Face to Face --- with God

Aug 06 2017


Poor Jacob! Can you just imagine wrestling with someone all night and in the back of your mind knowing it was God? Then, on top of that, Jacob was left with a bad hip. Have you ever wanted to come face to face with God and ask God some questions?

One of my friends at MPS used to say that he couldn’t wait to meet God because he had some questions like why was there war? Why couldn’t people get along? Why didn’t God intervene in disasters? Why was there so much evil?

Why would we want to come face to face with God? Is it because there is within each of us, if only for a fleeting moment, a question about whether God exists or not? Is it because somewhere in our history we have questioned God or the existence of God?

When I was a child, I wanted to meet Jesus. I wanted to talk to him and ask him about some of the stuff that was going on. I wanted him to share his wisdom with me. Why? Because I was raised in a basically fundamentalistic denomination in which one did not question what the Bible said. Hence, if the Bible has many instances, such as the one I read this morning, that speaks about God appearing, I wanted to know why God was not appearing in the 20th century.

One of the books I read years ago was Albert Schweitzer’s – “The Quest of the Historical Jesus.” Written in 1906, Schweitzer traces the history of the search for the Jesus described in the Gospels. In the process, he writes about the critics of Jesus and the inconsistencies in the Bible

We have talked about some of those inconsistencies. But in the 20th and 21st centuries, as theologians delve deeper and deeper into the nature of God and Christ, the inconsistencies remain and the critics of God are more outspoken.

Sam Harris, quoted in Richard Dawkins book, The God Delusion, wrote in a book entitled The End of Faith:

 “We have names for people who have many beliefs for which there is no rational justification. When their beliefs are extremely common, we call them “religious;” otherwise they are likely to be called mad, psychotic or delusional…Clearly, there is sanity in numbers. And yet, it is merely an accident of history to believe the Creator of the Universe can hear your thoughts, while it is demonstrative of mental illness to believe that he is communicating with you by having rain tap in Morse code on your bedroom window. So while religious people are not generally mad, their core beliefs absolutely are.” Now that’s pretty blunt!

Richard Dawkins in his book also had this to say: “You say you have experienced God directly? Well, some people have experienced a pink elephant, but that probably doesn’t impress you.”

Many of the books directly challenging the existence of God point to inconsistencies in the Bible and assert that no rational person can be expected to believe them, but most of those books also do not delve deeply into why those inconsistencies appear. Nor do they discuss the struggles of those early Gospel writers who were so awed by the person of Jesus that they wrote in the only ways they knew how – by patterning their stories after earlier stories in the Hebrew Scriptures.

So we are left with essentially three approaches: one – it is not rational to believe in God; two – there is no evidence of God’s existence; three – believe in God anyway. Actually, you and I are left with only the last approach – believe in God anyway. Most of us are rational adults who for one reason or another have chosen to belong to churches and who have chosen to believe in God. However, we are also living in the 21st century so the questions that come from our rational minds deserve answers, or at the very least, deserve to be considered seriously.

I believe that we have tried to do that at Trinity. We have certainly presented the opportunities for questioning. I concur also with Spong who believes that if the Christian Church does not allow people to question and does not come up with reasonable answers, there will be no Christian church in the future, regardless of what we want the denomination to be called.

Being a Christian is not about church laws; it is about relationships – our relationships with each other and our relationship with God. That is the essence of Christianity. And if, in the 21st century, we want to grow closer to God, then we must grow closer to the people around us. We must realize that a portion of God’s Spirit resides in each and every one of us and that Spirit calls us to love and service. When Hindus greet one another and bow it is a sign that says, “The god in me greets the god in you.” In that greeting is the essence of the importance of why our relationships with one another ought to be positive. Unfortunately, according to the lady in this little story, we haven’t done too good of a job with it.

In a drama entitled “The Wingless Victory” Maxwell Anderson relates the story of a sea captain from Salem, Massachusetts who married a Malayan Princess who saved his life. They returned with their two children to Salem and met the bitter hostility of his family because she was unacceptable to them. She had already embraced his faith, Christianity, and tried to follow the loving Jesus whom she had learned to know through her husband. Though she sought to win the love and affection of her husband’s people, she was constantly rebuffed and rejected even by her brother-in-law who was a minister of the Gospel.

At last she could stand it no longer. She determined to return to her native land and to the gods of her childhood. With her two children she boarded the ship and decided to take her own life and the lives of her two children by poison. While waiting for death to come, she uttered a prayer to the pagan gods of her native land that went like this: “God of the children, god of the lesser children of the earth, the black, the unclean, the vengeful, you are mine now as when I was a child. He came too soon, this Christ of peace. Men are not yet ready. Another hundred thousand years they must drink your potion of tears and blood.” (Parables, April, 1987) Those who should have embraced her, did not.

If we believe in the existence of God in each of us, then we must believe in the existence of God in all of us. Do you want me to give you proof? Martin Luther would have us point to our consciences, creation and the Bible – all of which contain many inconsistencies. The only “proofs” I have are the experiences of so many people that cannot be explained in any other way than in the existence of something beyond us.

The “proofs” are what we share with one another in community and in fellowship. The “proofs” are in unexplained visitors whose identities can never be determined and whose presence should not have been. The “proofs” are what we believe is the hand of God working in our lives.

I cannot give you concrete proof. Perhaps that is why we want to meet God face to face – it would give us concrete proof. But then some things in our lives will always have to be accepted by faith. I guess the existence of God is one of them. Or perhaps Schweitzer has said it best: We shall all learn in our own experience who he is.” Amen.