Sunday, January 27, 2008

 

The "Absence" of God?

This past week I was reading some excerpts in a little devotional book I have, and I was thinking about the “absence” of God. Some of the things I read gave me pause as I thought about the concept of God’s omnipresence. Those of us who claim to be Christians (or even Jews and Muslims, for that matter) typically claim that God is everywhere always. That is, he is right with us even when we don’t think he is, and worse, when we hope that he is not. He is there. I think Francis Schaeffer wrote a book entitled The God who is There.

At any rate, I was thinking about all the times in my life when God was present (like he always is), but I tended to overlook that reality. When I notice God there on the fringe of my experience (kind of hanging around like a brother who wants to be involved in everything you do), sometimes I respond with a sense of comfort (Oh good, he is there!). Other times I respond with fear (Oh no, did he see that!). Other times I am complacent (Oh, it’s just you, huh?). Still some times I am overwhelmed (Thank God you’re here!).

I think of the Jews wandering in the wilderness and camped at Mt. Sinai. God showed up on the mountain, and they begged Moses to make it stop! “Don’t let God speak directly to us again, we can’t take it!” The acknowledgement of God’s presence frightened them, maybe it made them a bit uncomfortable. Maybe we respond to God in the same way.

Annie Dillard addresses this problem when she says:

“It is difficult to undo our own damage, and to recall to our presence that which we have asked to leave. It is hard to desecrate a grove and change your mind. The very holy mountains are keeping mum. We doused the burning bush and cannot rekindle it; we are lighting matches in vain under every green tree.


“What have we been doing all these centuries but trying to call God back to the mountain, or, failing that, raise a peep out of anything that isn’t us? What is the difference between a cathedral and a physics lab? Are they not both saying: ‘Hello?’ We spy on whales and on interstellar radio objects; we starve ourselves and pray till we’re blue.” From Teaching a Stone to Talk by Annie Dillard

Our fear of God’s omnipresence causes us to turn off a switch in our minds and hearts that helps us to ignore this fascinating (and sometimes frightening) reality. We pretend he isn’t there. We even ignore his obvious appearances. We ignore the God of all, then we say that we didn’t know he was there.

As A. W. Tozer notes:

“. . . If God is present at every point in space, if we cannot go where he is not, cannot even conceive of a place where he is not, why then has not that Presence become the one universally celebrated fact of the world? The patriarch Jacob, ‘in waste howling wilderness,’ gave the answer to that question. He saw a vision of God and cried out in wonder. ‘Surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not.’ Jacob had never been for one small division of a moment outside of the circle of that all-pervading Presence. But he knew it not. That was his trouble, and it is ours. People do not know if God is here. What a difference it would make if they knew.” From The Pursuit of God by A. W. Tozer

We “know it not” because we don’t like the reality that God’s omnipresence makes us face. That reality is this—when we fail and sin, he is there. When we succeed, he is there. When we need him, he is there. When we think we don’t need him, he is there. Even when we don’t want him to be, he is there. God's omnipresence reminds us that we can neither take all the glory for our "good" acts nor can we avoid the blame for the selfish acts. We can't get away with anything. There is no place to hide. He is there! He is always there!

One of my pet peeves is to hear a preacher talking about Jesus’ cry (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me”) from the cross and say something like, “At that point, God turned his back on Jesus because he became sin for us.” Think of the ramifications of that idea—God, the omnipresent One, turning his back on his only unique Son. God, the merciful, overlooking the sacrifice his own Son Jesus is offering.

Can you imagine it? God, forsaking his Son! It sounds ridiculous because it is. God did not “turn his back on Jesus” (look in the text of the Gospels, it does not say any such thing). No, God was watching the brutal fact of it all with tears in his eyes. He did not forsake Jesus, and he does not forsake humanity. He endures when we pretend he is absent, but he is there. He loves Jesus . . . even when Jesus became sin for us, God lovingly watched his Son. God lovingly watches us as well.

He is there, and he loves us. He watches, waits, endures, and hopes. He wants us to acknowledge his presence, to catch a glimpse of him and smile. He is there, and he wants us to notice and to know it. He has not forsaken us. He is there, why not admit it and embrace it? Why not exult in the sheer joy and enormity of it? He is always there.

Scary, ain’t it?

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

 

Some quotes to chew on . . .

"There is no doxology without theology, and good theology should produce doxology." Ergun Caner

“A theological thought can breathe only in the atmosphere of dialogue with God.” Helmut Thielicke, A Little Exercise for Young Theologians

“Truth is always a quarry hard to hunt, and therefore we must look everywhere for its tracks.” Basil the Great (From On the Spirit 1.1).


“The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles but to irrigate deserts. The right defense against false sentiments is to inculcate just sentiments. By starving the sensibility of our pupils we only make them easier prey to the propagandist when he comes. For famished nature will be avenged and a hard heart is no infallible protection against a soft head." C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, pp. 13-14

What do you think?

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

 

Stealing Quiet . . .

Here's a song from 40 Days that I really enjoy. The song is "Quiet" by Mark Warren, Joel Warren. Here are the lyrics:



Walk into a crowded room, into a faceless sea
I feel right at home
Remember not to look too close so they won't see through me
They can never know that there's a voice inside my head
Inside my mind
If I could find that secret place
A place to hide

Chorus:
It would be alright if I could stay there for awhile
It would be alright if I could steal the quiet
Deep down I have a need that I cannot deny
It would be alright

I sense you there across the room
A blinding light stills me where I stand
I didn't think you'd come this soon
If I may, if I might find out where I stand
I didn't plan to leave you out for all this time
I took for granted you were here
But if you don't mind

Chorus:
It would be alright if I could stay there for awhile
It would be alright if I could steal the quiet
Deep down I have a need that I cannot deny
It would be alright

I don't know why this song speaks so strongly to me. I think it is the whole idea of stealing quiet.


Finding a center.

Hunkering down for a moment of peace in a world of white noise.

Brother Lawrence said, "To be with God there is no need to be continually in church. Of our heart we may make an oratory, wherein to retire from time to time and with Him hold meek, humble loving converse." (The Practice of the Presence of God)

Sometimes we need to retire, to separate ourselves into a sort of solitude just to be in the presence of the One who really matters. Thomas Kelly in A Testament of Devotion calls this the process of centering on God. It is the discipline of finding a place to be, a place to just sit with Abba and simply to breathe.

If we make time for this practice, for this centering, for this laser like focus on what really matters, we may well find that God often appears in those times in ways we may not have expected. As Evelyn Underhill notes in Practical Mysticism:



"Because mystery is horrible to us, we have agreed for the most part to live in a world of labels; to make of them the current coin of experience, and ignore their merely symbolic character, the infinite gradation of values which they misrepresent. We simply do not attempt to unite with Reality. But now and then that symbolic character is suddenly brought home to us. Some great emotion, some devastating visitation of beauty, love or pain, lifts us to another level of consciousness; and we are aware for a moment of the difference between the neat collection of discrete objects and experiences which we call the world and the height, the depth, the breadth of the living, growing, changing Fact, of which thought, life, and energy are parts and in which we 'live and move and have our being.'"

I think that sums up the second verse of the song--sometimes we are just jolted out of our activity, out of our busy-ness, out of our mundane existence, and then we have a clarity we have not experienced and maybe cannot adequately express. We see.

We see HIM.

We get IT.

I need the quiet. I need to get it. I need to crawl into my Father's lap and be shocked into an awareness of how interconnected my world is to His, how his grace overflows in every aspect of my existence, how completely all encompassing is this One called God.

Steal the quiet.

Take the risk and get into God's presence.

Let the Mystery and Meaning of life jolt you into the reality of this great grace which sustains us all. Look for opportunities today to raise yourself above the mundane/temporary to that which will never fade. Set your mind to pursue it, and wait for the sheer shock of God's interruption.

We need to steal the quiet. We need to stay there for a while. We need Him.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, January 06, 2008

 

And now, a song from Switchfoot

I was driving to church this morning listening to the music of Switchfoot (in case you were wondering, I was listening to the album The Beautiful Letdown). One of the songs struck me as simply poetic and poignant, and I wanted to share the lyrics with you all. The song is entitled "Gone." Here are the lyrics:

She told him that she'd rather fix her makeup
than try and fix what's going on
But the problem keeps on calling
even with the cell phone gone.

She told him that she believes in living
bigger than she's living now
But her world keeps spinning backwards
and upside down.

Don't say so long, you're not that far gone.
Don't spin today away, 'cause today will soon be

Gone, like yesterday is gone
Like history is gone
Just try and prove me wrong and
pretend like you're immortal.

She said, he said, live like no tomorrow
Everyday we borrow brings us
one step closer to the edge. Infinity.
Where's your treasure, where's your hope,
if you get the world and lose your soul?
She pretends like she pretends like
she's immortal.

Don't say so long, and throw yourself wrong.
This could be your big chance to make-up
Today will soon be

Gone, like yesterday is gone
Like history is gone
The world keeps spinning on
You're going, going,
Gone, like summer break is gone,
Like Saturday is gone
Just try and prove me wrong and
pretend like you're immortal.

We are not infinite
We are not permanent
Nothing is immediate
And we pretend like we're immortal.
We are so confident in our accomplishments
Look at our decadence.

Gone, like Frank Sinatra, like Elvis and his mom,
Like Al Pacino's money, nothing lasts in this life
Gone, my High School dreams are gone,
my childhood sweets are gone
Life is a day that doesn't last for long.

Life is more than money, time was never money
Time was never cash, life is still more than girls.
Life is more than hundred dollar bills and
roto-tom fills.
Life is more than fame and rock and roll and thrills.
All the riches of the kings end up in wills
We've got information in the information age
but do we know what life is outside of our convenient Lexus cages?

She said he said live like no tomorrow
every moment that we borrow brings us closer
to a God who's never been short of cash
Hey Bono, I'm glad you asked.
Life is still worth living, life is more than we are.


I really like the last 4 segments of this song. I listened to it in my convenient Corolla cage and realized that we humans are good at hiding, even in plain sight. We pretend we are righteous, while we do our best to hide the unrighteous acts we do in secret. We act like every thing we do is important, while in our hearts we cry for a life of purpose. We would never admit our inner feelings or thoughts to another for fear of "being known" too intimately. We are afraid that the light may blind us or show our weaknesses too clearly. We are afraid of being known by others. We are afraid of rejection. We all know, however, that life is more than the stuff we use to try to make life worthwhile. Life if more than the stuff we collect to hide our insecurities while building a personal empire that we hope proclaims our (self) importance. Today, let's come into the light, let's let our deeds be exposed for what they really are, let's let God be God.

Thanks for reading!

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