Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Where is God?

In my preschool chapel talks I often ask the children where God is.  Typically, they point to the sky.  God is up there somewhere.  They have no doubt about the reality of God (parents have taught them well) but they have no locus for God, no place, no presence.  Of late I have noticed a new gesture when I ask these preschoolers where God is.  Some of those preschool children point not to the sky but into their own hearts.

I believe it was John A. T. Robinson who said the God who was once somewhere, now is nowhere.  That is the sober truth we learn from our children.  We have taught them that God is a ghost in the sky, a feeling in the heart, or an idea in the mind.  In essence, we have taught that God is made up, that, if He is real, it is not the same concrete reality they have or their world has.  So it is no surprise that when they grow up a bit, they become resistant to things like church and faith.  The nowhere God has caught up with their rebellious streak and they are not content to live the shame any longer.  Perhaps teen age angst was always a faith problem but, having stripped God of any real reality, it has become a faith problem without an answer.

I do everything in my power to teach these preschoolers (as I do the youth in catechism class) that God is real and is present not in the imagination of my mind or the desire of my heart or clouds in the sky but in His Word and Sacraments.  God is there as He has promised.  He has made Himself captive to the means of grace so that we frail and weak creatures might know where He is and have access to the grace in which we stand.

The focus of even Lutheran piety is often as nebulous as what we think, feel, or makes us happy.  We seek hymns that we like to sing instead of the hymns that speak to us the Word that He spoke first to us.  I cannot tell you how many people have said to me, "Pastor, I am ashamed to tell you what my favorite hymn is...."  We point all sorts of places where we think God is but few of them are close to where God has said He is.  So the feel good stories that make the last few minutes of a newscast impact us more than the Word of the Lord or our place at His Table.  We read the evangelical authors whose inspirational tone shapes us more than the Law/Gospel of the preaching of God's Word.

Our piety ought to be focused and shaped by the means of grace.  Here is where we point.  God is here!  The God of flesh and blood, of suffering and death, of resurrection and life.  He is there in the waters of baptism that claimed us, that stole us from one kingdom to plant us in His own.  He is there in the Eucharist, the bread where faith tastes Christ's body and the wine where faith drinks His blood.  He is there in the voice of absolution that addresses us with the Word that unshackles the chains of sin, washes away its stain of guilt, and restores us as His own.

Children tell us what we have said to them.  When we speak about God as an idea, as a feeling, as a presence on the plane that does not intersect our reality, we tell them God is not real.  They beg to know where God is.  Thankfully, the liturgy points them where our witness has failed them.  Watch their eyes follow  the words and actions of the Divine Service.  They are taking seriously what we take casually.  They look to us to see if we will confirm what the words and actions of the liturgy say... sadly, the answer too often is no...

It is time for us to step up to the plate and be honest with our children.  Just maybe this honesty and conviction may help them remain when the pull of youth and the world are working against their faith.  Wouldn't it be nice if we could teach our conviction that God is where God has placed Himself... in the means of grace... a much more reliable answer than a finger pointing to the sky or a hand held over the heart.


Unknown said...

What does it mean that “God is in something?” In most cases when we use that expression, what we really mean is that God has promised that He will use certain means to accomplish specific ends. It is not the same as theses things being “the presence of God.” Often we speak of God being in the Word, but Scripture clearly teaches, Eph. 6: 17 “Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.” In other words, the Word is a weapon. It does not say that God is in it, unless we are speaking metaphorically. God uses it, but it is not His locus.

If you ask a child where the soul is, the child is likely to point to his heart. As we all know, the heart is a pump, consisting of muscles and nerves and other tissues, all of which are designed to pump blood through our bodies. Yet over centuries people have referred to it as the seat of emotions. Can you specify where the soul is in a person? If you cannot, does that mean the soul does not exist?

But why is it that we Lutherans almost without exception fail to proclaim what Scripture clearly teaches about the presence of God. Not means, but where He is actually present?

John 7: 37 On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, "Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, 38 and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, "Out of the believer's heart shall flow rivers of living water.' " 39 Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

John 14: 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

And so that people will not think this was a gift given only to the Apostles, Acts15:8, And God, who knows the human heart, testified to them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us;

And He is active in us:

Rom. 14: 17 For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

Rom.15: 13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

1 Cor. 2: 12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. 13 And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual. 14 Those who are unspiritual do not receive the gifts of God's Spirit, for they are foolishness to them, and they are unable to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 15 Those who are spiritual discern all things, and they are themselves subject to no one else's scrutiny. 16 "For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?" But we have the mind of Christ.

1 Cor. 3: 16 Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you?

Sorry, I could not get everything into one post, so I have divided it into two parts.

George A. Marquart

Unknown said...

Continued from previous posting:

1 Cor. 12: 3 Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says "Let Jesus be cursed!" and no one can say "Jesus is Lord" except by the Holy Spirit. 4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

Gal. 5:22 By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.

Eph. 1: 13 In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; 14 this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God's own people, to the praise of his glory.

James 4: 5 Or do you suppose that it is for nothing that the scripture says, "God yearns jealously for the spirit that he has made to dwell in us"?

1 John 4: 13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.

There are many more passages which tell us that the Holy Spirit dwells in every one of His children. Occasionally a Lutheran pastor will speak about the “Sin against the Holy Spirit”, at Pentecost we ask to be filled with Him, making God a liar Who says He is already in us, and on other occasions we urge people to “get more Holy Spirit,” because He may have leaked out. But since we have all truth, we could not possibly be wrong, in spite of the fact that we so obviously are. So the child who points to His heart is not that far from the truth.

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart