Where in the World is God?
It was a morning soaked in pain. Three stories, three conversations, three lives turned upside down and inside out. A death, a dying, and a falling apart. And through it all, a single question, weaving its way through the tears, the rage, the stubborn silence. Where is God?
Yes, where is God? Where is God when things fall apart? Colossians 1:17 says that in Christ all things hold together, but we often resonate more with Yeats than the Apostle Paul. The center cannot hold…
These conversations, they are undoubtedly more about sitting with the pain, more about sharing it than explaining it, I suspect. Sometimes a single shed tear is worth more than a thousand empty pious words. But there is a time for words, too. Words can invite us into new spaces, new understandings. They can train us to look, to see, to hear, to experience differently. I know they can, because words have done this for me.
And so, I’ve been thinking a lot about this question of where God is—particularly when the pain and the confusion threaten to overwhelm and destroy.
So often it seems like we expect God to come from somewhere else—wherever it is that God ordinarily hangs his hat—into the world of our experience. The implicit assumption is that God is out there when what we would desperately like is for him to come in here for a while and do a bit of tinkering with the system, perform a bit of reparative therapy in our world and in our lives.
This is how I thought of God when I was a kid. I would dare God to prove himself to me—if God could just do something that couldn’t be explained in any other way, I would be his forever. Move that obstacle. Help me find that lost item. Make it sunny when I want to play outside. Get me that A in math class. If you will just arrange things in the way I would like them this one time, you’ll have such an enthusiastic disciple, dear God!
I sometimes wonder how much any of us progress from this understanding of God. Where is God? is often little more than a variation of Why is life so hard? I know it is for me.
But what if, rather than looking for a God “out there” to come “in here,” we probed the nature and character of what gives “in here” its shape in the first place? What if, rather than as an absentee landlord who periodically makes an appearance when things deteriorate sufficiently, we were to see God as the very foundation for so much of what makes life livable, meaningful, heartbreaking, glorious, and hopeful in the first place?
Four areas leap to mind. Nothing terribly original in what follows, but I, at least, need periodic reminders of, well, pretty much everything important.
Truth. We take for granted, I think, that our brains are capable of thinking and of arriving at conclusions that represent an external reality in comprehensive and satisfying ways. We blithely assume that truth does and should matter to us when, strictly speaking, if ours is a materialistic reality—there is only physical stuff that is the product of time plus chance—all that should conceivably matter to us would be adaptive utility. But we have a hunger for the truth. We want to know what is real and to arrange our lives accordingly.
Beauty. We are frequently moved beyond words by the staggering beauty that our world exhibits. A paddle on the ocean while the sun is setting. A motorcycle ride through the Rockies. A human being that takes our breath away. A painting that speaks to us in ways that words never could. On one level, these are just sensory impressions—colours, textures, shades and shapes—but these sensory impressions are somehow able to reduce us to tears. The world seems to be saying something, and our reactions to beautiful things, however feeble and inadequate, give evidence to the fact that we have a hunger to listen.
Love. At some level, we know that this is what we are made for. When love is absent, we chase after it, often in incalculably destructive ways. When love is present, we cling to it. Every crappy pop song, every lame rom-com, every “I do,” every baby born, every tenacious clinging to a relationship that teeters on the precipice, every act of self-giving, every unmerited kindness, every waiting in the darkness, every bandaged wound on the side of the road, every weeping at the gate when the prodigal comes home, every taste of bread and wine. All bear witness—sometimes eloquent, sometimes partial—that we were made for love. Love is where we come from. Love is what draws us forward. Love is divine.
Suffering. It might seem strange to even include this one, much less put it at the end. Surely love should be the final word! But I am still thinking of the three conversations, the death, the dying, the falling apart. And I am convinced that suffering, too, bears a kind of witness to God if only because as Christians we are children of a God who suffers. Suffering is the woundedness of the world visiting us in personal and painful ways just as it visited God in personal and painful ways. Suffering reminds us that the story is not yet finished. And our reaction to the death, the dying, and the falling apart bespeaks our firm and undying conviction that these things do not belong.
Where in the world is God?
Well, God is in the world—in all that makes and breaks us, all that moves and molds us, all that raises us up and, yes, even potentially in all that tears us down. God is the one in whom we live, move, and have our being. God is not somewhere out there looking for an invitation to access in here. God is here and always has been.
And thank God! For who could imagine a world without truth, without beauty, without love, and—I almost tremble to say it—without the suffering that drives us deeper into the mystery of God. Who could imagine such a world where these things were not, a world where there was no God?