The Problem of Proximity

Posted by Nathan Rittenhouse on October 12, 2017

When was the last time that you saw the Milky Way? We live on a planet that has a stellar view of the night sky. Our historical records show us that from our earliest drawings and writings humans have been gazing into the infinite expanse above our heads and pondering our own significance. Even though we all should be able to peer into the depths above us, there is actually a good chance that you have not clearly seen the night sky for quite some time. There are reasons for this. The first is that many people live in places that have enough smog to block our view of anything beyond what we have made. The second reason is that most of our time is spent bent forward consuming digital material on our devices rather than leaning back to enjoy the grandeur that transcends us. The third and final reason is the problem of proximity. The reason that most of us do not have a clear view of the stars is light pollution. We simply cannot see into the heavens because of all of the light that is constantly around us. Very few of us are ever in total darkness because there is always a light somewhere nearby or in our pocket.

This is all a bit silly. Just think, there are thousands of visible stars above my head that are incomprehensibly bright, and yet, I cannot see them because of a streetlamp 18 feet above my head that is a negligible fraction of a single star’s brilliance. There is a world of untold splendor twinkling above my head that the ancients stared into for years, and yet I can’t see the reflection of this beauty in my hand because of the dim glow of my phone. My inability to see this beauty is not a problem with the brilliance of their lights; rather it is the problem of my proximity to lesser lights.

Vincent van Gogh, Starry Night, oil on canvas, 1889.

The greater lights do not impose. They beckon our attention from a distance, but that means that they are often pushed to the margins of my thoughts by the little lights of life. This is light pollution.

We wouldn’t blame the indiscernibility of the greater lights on their distance. That would also be silly. It is actually a great blessing to live at a great distance from a star. If we were much closer to our nearest star, the sun, we would burn up in its all-consuming fire. I like to look at the sun, but never want to travel to there. It would cause too much pain.

People often ask, “Why isn’t God more obvious?” It could be smog. It could be sin. It could be that the byproducts of the brokenness we have produced in this world block our view of anything beyond what we have made. It could be that most of our time is spent bent forward distracting ourselves with the problems of our day rather than leaning back to ponder if there is a Grand One who transcends us and solves problems. It could be the problem of proximity. The majesty of an all-powerful God shines forth in creation and in our hearts but fades out in the little lights of items that beckon us to worship them.

This is all a bit silly. Just think, there is an all-powerful God that is the foundation of love and loves eternally, and yet I cannot see this God because of little loves in my proximity which function at a negligible fraction of divine love. There is an all-knowing eternal God that desires for me to know Him as God, but I cannot grasp it and so God seems distant because God isn’t provable within my definition of knowledge.

The Eternal Light, the one that specializes in creating order out of chaos, does not impose immediately. God calls for our unforced attention, but God’s voice is often pushed to the margins of my thoughts by the chaos of my life. This is light pollution.

It is actually a great short-term blessing to live at a great distance from a Holy God. If we were much closer, we would likely burn up in the all-consuming light of God’s holiness. I like to look at God, but I hesitate to want to be with God. It would cause too much pain. And yet, it seems that I was both made to “be with” and to want to “be known.” The problem of proximity is twofold. I cannot see clearly when I’m only close to little lights and I cannot live if I am too close to a big light. For me to truly live, either God must come to me in a form that I can handle, or God must do something to me to enable me to withstand his presence. It could be both. After all, “that which our hands have touched” also said, “I am the light of the world.”

 

Nathan Rittenhouse is a member of the speaking team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.