Wednesday, January 15, 2020

On knowing God

The other day I saw something on Facebook that said, God is always speaking, but we aren’t always listening.

That is nonsense, and harmful nonsense at that. For one thing, how insecure would that make God!? And it certainly isn’t true to the witness of the authors of the Bible.

In the beginning, we are told, God would visit the man and the woman in the cool of the evening, to stroll in the garden and talk about their days.

Abraham — the father of all who live by faith, not sight — experienced God as a visitor to him — and his community — from time to time.

God doesn’t make an appearance in the book of Ruth. Is only indirectly present in Esther, and plenty places besides. Only turns up at the very end to Job and his friends.

The community of psalm-writers testify to God’s presence and absence.

And it doesn’t change in the New Testament. In the Gospels, we hear almost nothing from Jesus throughout his childhood. Beginning with an extended absence in the wilderness, he regularly excuses himself from the presence of his community, his followers, his friends. After he is raised from the dead, he turns up and disappears again, several times. True, he promises his disciples that he will be with them until the end of the age; but not as a limpet. Yes, he sends the Holy Spirit; but he himself has described the Spirit as being like the wind: ever moving, but not experienced, at ground-level, in every place at every time.

Connected to the idea that God is always speaking is the idea, still very much current in my lifetime, that Jesus is always watching (over us). The invisible man, spying on children. A voyeur, outwardly disapproving of what we do in secret, but inwardly getting off on it. This concept of God has left many people with a religious hangover; and fostered a culture of priestly — God’s representatives — voyeurs.

The idea that God is omnipresent owes more to Greek philosophy than biblical revelation. But, in any case, God is present as a person, relationally. And to whatever extent God may be in every place, God need not be present to every person in that place simultaneously.

When we imagine God — and I wrote yesterday about how the imagination is where we encounter God — we do better to imagine God coming by, dropping in on a friend, genuinely interested in finding out what we have been up to. Not testing us to see whether what we say matches what he has already noted down. Not expressing disappointment that it has been a while since we spoke — or listened — to him.

That is how healthy, mature, genuine relationship works. And that is what God dreams of for us.

God is not always speaking, not even always present. But don’t mistake the times of distance or silence for indifference. You are in God’s fond thoughts today.

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