I, like most people, am somewhat familiar with Michelangelo's famous painting of God and Adam that graces the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. The fresco, called "The Creation of Adam," depicts God and Adam the moment before their outstretched hands meet. But in the introduction to his book, GOD IS CLOSER THAN YOU THINK, John Ortberg points out something that, in my focus on their fingertips, I'd never noticed before.
"If you look carefully at the painting, you notice that the figure of God is extended toward the man with great vigor. He twists his body to move it as close to the man as possible. His head is turned toward the man, and his gaze is fixed on him. God's arm is stretched out, his index finger extended straight forward; every muscle is taut."
Ortberg goes on to say that, before Michelangelo, the standard paintings of creation showed God standing on the ground, helping Adam to his feet. But that's not the case here. "This God is rushing toward Adam on a cloud, one of the 'chariots of heaven,' propelled by the angels. It is as if even in the midst of the splendor of all creation, God's entire being is wrapped up in his impatient desire to close the gap between himself and this man. He can't wait."
Adam's posture, on the other hand, is more difficult to interpret. His arm is partially extended toward God, but his body reclines in a lazy pose, leaning backward as if he has no interest at all in making a connection. "Maybe he assumes that God, having come this far, will close the gap. Maybe he is indifferent to the possibility of touching his creator. Maybe he lacks the strength. All he would have to do is lift a finger."
Like Adam, all we must do to touch God is to lift a finger, and in GOD IS CLOSER THAN YOU THINK Ortberg encourages readers to seize the opportunities all around us. "God is still in the business of coming down to earth: to this cubicle, this email, this room, this house, this job, this hospital room, this car, this bed, this vacation. Any place can become Bethel, the house of God. Cleveland, maybe. Or the chair you're sitting in as you read these words," he writes.
Ortberg is a megachurch pastor (formerly at Willow Creek and now at Menlo Park Presbyterian) with a knack for distilling sometimes-obtuse spiritual principles into concepts that are easy to digest. Here, he takes the abstract theological concept of God's omnipresence and puts skin on it by teaching readers both how to recognize God in their world and how they can be in a vibrant, moment-by-moment relationship with that present God.
Those two tasks require covering a lot of ground, and GOD IS CLOSER THAN YOU THINK is something of a survey of the Christian life. As such, it's an excellent introduction to intentional Christian living, though it might be a little lightweight for readers who already hang with the likes of Dallas Willard (whose work has had a strong influence on Ortberg). Still, it offers a lot of bang for its buck with important insight found on just about every page. Chapter four is especially practical as it provides specific ideas for ways to observe and interact with God throughout the day. Read it with a highlighter close at hand.
Reviewed by Lisa Ann Cockrel on November 13, 2011