According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Experience of the Absence of God in the Christian Life


The Absence of God

well, at least the Old Testament has one thing going for it
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/peterenns/2014/12/well-at-least-the-old-testament-has-one-thing-going-for-it/

by Peter Enns
December 16, 2014

I kid of course. I happen to think the OT has a lot going for it, which is why I force my hapless undergrads to deal with it.

But not too long ago it snuck in the backdoor of my mind that the OT has something of core spiritual value that the NT doesn’t–the repeated observation and lamentation over God’s absence, the sense of God’s abandonment.

The OT, as we all know, has a serious dark side–what Walter Brueggemann calls Israel’s “counter testimony.”

In Israel’s main testimony, the story from Genesis through 2 Kings (from creation to exile), Israel’s plan for what it means to be the people God is laid out (albeit with all sorts of intersting and unexpected bumps and grooves): obedience to God leads to life in the land while disobedience leads to divine punishment and eventually exile.

The blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience are laid out nicely in Deuteronomy 27-30, and the same general idea in poetic form can be seen in Psalm 1.

But a key dimension of Israel’s tradition is the observation that the “rules of the game” that God insists on can’t be counted on.

Psalm 73, for example, notices that–contrary to God’s promise–the wicked prosper all the time and the righteous endure long days of suffering. Psalm 88 is a cry for help to God, but he is a no-show–darkness is the psalmist’s only companion (see the last verse). Right next door is Psalm 89, which in effect calls God a liar for failing to keep his promise that David’s line will continue forever (v. 36). The throne is empty now that Israel is in exile. God is, therefore, a promise-breaker.

And don’t get me started on Ecclesiastes and Job. Qohelet, the main character in Ecclesiastes, is seriously depressed and not a little ticked off at how God has set up the world. We go about our work day after day, it’s all the same, and we never actually have anything to show for it, because at the end of the day “you can’t take it with you.” Death cancels out all our achievements. “This is how God has set up the world, so don’t talk to me about blessing and curses, rewards and punishments.”

And nowhere in the book is there any attempt to “correct” Qohelet. In fact, the end of the book pronounces Qohelet as “wise” precisely because his words are painful, like spiked sticks used for driving sheep and cattle.

And poor Job. “Suffering” is too shallow a word to describe how his life utterly obliterated the neat world of  “actions have consequences” that we see in Israel’s main testimony. Job’s friends try again and again to help Job see the light: “You’re suffering Job. Read your Bible. You suffer because there is some sin in your life. There must be. Actions have consequences.”

Job’s response throughout is, “I don’t care what you say. I didn’t do anything to deserve this.” Even though Job’s friends merely repeated the “actions have consequences” idea that is hammered home elsewhere in the OT, at the end of the book God himself turns to Eliphaz, one of Job’s friends, and says, “My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends; for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has” (42:7). Even God isn’t held to the “biblical teaching” of the main testimony.

My point is that this sort of honest and even unnerving grappling with “what in the world God is up to and why should any of us bother with this God who lays out a plan that doesn’t seem to work in the day to day world” is all over the OT.

But you don’t find it in the NT.

In a word, the NT has a more triumphalist tone. In Christ, God has shown up definitively, finally. The NT writers tell us that in the gospel we see God’s final plan worked out before all the world–in an suffering, executed, and raised messiah.

The NT no doubt grapples with the question of suffering–no happy clappy world does the NT present–but we do not see the same anguish over the sense of God’s absence and abandonment that we see in the OT.

The exception is Jesus’s own cry of God’s abandonment in the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me,” which is a citation of Psalm 22:1, one of those “Where are you when we actually need you, God?” psalms uttered by the ancient Israelites–the crucified Jew’s abandonment by God sums up and embodies Israel’s experience throughout much of its own history.

But as interesting as that observation may be, that’s not my point here. This is my point: the sense of God’s absence, that anyone who has been a Christian for more than 45 minutes can attest to, finds its biblical echo the OT, not in the NT.

The NT, after all, tells the “end” of Israel’s story–in the sense that “this is where the story of Israel winds up.” The purpose of the NT is not to raise the specter of God’s abandonment but the trumpet call of God’s triumph for Israel and all the world.

But in my experience, this is precisely the problem for people who don’t feel triumphant.

If all we read is the NT, we are left with a sense that, however difficult things may be at the moment, stick with it: Jesus has come and he is coming back very soon.
There is no articulation on the part of NT writers of the deep sense of God’s absence that we find among the OT writers, who are there over the long haul, day in and day out, waiting for God to show up and stick to his own plan.

If all we read is the NT and we are also living though a period of God’s absence, abandonment, a period of doubt, a dark night of the soul, we may likely conclude that there is something very wrong with us for feeling this way.

If we don’t walk around in more or less a state of perpetual triumph and spiritual “victory” we will think we are some lower form of life, further down the ladder of spiritual maturity.

This is why we need to hear the experiences of the ancient Israelites to relieve us of our spiritual shame.

Their experiences are very much like ours today: life is hard, and life of faith does not automatically make it easier. It may actually make it harder at times.

Spiritual struggles are normal for Christians. They are not to be sought after, but they are normal. They are not to be romanticized, but they are normal. They are not to be shown off and bragged over, but they are normal.

To speak otherwise is to ignore the counter testimony. The Bible tells me so–and I’m glad it does.


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