiding from God in Genesis is supposed to be amusing. The God who made us isn’t confounded by our hiding, nor shocked by our nakedness (Genesis 3:10-11).

Arjuna likewise is overwhelmed both by Krishna’s omnipresence and love. Having seen that the Lord is present in every atom of the universe, he feels a need to repent, in case he has been too familiar with his chariot-driver or shown disrespect. But he feels confident in God’s intimate love: As a father forgives his son, or a friend a friend, or a lover his beloved, so should you forgive me (BG, 10:44).

God’s omnipresence may be more baffling and impressive than God’s omnipotence, because it’s personal. God has intimate knowledge of us, of who we are, of our fears and desires, our grudges and aspirations. It’s not like we can turn in a certain direction and avoid God.

It seems to me that we have a continuum of experiences with God’s presence. Either a) we feel God’s absence and experience forsakenness, b) we feel God’s omnipresence and find it oppressive and terrifying, or c) we feel God’s presence and find it liberating and life-affirming. I suspect that in some sense, the truest reality is the experience of all three at the same time.

Prayer:
Holy Presence, you are before me, behind me, and on every side.

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