Thursday, 31 July 2008

Shopping for God

God is not easily seen in our lacquered, branded, and packaged world. He hides himself even from those who say they are looking for him. Some have looked long and hard - up and down the theological mall, and even in through Sunday sermon-markets. They've read treatises, attended churches and conferences and camps, tried their best to have faith in healings, participated in book studies and prayer groups. Others have searched online, asked questions of their leaders, studied apologetics. Why does God hide his face?

Oh, there's a plethora of God-shaped toys and God-labelled substitute deities - all cheap knock-offs that are sure to let you down when you most need them. There are God-rituals to participate in and God-songs to sing and play and God-movies to watch and any number of God-clubs to join. There are books about the most efficient ways to follow God, and scientific discoveries that pinpoint which brain cells are used when thinking about God, and university courses on the history of world-wide philosophies about God. There are God-stickers for your car, and God-approved political parties to vote for, and theological God-alternatives.

But where, oh where, is God? What else can we assume, except that what so many are looking for doesn't exist?

Thank God, it doesn't.

The kind of God you can go shopping for and pick out the same way you pick out a pair of shoes is blatantly and hopelessly non-existent. Our lives have become so padded with comfort, so bloated by excess, that we have little concept of what it means to need. We are more burdened by the results of too much food, too much leisure, too much choice, than we are by any sort of lack.

‘Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked... (Revelation 3:17)

Our society is looking for a commodity - an accessory; a divine talisman that can be toted about with even less trouble than those cute little be-ribboned dogs poking their heads out of purses. We want a magic genie who will make our troubles go away and rewind-and-erase our little slip-ups, and so save us from our guilt. We want a friendly grandfather who will scratch his chin and forget just how things really are, and who will just step in with gentle words and smooth over things in our relationships when we need the help. We want a pretty little God-pet that will do back-flips in his cage to impress un-believers. Oh, we'd be happy with any of the above, actually, so long as God, when he shows up, is well-documented in scientific journals. Or at least approved by the scientists they interview on the nightly news. The thing is, we'd like this God to be real - we aren't going to be hoodwinked like generations before us. We want a well-pedigreed Dog, er, God - one with papers.

And the search goes on, because there is no such thing.

You might shop 'til you drop, but none of us ever finds the God who is Love until we see our desperate, awful need of him. When we find ourselves, dizzy and sick, at the precipice overlooking the dark caverns of selfishness in our own souls; when we awake to the fact that the poison eating away at everything of ours that is pure and good comes bubbling up from the inky depths within us; when we have grown bone-weary of the struggle to fix the broken-ness that increases its destructive force as we take arms against it... When we cry out in utter helplessness for the Love and the Light and the Truth we so terribly need - then is revealed the God who Is.

He's not waiting for us to manipulate our skepticism into blind belief. He doesn't expect us to join the 'right' religion, or pretend we don't think evolutionary theories are likely. But God is neither philosophy nor meat. He is not consumed at your whim or mine. He cannot be sought as one seeks a new rug. It is our understanding of our need that defines what it is for which we search.

The Living God is freely known, but never cheaply. He comes warm and swift as a rushing wind into the awful vacuum created by the admitted need for what He alone is - Love. Light. Truth.

And you shall seek me, and find me, when you shall search for me with all your heart. (Jeremiah 29:13)

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Expectation and Experience and India, and God

I didn't really want to go to India. I had never actually been there, of course, but I'd read books and seen bits in movies and heard stories. I knew about as much about it as I cared to, and it just didn't seem all that interesting. For one thing, everyone said it was dirty. And crowded. The music sounded whiny, and wasn't there a rather inhumane caste system still to be dealt with? What else was there to know?

But I was going. I had been roped in with a group and India was the chosen destination. So I went.

And oh, how I long to return to India. The colors and the casual grandeur were breathtaking. The rich, deep, age-old culture that lay, multi-faceted and palpable, draped over and under and interwoven with everything, and the people - warm and smiling and open-hearted, and the life-energy running through and around it all, humming and vibrant... I fell in love with India and all that she is. The dirt and the crowds were there, but they didn't seem tedious and annoying as I had imagined. Even the fine dust that blew through the air and ruined my clothes and wouldn't be scrubbed from my skin bespoke a simplicity, and seemed a subtle reminder of the humble origins of humanity and our vital connection with the earth. The vaulting of the sky seemed much higher and grander than I remembered it being in Canada. The jostling commotion of the crowds wasn't all pleasantness, but it made me feel a part of something great and vital. The very air thrummed with life and living and a kind of drumbeat, felt rather than heard. Color and sound and rhythm streamed like long banners overhead. India wasn't comfortable - it was hot and old and dusty and dirty and noisy and even unkempt - but somehow, comfort didn't seem to be all that I had felt it was back home in Canada.

This is a little how it is when one really comes to know God for the first time. Oh, you may have seen 'The Jesus Movie', or maybe you've been brought up in the church and listened to a million sermon-stories. Maybe you've even read the guidebook. But God is nothing like you've imagined. Like India, he is deep and rich and warm and dear and living, and filled with a wide freedom and a captivating sweetness. Like India, he is not comfortable - but he shows comfort for the meagre, pitiful thing it is. Like India, God can be ignored and shoved onto the shelf in your mind marked "religion", and you might go your whole life with your assumptions, never really knowing what you're missing...