Many religions believe God is someplace far away and cannot be bothered with people. The Buddhists, for example, believe God created the world but left us to our own desires. In other words, he has no real interest in what we do or think. Many people today believe that, if there is a god, he certainly isn’t interested in us. If he were a moral god and interested in what we do, certainly our world wouldn’t be in such a terrible condition. How could a just god or a moral god permit so much evil in the world in which we live, knowing we are powerless to change it for the better? If god exists, it seems he must be either immoral and doesn’t care about our pitiful condition, or he is incapable to do anything about our destructive behavior. In either case why should we be concerned about what he thinks or desires? – …or so goes the argument!
The appearance of an angel in the Scriptures often brings fear, as can be seen in Daniel 8:16-17 and 10:5-8. Daniel didn’t even have strength to stand, because he was so terrified over the vision he witnessed. The Greek word in Luke 2:9 for came upon or appeared is ephistemi (G2186). It is the same word used in Luke 10:40 for Martha coming to Jesus to complain that Mary wasn’t helping her with the meal. According to Thayer, the Greek word means to stand by or to stand over one or to be present. In other words, Luke is saying the angel’s appearance to the shepherds was close enough to reach out and touch. Imagine heaven being so close one could simply reach out and touch heaven. Imagine God being so close one could reach out and touch God!
It seems that this is exactly what God did, when he became man—in the form of a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes (Luke 2:12). He came, not to make us afraid (who’s afraid of a baby?), but to reach out to us and touch us and allow us to touch him.
In contrast, certainly Herod’s presence was to be feared at that time, and for some his presence would have brought terror, for as we know even members of his own family weren’t safe from his wrath, when it was stirred. Certainly Caesar’s presence was to be feared, and history tells us that his Pax Romana came through a great deal of bloodshed and national servitude, and his peace was strictly enforced with Rome’s military presence throughout the Empire.
I believe that the vision of the shepherds in Luke 2 and the proximity of the angels is significant and points to the nearness to men in which God has placed himself in Jesus. He is simply not the far off god that many perceive him to be. Nor does he show himself in Jesus to be indifferent towards us and the troubles we incur throughout our lives. Later in his Gospel, Luke shows Jesus is able and willing to deliver us out of our pitiful condition. He raises the dead, cures the sick, gives sight to the blind, and heals both the deaf and the dumb. He is the God who touches us, and can be touched by us. Jesus unveils God as a great powerful being who loves mankind. He is both able and willing to save us from the fate of our own making.
Why, then, do we still have such insurmountable troubles in our world? Why do men still suffer? Why is there injustice, and why does it seem that the most evil of men arise to power, making our pitiful condition exponentially worse than it has ever been with no indication of changing, despite the great accumulation of knowledge among men?
Such questions are indeed profound and reach to the very heart of our being. I don’t wish to make light of them, but I do desire to offer hope. The history of the Jewish people shows that God permits men to rebel against him. He does not force our submission. We submit to him of our own free will. If rebellion is permitted, pain, servitude, poverty, suffering of all kinds and the like can result. God isn’t behind such activities, but he will use them for his purposes. He has set a time for the judgment of all things, so this type of thing will not go on forever. One can believe this or not—it is really up to you who read what I claim. Nevertheless, it is the testimony of the Scriptures (Acts 17:31).
Love cannot exist without a choice, and we have no freedom at all unless we have a choice to rebel. God cannot force us to love him; we must be free to choose to do so. God cannot force us to love one another and treat one another as we would want to be treated. We must, also, be free to act compassionately towards our fellow man. It is the way of man to enforce love through something like political correctness. However, God tells us that our ways are not his ways, and neither are our thoughts his thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9). His plan for us cannot be traced out in history through men’s wisdom (Romans 11:33), so scoffers will arise to defame our God. Nevertheless, his work is revealed to us in his word (Hebrews 1:1-2), and he tells us that he will do all he says he will do (Isaiah 55:10-11), and no man or number of men is able to prevent him from doing exactly as he desires (1Corinthians 1:25).