‘Iyong nasa itaas’

(The God who is up there)


What do you think?

Several years ago, I visited a famous tourist spot in Palawan called Luli, a name short for “lulubog-lilitaw.” It is a sandbar that is visible during low tide and completely submerged during high tide.

Luli serves as a reminder that presence does not equate to visibility. The visibility of Luli depends on the changing tides, but regardless of whether people see it or not, its presence is real.

Luli challenges us to reconsider our almost dogmatic adherence to the dictum: “To see is to believe.” In the case of Luli, the reverse is true: “To believe is to see.” Tourists flock to this sandbar because they believe it is there, even if they don’t see it. Indeed, faith allows us to perceive and experience the presence of what is not visible.

Today, on Ascension Sunday, the first reading describes Jesus as being “lifted up, and a cloud took Him from their sight” (Acts 1:9). With His ascension, Jesus ceased to be visible, and His disciples’ reaction was strange. “They returned to Jerusalem with great joy” (Luke 24:51). Were they happy because Jesus finally left them?

They rejoiced because their faith assured them that even if Jesus would no longer walk, talk, and eat with them, He would always be in them, between them, among them. Henceforth, nothing could separate them from Him, and this conviction was fortified by His words: “Behold, I am with you always, until the end of time” (Matthew 28:20).

With His ascension, Jesus assumed a new kind of presence that transcends the spatial and temporal limitations inherent to His bodily existence. His presence would no longer be bound to His visibility. He assumed a presence so glorious and majestic that the human eye is too weak to behold.

People often say, “Bahala na ang nasa itaas.” Perhaps we should refrain from referring to God as “ang nasa itaas,” as if, with His ascension, He has chosen to permanently reside in outer space. God is not “up there.” As the theologian Paul Tillich writes, “God is in the depth of our being.”

By this, he means that we must constantly be aware that there is no absolute privacy or isolation in our relationship with God. St. Paul expressed this most accurately: “I live now, not with my own life, but with the life of Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:20). Or, as the poet e.e. cummings writes, “In His most frail gesture are things that enclose me, or which I cannot touch because they are too near.”

Ascension also reminds us that we cannot confine God within the limits of our understanding. St. Thomas Aquinas tells us: “Deus semper major.” God is always greater than our concept of Him, greater than what we think and imagine Him to be. No matter how extensive our knowledge of God is, we must not absolutize our present understanding of Him. He remains a mystery that we approach with reverence and humility.
Otherwise, we reduce Him to an idol that we can downsize and deflate, one that is at our beck and call, always ready and willing to go the extra mile, always giving and forgiving, and never demanding anything in return. Often, our excessive familiarity with God drains Him of His sacredness and transcendence.