Hickman Explains God’s Presence
Dave Hickman. 2016. Closer than Close: Awakening to the Freedom of Your Union with Christ. Colorado Springs: NavPress.
Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Since I graduated from seminary in October 2013, I have spent increasing time working as an author alone. In my early seminary years, I was working as an economist full-time and traveling to classes once a month; later when I retired from government, I traveled to classes twice a month. Before and during seminary, I was a perpetual motion machine; now, I am still busy, but now I am busy alone. What’s different? I now longer feel a need to have music playing—I am content to work and live in silence. I share my day with God and am mostly at peace, even in the midst of daily chaos.
David Hickman, in his book, Closer than Close, writes:
“After years of striving to be close to Jesus, I stumbled upon the shocking reality that Jesus was already as close to me as he could possibly get. It was then that I discovered, in the words of Philip Yancey, ‘Jesus I never knew.’ Striving was replaced with abiding.” (xv)
When Jesus talks in the seventh Beatitude—Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God (Matt 5:9), he refers to the Jewish concept of shalom, where shalom (שָׁלוֹם) means “completeness, soundness, welfare, peace” (BDB 10002) and not the more limited idea of reconciliation, which remains more familiar. Hence, Hickman can say: “union with Christ has long been considered to be the central message of the Gospel” (xxvi) embodied in the word abiding and in the idea of being children of God—we are all brothers and sisters of our father in heaven.
Stilling, abiding is more than being members of God’s family. Hickman writes:
“What if the union I longed to have with my son was but a pale reflection of a ‘oneness’ I always longed to have with Jesus? What if Jesus never wanted to have a ‘close relationship’ with me? What if he always wanted to be ‘one’ with me instead?” (18)
This abiding is not a new idea, it is a very old idea that has its roots in the unity of God in the Shema (25-26):
“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deut 6:4-5)
In some sense, the unity modeled by the Trinity abides most clearly in the Gospel of John.
“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” (John 15:4-7)
Obviously, Hickman wanders into the deep end of the pool here—I know that in my own experience, this sort of relationship with God “just is” and is hard to talk about it when people ask. How do you talk about the most intimate relationships with anyone else? It feels like something between bragging and betraying a confidence.
Hickman’s discourse on the union with God organizes around the meta-narrative of the Bible: creation, fall, redemption, and new creation. However, he recasts the biblical narrative in terms of union, disunion, reunion, and promise of perfect union (48). Stated in this way, our union with God models after the Trinity and models into our faith journey.
While many aspects of theology can come up, I found Hickman’s implication for the spiritual disciplines the most interesting. He summarizes his comments under four topics: doing nothing, praying simply, staying attentive, and being led (104). Let me focus on each in turn.
Hickman writes: “it takes more faith to believe we are loved and accepted by God when we are doing nothing than when we are doing as much as we can for God.” (105) Repeat that ten times. Our salvation depends wholly on the work of Christ and does not depend on anything that we have done. Hickman uses the example of a child in the womb—the body of the child matures naturally as the child abides in the mother’s womb and has nothing to prove or do (107). This concept of abiding in Christ immediately affects our attitude about prayer.
Hickman makes a profound statement: “prayer is more about who we are praying to than what we are saying.” (109) Again, he draws on an analogy to one of his children. Before he could speak; he asked for a bagel by pointing to the bagel and then pointing to his mouth (113). Prayer reminds us of a child pointing at things needed throughout the day.
Hickman notes that “the question is not whether God is fully present in our lives, but if we are living fully aware of God’s presence.” (115) Of course, sometimes God needs to draw our attention a bit more dramatically than usual, because of our inattention. Hickman refers to these as “love letters” from God (115).
Hickman describes spiritual direction as: “The discipline of being led [which] involves the willingness to entrust yourself to someone else’s care.” (124) Spiritual direction is not counseling; it is not teaching; it involves having someone point to God’s work in your life and helping you find your true self in Christ.
David Hickman’s book, Closer than Close, is a fascinating exposition of the nature of God’s union with us. The New Testament discusses this relationship but details seldom appear elsewhere. In my case, Closer than Close gave me a framework for discussing my own faith journey. Words matter. If you are serious about your faith, then this book is for you.
Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius (BDB). 1905. Hebrew-English Lexicon, unabridged.
 I have sometimes talked about God’s little Easter Eggs in reference to scientific discoveries that God has placed in our path so that we would find them. Hickman’s love letters focus on God’s revealing of himself.
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