Over the past year, I’ve enjoyed the Grantchester Mysteries, both the novels by James Runcie and the PBS Masterpiece series. The mysteries feature Sidney Chambers, vicar and amateur detective of Grantchester, England. He spends his time all over town—visiting the sick, walking his dog, fixing faucets, and presiding over village fêtes. He’s available for his friend Amanda when she needs a chat, and he writes his sermons with jazz playing in the background. In his view, he’s “never off duty.”
Sidney considers all of the villagers his parishioners, so it’s not too much of a stretch to get involved when something seems amiss and Inspector Geordie Keating needs his help sorting it out. He convinces himself that he’s caring for his flock, even when his investigative activities take time away from his prayer life or sermon prep.
Sidney’s curate, Leonard Graham, prefers a quieter life. He’d like to sit quietly by the fire and “reflect on the state of the priesthood” or meditate on a passage from Dostoevsky. Sidney’s pace of life is too harried for Leonard, who seems not quite sure that God is involved in the details of life.
Contemporary American society bears little resemblance to the post-WWII British countryside of Grantchester. God is banished from much of our lives. We are told that the public square isn’t the place for God, and some university leaders boast that their faith doesn’t influence how they perform their jobs. “Ministry” is heavy on office time, meetings, and program administration, and light on living with the people of the congregation, connecting the dots between daily life and God.
But God is present in our homes, in our cars, on the soccer field, and in prison. God is present in schools, stadiums, and government buildings. God is not confined to our churches or, in the words of Paul to the Athenians: “The God who made the world and all things in it, since he is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands”(Acts 17:24 NIV).
God is always present—in a technical term, omnipresent. Indeed God himself, like Sidney Chambers, is “never off duty,” and God’s omnipresence bridges the artificial gap between sacred and secular. Though it’s a mystery how this all works (and philosophers and theologians have explained this reality in far more detail), God’s presence with us, when we wake and when we sleep, is of much comfort. We remind ourselves, with the psalmist,
Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast (Psalm 139: 7–10 NIV).
As humans, we’re made in God’s image, and our lives imitate God as we create, relate, lead, and serve. We are God’s image-bearers not only when we join with others in a particular time and place set aside for public worship, but every day as we go about our mundane tasks.
Yet God’s omnipresence doesn’t just mean that our normal days are spent in his presence. It’s not merely a doctrine to add value to our seemingly menial lives. God’s presence changes the way we experience our major events as well. God is present as we rejoice and as we grieve. When we celebrate new life, new work, new friendships, breakthroughs, healing, and love, God is there. When we mourn our losses—of loved ones, of homes, of opportunities, of capacity—God is there, too. His presence steadies us.
Though there are times and places that God seems more present than others, whether that’s while hearing an inspiring hymn, staring at a glorious mountain, or holding a newborn baby, the truth is that God is always present. Meditating on that truth brings comfort and joy as I help my third grader with homework, as I weed the garden, and as I send emails. I may wish my life looked more like Leonard’s—with more fireside chats about the state of the church—but God is with me, even without Dostoevsky.