We must never forget this vital biblical truth:
OK, even if your Latin is not too great, most believers should know the second word in my title: God. As to coram, it literally means ‘before the face of’. The phrase refers to what the Christian life is all about – or should be all about! It is meant to be lived before the face of God, or in the presence of God.
That is the summum bonum (another Latin phrase) of why we are here. Or as the Westminster Shorter Catechism famously put it in answering the question, ‘What is the chief end of man?’: it ‘is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.’
To forever be with him, enjoy him, and bring glory to his name – that is why we exist. And one need not just be part of the Reformed theological world to appreciate and affirm these truths. Indeed, the phrase is actually found in the Bible, with one translation rendering it as follows:
For you have delivered my soul from death,
yes, my feet from falling,
that I may walk before God
in the light of life. (Psalm 56:13)
So we all need to celebrate this reality and seek to live it out in our daily lives. It is meant to be a regular, practical reality, not just a matter of theoretical speculation. However, some questions can arise here. Just what does it mean to continually be in the presence of God? How do we understand that if God is everywhere? Indeed, does not the Bible speak about God being near to his people, yet being far from the wicked?
Well, that discussion of divine omnipresence is an important one, and I seek to deal with some of those thorny questions in this earlier piece: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2016/01/14/20609/
But to look a bit further at these related matters, let me draw upon just one well-known theologian and pastor, and two of his many important books. R. C. Sproul (1939-2017) was certainly a proficient teacher of Christian doctrine, but he always had an eye to make it practical, devotional, and something that would bring glory to God.
Both books are fully satisfying theologically and intellectually, but also have a strong devotional slant. The first one is Enjoying God: Finding Hope In the Attributes of God (Baker, 1995, 2017).
In his chapter on God’s presence, he makes some key distinctions that we must be aware of. He reminds us that the biblical teaching is NOT pantheistic:
If everything is God, then nothing is God. If the whole world is God, then the term God no longer points to something or someone distinctive. If there is no essential difference between God and the world, then the very word God becomes excess baggage and only serves to confuse matters….
I was born a creature. In conversion to Christ I remained a creature even though I became indwelt by the Holy Spirit. I am in Christ and He is in me. But I am not Christ and Christ is not R. C. Sproul. Nor will R. C. Sproul ever become Christ. Christ and I have a type of union but not a union where the identities of Jesus Christ and R. C. Sproul are obscured or confused.
There is a genuine form of Christian mysticism. But the goal of Christian mysticism is not union with God but communion. We seek to rise no higher than the blessed heights of mystic sweet communion with God. In fact, there is no time I am more acutely aware that I am not God than when I am in communion with God.
The second book I wish to appeal to here is In the Presence of God: Devotional Readings on the Attributes of God (Thomas Nelson, 1999, 2003). In the Introduction to it he discusses more fully the notion of coram Deo. It is not too long, so let me offer the entire piece here:
I remember Mama standing in front of me, her hands poised on her hips, her eyes glaring with hot coals of fire and saying in stentorian tones, “Just what is the big idea, young man?”
Instinctively I knew my mother was not asking me an abstract question about theory. Her question was not a question at all—it was a thinly veiled accusation. Her words were easily translated to mean, “Why are you doing what you are doing?” She was challenging me to justify my behavior with a valid idea. I had none.
Recently a friend asked me in all earnestness the same question. He asked, “What’s the big idea of the Christian life?” He was interested in the overarching, ultimate goal of the Christian life.
To answer his question, I fell back on the theologian’s prerogative and gave him a Latin term. I said, “The big idea of the Christian life is coram Deo. Coram Deo captures the essence of the Christian life.”
This phrase literally refers to something that takes place in the presence of, or before the face of, God. To live coram Deo is to live one’s entire life in the presence of God, under the authority of God, to the glory of God.
To live in the presence of God is to understand that whatever we are doing and wherever we are doing it, we are acting under the gaze of God. God is omnipresent. There is no place so remote that we can escape His penetrating gaze.
To be aware of the presence of God is also to be acutely aware of His sovereignty. The uniform experience of the saints is to recognize that if God is God, then He is indeed sovereign. When Saul was confronted by the refulgent glory of the risen Christ on the road to Damascus, his immediate question was, “Who is it, Lord?” He wasn’t sure who was speaking to him, but he knew that whomever it was, was certainly sovereign over him.
To live all of life coram Deo is to live a life of integrity. It is a life of wholeness that finds its unity and coherency in the majesty of God.
Living under divine sovereignty involves more than a reluctant submission to sheer sovereignty that is motivated out of a fear of punishment. It involves recognizing that there is no higher goal than offering honor to God. Our lives are to be living sacrifices, oblations offered in a spirit of adoration and gratitude.
To live all of life coram Deo is to live a life of integrity. It is a life of wholeness that finds its unity and coherency in the majesty of God. A fragmented life is a life of disintegration. It is marked by inconsistency, disharmony, confusion, conflict, contradiction, and chaos.
The Christian who compartmentalizes his or her life into two sections of the religious and the nonreligious has failed to grasp the big idea. The big idea is that all of life is religious or none of life is religious. To divide life between the religious and the nonreligious is itself a sacrilege.
This means that if a person fulfills his or her vocation as a steelmaker, attorney, or homemaker coram Deo, then that person is acting every bit as religiously as a soul-winning evangelist who fulfills his vocation. It means that David was as religious when he obeyed God’s call to be a shepherd as he was when he was anointed with the special grace of kingship. It means that Jesus was every bit as religious when He worked in His father’s carpenter shop as He was in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Integrity is found where men and women live their lives in a pattern of consistency. It is a pattern that functions the same basic way in church and out of church. It is a life that is open before God. It is a life in which all that is done is done as to the Lord. It is a life lived by principle, not expediency; by humility before God, not defiance. It is a life lived under the tutelage of conscience that is held captive by the Word of God.
Coram Deo . . . before the face of God. That’s the big idea. Next to this idea our other goals and ambitions become mere trifles.
And that is certainly something we believers need to constantly keep in mind.