Culture

Judeo-Christian Themes in the Smashing Pumpkins’ Oceania, Part 12: In The Presence Of God

Presence of God

Here we are in Week 12 of my series exploring Judeo-Christian themes in the Smashing Pumpkins’ album Oceania. Over the last 11 weeks we’ve explored the concepts of the seeker, the sacred Name of Godwisdomunfaithfulnesshopeunfailing loverepentancethe wayfaith, and contentment. Last week we looked at Jesus’ parable of the Lost Son in Track 9, “Pale Horse.”

Track 12, “Inkless,” is the shortest song on the album, and it is the one that sounds most like the Smashing Pumpkin’s 1990s output. The title conjures up images of a blank page with plenty of possibilities – or, to better suit our purposes, “Inkless” sounds like a description of someone whose sins have been washed away by a sacrifice. Some of the lyrics suggest a journey with God:

The stars are out for us
And what you feel for me rides beside you
Just take me home, take me home

[…]

But drive me home the right way
We’ll uncover there’s no other faith but us
A faith in love unseen
Trace the face of love unseen
Don’t shadow up what we mean
Uncover what were meant to be
And come unlace your light
The stars are out tonight

Throughout the Bible, we read about different people who experienced God’s presence directly. In Genesis 3, Adam and Eve encountered God directly in the Garden of Eden, but their sin drove God to separate mankind from his perfect presence. In Exodus 33, Moses had direct conversations in God’s presence:

8 And whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people rose and stood at the entrances to their tents, watching Moses until he entered the tent. 9 As Moses went into the tent, the pillar of cloud would come down and stay at the entrance, while the Lord spoke with Moses. 10 Whenever the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance to the tent, they all stood and worshiped, each at the entrance to their tent. 11 The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend. Then Moses would return to the camp, but his young aide Joshua son of Nun did not leave the tent.

In 1 Kings 19, God allowed Elijah to witness Him pass by when the prophet was at his loneliest and needed guidance and direction:

11 The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”
Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.

In the Gospels, of course countless people had the opportunity to witness and interact with Jesus, who was both fully God and fully man, directly. In John 15, Jesus promised His disciples that those who love Him and obey Him will always be in his presence:

1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.

Jesus also promised the Holy Spirit – the third part of the Trinity after the Father and Jesus – to His followers. The Holy Spirit guarantees that those who commit their lives to following and obeying God are always in His presence. After Jesus’ ascension into Heaven, the Pharisee Saul (later to become the apostle Paul) encountered Jesus in a dramatic and life changing way in Acts 9, and in the book of Revelation, God’s messengers gave the apostle John a glimpse of what life will be like when God’s people spend eternity with Him face to face.

The concept of living in the presence of God appeals to many people. For those who put their faith in and obey the God of the Bible, living in His presence is a daily reality. God’s presence in our lives may not manifest in ways as dramatic as in the scriptures, but it is true nonetheless.