There is an old story that is often used in sermons. It’s one of those “brilliant Christian student embarrasses the evil snooty professor” type stories. In the story the professor writes “God is Nowhere” on the chalk board. Somewhere by the end of it the clever student rearranges the letters so that it says, “God is Now Here.”
But often it seems to me that both of them miss the boat. Somehow it seems to me that there is a tension between the two notions. Because there are times when I cannot deny the presence of God. There are times when God is so real and vibrant and true that I cannot imagine how anyone could ever deny that God is right here among us. But on the other hand, there are times when I wonder how I could have been so blindly optimistic. I look around at the pain and suffering in the world and I just don’t see how God could be so close. And to be honest I can sometimes get a bit resentful that God seems to be hiding.
But I read something online. It was another of those cheesy sermon illustrations. In this story there is a couple and the husband is dying. And the wife says, “I love you so much, what will I ever do without you.” And the husband replies, “Take that love you feel for me and give it out to the world.”
And suddenly it makes a bit of sense. If God, the Ultimate, the object of ultimate Love, were physically right here with us in the same sense as you and I are sitting in this room, then we would miss out on the very thing that God seems most interested in. God is all about our relationship with God, yes, but also with others.
So, perhaps this absence we often feel from God is God’s way of saying, “Take that love, that hope, and that devotion that you would pour out on me and spread it to everyone you meet.” Because somehow, in some strange way, that is the way that we can best experience the presence of God.
A few days ago I wrote a post that touched on the idea that the reality of a thing should not be confused with the truth of that thing. Like trying to ride a donkey down a photograph of the Grand Canyon. I have spent most of my efforts over the past couple of years, and specifically over the past few months working and writing apologetics. I think it is an important thing. It is good to have a rational approach to faith. As the book of Proverbs says, “The purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters. But a man of understanding draws them out.”
God is truly beyond words, beyond rational thought. Rationality is one aspect of God. You cannot have a full grasp of the Truth of God without the use of all of your reason. But you also cannot rely on reason alone to understand the fullness of that Truth. Tonight I was graced by the presence of God in a way that reminded me of that fact. My 10 month old son has a cold. He woke up about 11:30 tonight screaming. When that happens, often the only thing that will get him to calm down is to take him outside on the porch. We sat on the swing in the dark. It was drizzling slightly, and there was that electric cool crispness of the early fall night. I held him in my arms and hummed the hymns I grew up singing in church. An unexplainable peace fell silently over the both of us. I didn’t see any visions. I didn’t hear any voices. But as I held my son, comforting his pain and his fear, I had the distinct feeling of being held and comforted by my Father as well. I know there is nothing in emotional language or experiences that can convince a hard boiled skeptic that there might be something to this God stuff. But then, it’s not really my job to convince anyone. I can only bear witness to the change in my life. It is up to the Spirit after that. And I suppose that is what happened tonight. The Spirit washed over me and refreshed this skeptical believer one more time.