“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us…” John 1:14
It was an expression I had not heard for ages. I was watching a well-known gardening programme and an interview with someone who was managing a large garden he had laid out. He did not want to make it too organised and regulated, he said, but so that it looked as if it had been planned by “the man upstairs”.
The man upstairs. I began to wonder what sort of image of God that presents. It’s a very male one for a start. Yet some of the greatest displays of creativity have come from the female mind and heart. And there are some wonderful images scattered throughout the Bible which echo the feminine. Think, for example, of “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you” and “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings…”
And the upstairs bit, where does that come from? Maybe memories of Sunday School from years ago and singing “There’s a friend for little children, above the bright blue sky”. Then again, in the traditional office structure, management always has the top floor (having the best views and removed and protected from the comings and goings of the ground floor).
There’s a bigger problem with thinking of God as “the man upstairs”, though, isn’t there? A suggestion that he is distant from the rest of us, absent for most of the time while we carry on downstairs doing the best we can to keep the show on the road – and certainly not making too much noise so he bangs on the floor.
It seems to me that “the man upstairs” is not the God of the Bible. Yes, the Scriptures give us images of God “high and lifted up”, “the high and lofty one who inhabits eternity, whose glory is “above the heavens”. Yet there is a steady thread running through right from the creation, when God “walked in the garden at the time of the evening breeze”, which reveals one whose chief desire is to dwell with his people. Not the occasional walk through the ground floor before returning upstairs, but becoming an integral part of the neighbourhood, living right alongside.
That’s the kind of God we need now more than any other, isn’t it? And the ground of our confidence that we have one is that Jesus came to show us. Even when he appeared to go back upstairs, his followers had his promise that for anyone who unlocks the door God in all his fullness would “come to them and make our home with them”.
In all the acts of extraordinary commitment and kindness we witness around us, God is dwelling with his people. Let’s recognise and welcome him into every part of our lives. Don’t keep him upstairs.