"Lord, where shall I flee from your presence? You know when I sit and when I rise...
Even the darkness is as light to you; and when I am awake, I am still with you."
- From Psalm 139
Long before Jesus returned to his father, and uttered those familiar, parting words, "Lo, I am with you always" (Matthew 28:20), the people of the Old Testament knew the Spirit of God was in their midst. This was especially true of David, the shepherd boy turned king and principle author of the Psalms. Besides the beautiful 139th Psalm quoted above, David frequently wrote of the Lord who, "is with us... dwells in Zion (Jerusalem)... is a great King over all the earth," and more.
When God called Moses to rescue his people from slavery, and the potential leader trembled at the thought of such a responsibility, God promised, "I will be with you" (Exodus 3:12). Likewise, 40 years later when Joshua was chosen to succeed Moses, the new leader had a similar reaction, and God had a similar reply: "As I was with Moses, so will I be with you" (Joshua 1:5).
From the leaders, prophets and kings of Israel to the founders of the New Testament church, the authors of the Bible spoke often of "the presence of God." They felt his guidance, his chastening when necessary, and his comfort in times of stress and need.
But today, as followers of a different "god" assume the chastening role themselves by continuing their despicable acts of terror, and real wars replace the prophetic "rumors of war" around the globe, no thinking person should be faulted for wondering if that "presence," and the promise to "be with you always," have run out.
When our family lived on the western side of the still divided city of Berlin 25 years ago, there was little to lure us to the other side except curiosity. But high above the wall, in the center of East Berlin yet visible in the West, stood a modern, 1,197-foot television tower that, at the time, was one of the tallest structures in the world. What we may have considered out of place in that drab and ancient city was flaunted as a testament to the economic progress of the Communist regime.
What the Communists couldn't know, however, unless they were looking at the tower from the western side, was that the late afternoon sun formed a brilliant cross through the center of the giant, stainless steel ball near the top.
No matter how hard they tried, godless Communism couldn't wipe out the presence of God from the thousands of East Berliners who still claimed Him as their own.
I thought of the Berlin tower recently when I learned of a similar testament of faith in our own country. Though I have visited the Washington monument several times, I never knew about the inscription, "Laus Deo" (Praise be to God), which the builders placed across the eastern face of the aluminum cap atop that giant obelisk 120 years ago.
The inscription on the cap, however, is not the monument's only reference to the God our Founders wove through the written record of the country's origin a century before. Visitors who brave the 898-step climb will notice other signs of the Deity among the 193 memorial stones along the way. They include a prayer offered by the city of Baltimore, a gift from a group of Chinese Christians, and several Bible verses donated by Sunday School children from Philadelphia and New York. Also, the cornerstone of the monument, laid on July 4, 1848, still contains the Bible presented by the American Bible Society.
But most striking of all, and reminiscent of that tower in now united Berlin, is the view from the top of the monument. With the White House to the North, the Jefferson Memorial to the South, the Capitol to the East, and the Lincoln Memorial to the West, the landscape of our nation's capital city also forms a cross.
An absent God? Total separation of church and state? It'll never happen.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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