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Absent, but Close at Hand

Is Jesus exalted in glory or with us always? Yes.

Peter C. Orr’s project in Exalted above the heavens is to explain how Jesus can be both absent from us and with us always at the same time. This is a very academic and not always satisfying study; however, Orr makes some very fine and helpful points about the present state of the Lord and how we relate to Him.

This is an academic work, so if you don’t have the taste for careful expositions of varying opinions – read: lots of footnotes – this might not be a book for you. I found the interaction with scholars present and past mostly helpful but at times, tedious. I was often tempted to skip to the end of a section, since I knew Orr would helpfully recap the argument and summarize his view, with which I found myself to be nearly always in agreement. OK, I was more than tempted.

Orr’s topics are what we might expect in a book with this focus: the identify and location of Christ, His relationship to the believer and the Church, the glorified body of Christ, and the activity of Christ as He rules at the right hand of the Father. Orr’s premise is that “the Christ that Christians trust in, relate to and love is the Christ who not only lived, died, rose and will come again but also is presently at God’s right hand. Christian faith as well as Christian theological reflection must take into consideration this significant aspect of Christ’s identity.” He describes his approach as Biblical theological, but he overlaps a great deal with systematic theology, which is inescapable, I suppose, in any work that starts with a particular theological question. We know by revelation that Jesus is exalted on high, and therefore absent bodily from us. However, His presence is mediated to us by His Word, the Spirit, the Church, and other believers, so that we can truly know Him as Immanuel at all times.

Jesus has the Name of Lord now, and this “points to his identification with both his exalted status with God and his identification with his people”. He has achieved this status more fully than He had it before His work of redemption, and it is in this role that He dwells now in glory. He is mediated to us primarily by the Spirit, Who dwells in those who believe, and Who makes Jesus known to us: “The Spirit’s presence does not negate or override Christ’s absence, because the two while intimately related nevertheless remain distinct. And so to have the Spirit is not to have Christ in an unqualified sense, because the Spirit is not Christ.” A similar conclusion can be reached concerning the Church, which is the body of Christ, but not Christ Himself.

Jesus is now in heaven, preparing a place for His bride, interceding for us continually, and working for the progress of the Gospel. He exists in a spiritual body, which is what we shall have as well at the day of resurrection. Orr concludes, “As with many things in the Christian life, as we think about where Jesus is we need to hold things in tension. We need to remember the absence of Christ: he is not here; we long for his coming; we long to be with him in body as well as in Spirit for that will be better by far. But we also need to remember the presence of Christ: through the Spirit he really is with us…Thus Christian hope, Christian life and Christian theology are all inextricably bound up with the exalted Christ.”

Orr offers some very fine exegesis in this book, as well as some generous but critical reflection on the views of other theologians. I came to this book looking for help in fleshing out the beatific vision, but this was not Orr’s purpose. Nevertheless, this is an important book to help us remember that, though Jesus is absent, we must seek Him where He is, and learn to know Him with us where we are.

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