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Genesis is the story of beginnings. For a short while, it portrays an easy intimacy between God and the man and woman he made. But as soon as sin enters the picture, that intimacy is destroyed. Sensing that sin has rendered them unfit for God’s presence, Adam and Eve hide. But God finds them and casts them out of paradise, barring the way back.

Nevertheless, he doesn’t entirely abandon sinful humanity. Instead God begins to reestablish his relationship with them. He starts by choosing a people for his own. Then he delivers his people from their slavery in Egypt, as Deuteronomy 4:37 says, “by his Presence and his great strength.” God dwells with his people first in the form of a pillar of cloud and fire, then in the movable tabernacle in the wilderness, and later in the Jerusalem temple.

But still God’s people sin. Tragically, the prophet Ezekiel witnesses the glory of God departing from the temple because of their continued unfaithfulness. God is no longer there. Despite God’s absence, the book of Ezekiel ends on a note of tremendous hope, predicting a time of restoration, when “the name of the city from that time on will be: THE LORD IS THERE.”

As such, Yahweh Shammah is a name for a city rather than a title of God. But it is so closely associated with God’s presence and power that it has often been equated with a name for God, at least in popular parlance.

The name in the New Testament that is most closely associated with it is Immanuel, “God with us,” a name that was given to Jesus. Yahweh Shammah (yah-WEH SHAM-mah), “The LORD is there,” reminds us that we were created both to enjoy and to manifest God’s presence.

Praying to Yahweh Shammah

“Mom, when are you coming to bed?” The question was plaintive, a cry from one of my daughters, who said she would be lonely if she were the only one upstairs trying to sleep. That night, she just needed to know I was near.

That’s how it works in our relationship with God. We crave a sense of his presence. Some of the hardest times in my own life have been characterized by a sense, not of his presence but of his absence. Instead of the “Lord Is There,” I have felt as though I were praying to the “Lord Who Is Not There.”

Why is it so easy to believe God has abandoned us? Sometimes our emotions overwhelm us to the point that we cannot sense God’s presence. And then there are all the doubts that assail us:  God really doesn’t love me. He doesn’t care about my pain. He’s not even listening. On and on, like an endless dripping rain they erode our confidence in the God who assures us that he has counted every hair on our heads and that he knows whenever a sparrow falls to the ground–and are not we worth more than many sparrows? Add to that our numerous failings, large and small, and we can feel at times like the most rotten rat on the planet. This brokenness characterizes the human condition.

Whatever the cause, it is always a mistake to conclude that God has left the premises, that he no longer cares for us. Instead, we need to pray honestly, asking him to reveal his love, telling him we are sorry for our sins. We also need to resist the enemy’s lies, and we need to confide in other believers, people who can listen and encourage us with the truth. If we are part of a community of believers, as we should be, their faith can reignite ours. Lastly, we should keep reading God’s word because we may well sense God’s presence there.

If we continue to do these things, there will come a time when we sense God’s presence again. When that happens, we may be able to look back on our difficulties with eyes that perceive more of God’s purposes. We will once again realize that we are living in the presence of the Lord who really is there.

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