God is just not “there” for me.

For Christmas my father gave me Hannah’s Child, the memoir of Stanley Hauerwas, a theologian who has been influential in my own thinking about and (I hope) practice of the Christian faith. A while back Dan posted an interesting liturgy he wrote during Christmas on the theme of godforsakenness. While I disagree with Dan that we are indeed godforsaken I understand that, subjectively, it is not difficult to see how one could feel godforsaken. Indeed, I rarely (if ever) “feel” that God is present. As Hauerwas would say, God is just not “there” for me. Hauerwas opens the memoir with the following confession which I resonate deeply with myself.

I believe what I write, or rather, by writing I learn to believe. But then I do not put much stock in “believing in God.” The grammar of “belief” invites a far too rationalistic account of what it means to be a Christian. “Belief” implies propositions about which you get to make up your mind before you know the work they are meant to do. Does that mean I do not believe in God? Of course not, but I am far more interested in what a declaration of belief entails for how I live my life.

It may be that I am not that interested in “belief” because God is just not “there” for me. God is “there” for some. God is there for Paula, my wife; for Timothy Kimbrough, the rector of Holy Family Episcopal Church; for Sam Wells, my friend. But God is not there for me in the same way. Prayer never comes easy for me. I am not complaining. I assume this to be God’s gift to help me think hard about what it means to worship God in a world where God is no longer simply “there.”

Charles Taylor has characterized “our age” as one of “exclusive humanism.” God is a “hypothesis” most people no longer need – and “most people” includes those who say they believe in God. Indeed, when most people think it “important” that they believe in God, you have an indication that the God they believe in cannot be the God who raised Jesus from the dead or Israel from Egypt.

I do think that the first task of the church is to make the world the world. That means, of course, that I need all the help I can get to recognize that I am “world.” But I sometimes worry that my stress on the “Christian difference” may be my attempt to overcompensate for my lack of “faith.” That still does not seem to get the matter right. It is not that I lack faith, but that I always have the sense that I am such a beginner when it comes to knowing how to be a Christian.

“How” is the heart of the matter for me. When I first read Kierkegaard, I was quite taken with his suggestion that the “what” of Christianity is not the problem. It is the “how.” I have spent many years trying to say that we cannot understand the “what” of Christianity without knowing “how” to be Christian. Yet then I worry about the how of my own life.

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3 comments
  1. John said:

    Happiness is the now-and-forever Mystery that IS the Real Heart and the Only Real God of every one!

    The Living Divine Reality is not elsewhere.If you would penetrate and see through the things that you put in front of yourself, through your own tendencies, you would see directly what is present, which pervades all space and every atom. If you could penetrate what is before you, if you could break through the obstructions created by your own fear-saturated mind, you would see the profundity in every present moment.

    All of space contains all of the Truth. Every fraction of “matter” and every part of light, if penetrated, reveals the Absolute. That which is to be REALIZED (and not merely thought about) is absolutely and eternally Present, and Omnipresent, All-Pervading. It need not be sought elsewhere. It need not be sought in a particular place inside ourselves or in the world. Wherever you look inside, or outside, if you penetrated the limiting conditions created by your own fear-saturated mind, you would Realize Reality and Truth.

  2. John said:

    Jesus of course was not in any sense a Christian, nor did he create any of the religion about him – aka Christian-ism.All of which was created by others after his brutal murder, and mostly long after. None of who ever met Jesus up close and personal as a living-breathing-feeling human being.
    “Paul” the principal architect of the religion about Jesus did not meet of know Jesus up close and personal.
    Jesus certainly could not have created any of the “death-and-resurrection” dogma that became the central tenent of the Christian belief system.
    Corpses of dead human beings are incapable of creating anything.

    Jesus was an outsider, a radical Spiritual Teacher/Master (Rabbi) who appeared and taught on the margins of the tradition of Judaism as it was in his time and place. While he was alive he taught and demonstrated a radical, universal, non-Christian, non-sectarian Spirit-Breathing Spiritual Way of Life which can be practiced by anyone in all times and places. Such a Spirit-Breathing Way has been THE essential practice of ALL esoteric Spiritual Teachings and Practices in all times and places, and in todays human world too.

    Meanwhile there are now more Christians in the world than ever before, both in total numbers and as a percentage of the population. There are now over 30,000 different and differing Christian denominations, sects and sub-sects.
    The world is quite literally saturated in Christian propaganda of all kinds.
    There are now more Bibles in the world than ever before.
    More Christian missionaries.
    More theology than ever before. Being written and studied (is there really anything more to say??)
    More Christian literature of kinds including tracts and comic books.
    More Christian schools and universities than ever before.
    More Christian radio and TV stations.
    More Christian CD’s, DVD’s, websites and blogs than ever before.

    And yet the entire world is becoming more insane everyday.
    Indeed some of the leading edge vectors of this now universal insanity are right-wing Christians – look at the toxic horse manure and antics of the GOP candidates for the USA Presidency

  3. jt* said:

    John, I’m afraid that nothing I say is likely to convince you otherwise so I won’t say much at all other than to note that we’re clearly thinking from different places on this. By the way, much of what you say is blatantly false (I’ll let you guess which bits).

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