In This Place

Jul 23 2017

                                                                            IN THIS PLACE

When you were a child, what was your concept of God? Did God seem like a person who lived in heaven and answered your prayers? How did you picture God? When most of us grew up, God was always referred to as HE, so our impressions of God, formed at an early age, were male. This worked fine, for people who had positive male role models – mostly fathers. For those who didn’t, they either formed an impression of God based on someone else’s father or uncle or brother, based on a priest or pastor, or they gave up on God because the males in their lives presented only negative images.

The images that we form of God as children often influence how we think of God as we mature. About twenty years ago I did a class on “who is God for you?” we used images like police officer, kindly old man, or judge. Interestingly, the images people formed were based on their interactions with males.

As the years progressed, the image of God as male, though still pre-dominant, has changed because of our understanding of God and of human nature. We are more prone to focus on the spiritual side of God, rather than the physical, and on our relationship with God, rather than on a pedestal God whom we worship, but don’t interact with or talk to. We have stopped focusing on a God who does all those nasty things to us and expects us to survive.

Our faith has matured into treating God as a Spirit, living not only “out there,” but within us. We have matured into people who will at least acknowledge the notion that there is a part of God within us and that places responsibility on us and calls us to an entirely different dimension of faith rather than a faith that calls us to believe without question, to do without thinking, and to live our lives as if God were waiting for every little error we would commit and then holding those errors against us.

We call our quest to understand God and our relationship with God a “journey of faith.”

An engineer tells the following story: “A certain bridge in South America consists of interlocking vines supporting a precariously swinging platform hundreds of feet above a river. I know the bridge has supported hundreds of people over many years, and as I stand at the edge of the chasm I can see people confidently crossing the bridge. The engineer in me wants to weigh all the factors: measure the stress tolerances of the vines, test the wood for termites, survey all the bridges in the area for one that might be stronger. I could spend a lifetime determining whether the bridge is fully trustworthy. But eventually, if I really want to cross, I must take a step. When I put my weight on the at bridge and walk across, even though my heart is pounding and my knees are shaking, I have declared my position, I have taken a stand. 

That little story illustrates the issue of faith. It’s really about choices and consequences. And for every choice we make, we either enjoy or suffer a consequence. Some are good; some are bad, but to think that we can go through life without ever realizing the consequences of our actions is folly.

That little story also illustrates that we are on a faith journey that begins with one step. In that journey are many steps along the road of life. From each step we learn something. From each faith experience in our lives we learn something. But the fault for the challenges and what we are forced to learn from them is not God’s fault.

If we change the story a little and add that when the engineer reached the middle of the bridge, the vines let loose and he plunged to his death, would it still be a story of faith? Of course it would. The engineer might think that faith in the bridge was foolishness because something bad happened. But don’t we do the same thing with God? If something bad happens, we blame God. If something good happens, we thank God for supporting us on the journey of faith. While the events in our lives influence our faith, the events are not what determines how we will perceive them. Faith challenges us to perceive them, always, as if God were within us and around us, regardless of the events.

Our journey of faith moves forward because we truly believe that God is in every place or event in which we find ourselves. We believe that God is with us always, even though we cannot see God or touch God. In the deepest moments of our lives and at the most joyous occasions of our lives, God is with us. The events in our lives tell us that when we are engaged in a lengthy period of discovery, God will stick by us to the end, even as God promised Jacob that He would never leave him until all of the promises that God had made would be fulfilled.

The journey of faith is a personal one. It has its ebbs and tides, its floods and its receding waters. To expect that God will intervene in the actions that people choose defies the validity of free will. To expect that God will intervene in acts of nature that cause pain and destruction places God in the position of puppet master, and expects that God will intervene in the natural laws created by God. Why would God do that? In an orderly universe, why would God intervene?

 

Why is it so difficult for us to conceive of a world in which God has placed enormous energy and power within certain acts. And whether those acts are prayer, or seeming miracles that run against nature, there will be a time in the future when they will be as understandable as why rain comes from clouds or why the sun rises in the east.

God is ever-present with us, within us, and for us. That portion of God’s Spirit within us speaks to the very depths of our souls and asks us only to form a relationship with a God who has promised to be with us every moment of our lives. When bad things happen to good people, good people turn to their faith and the hands and hearts of others to help. In that simple act of reaching out, we touch the hand of God each time we touch the hand of another human being in need.

Yes, God is in this place. But God goes with us when we leave this place and God is in every place where we are. God is always in this place, for this place is where we are, and where we are, is where God is. Amen