To dwell is to be fully present in a place or with a person. God has dwelled among his people throughout the Bible, from the beginning of Genesis to the end of Revelation. Dwell can also mean to “settle in” or “engage with” someone other than oneself. Christians usually use this word to describe two situations. God “dwelling” with his people and his people “dwelling” with God. What is the difference you might ask? Let me explain it to you.
When we dwell with God, we are conscious of his presence in our lives. This consciousness can be a feeling of closeness or contentment with God, but it can also be an awareness of God’s greatness, power, wisdom or love. We feel most at home in God’s presence, but we don’t always dwell there. We get easily distracted by busyness, pride, and own measures of time well spent. When we aren’t fully present with God, we miss out on our unique relationship with him. God offers us a safe place to settle into, but we have to be intent on being there because our sin gets in the way.
When God dwells with people, his presence is made known despite our shortcomings. In the Old Testament, God walked with Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden (Genesis 3:8) until their sin separated their imperfect humanity from God’s perfect presence. From that point forward, God would take many different forms to connect with his creation. For example, he dwelled with the Israelites as pillars of cloud and fire. “By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night” (Exodus 13:21). Later God desired a closer relationship with his chosen people but knew they couldn’t handle the fullness of his power and glory in person. So God chose to dwell among them in a portable tent (the tabernacle) because the Israelites were still wandering in the desert after being rescued out of Egypt. “I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God. And they shall know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them. I am the Lord their God” (Exodus 29:45-46). Though God gave humanity the opportunity to be in his presence again, human sin continued to be an obstacle.
Later, Solomon erected a permanent tabernacle in Jerusalem. After Solomon prayed and dedicated the finished temple to the Lord, God answered his prayer: “I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a house of sacrifice. When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayer that is made in this place. For now I have chosen and consecrated this house that my name may be there forever. My eyes and my heart will be there for all time” (2 Chronicles 7:12-16). Unfortunately, people kept taking God’s presence for granted and mistreated each other, so God stopped dwelling with them (Ezekiel 10).
Finally, because God’s love never stops pursuing his creation, he wanted that creation to have access to him and be with him anytime, anywhere, and without the obstacle of sin. So God went a step further to dwell within and among his people through Jesus Christ. Jesus, the Son of God, who became human, lived without sin, sacrificed himself for sin so humanity could dwell with God eternally. Those who accept Jesus as the Lord, the one who did this great act of love and mercy, also receives the presence of God—the Holy Spirit. He takes up residence in and among humanity. No more cloud, tent, or temple. Instead of just spending time with creation, God chooses creation as the place he likes to hang out and helps creation to appreciate his presence, to give him the glory for such a gift and to learn to love people well. God does a miracle and makes humanity able to be good hosts for God’s presence and power. God accomplishes this through the Holy Spirit.
Though God is everywhere, always present, God’s presence can feel concentrated in a place when we “humble ourselves, and pray and seek his face and turn from our wicked ways” as mentioned in 2 Chronicles 7 above. Water is all throughout the air, but when it is condensed, it can form a pool. When we dwell with God, it is an invitation to come into that pool. A deep, warm, reinvigorating, grace-filled pool.