Where is God?

This follows on from the previous post - in a fairly tenuous way.

So, how do we meet God? Where is God? Conventional Christian doctrine tells us that God is everywhere - so, surely, we should be able to encounter Him anywhere?

But is that the experience of most believers?

I don't think so.

For many (or most?) Christians, God is not present in the here and now. He is someone they hope to meet 'in the sweet by and by'. He dwells in heaven, and they hope, by confessing that Jesus is Lord, saying the right prayers, and living good, Christian, lives - obeying the rules, giving to the poor, etc., to meet Him there when they die. God is out of reach, and the purpose of this life is simply to prepare us for the next life. Eternal life, as promised by the supposedly Good News, is something which begins when we die. This world is a melancholy place which cannot satisfy us - almost all satisfaction is locked away in the future. Any pleasure we get is fleeting, and cannot compare with what we will experience when we die, and so we should not get fixated on it. This is, as I said in an earlier post, mostly thought which can be attributed to Plato rather than the bible.

For some Christians, God can be encountered in the 'here and now', but only in particular circumstances. God can be met in particular ecstatic experiences. This is common to the charismatic and Pentecostal churches. But it does only occur in these certain ways. And it encourages us, in a slightly different way to that above, to renounce the world - and then to seek God in ever more extreme supernatural experiences; believers become addicted to the evening service, or the next worship event, the next mega-conference, or whatever. And God is only manifest in these 'thin spaces'. What price the world? And what about those who always seem to feel, in these 'experiences', that everyone except them is meeting God - but all they themselves are actually experiencing is the throbbing beat of loud music in the darkness and a sense of emptiness? Then, even the places where God is meant to show up are just a source of disappointment and frustration…

Leading to disillusionment and possibly, ultimately, the abandonment of ‘faith’ - if faith it ever was, for it seems quite hollow in the light of day.

If we put both these ways of meeting God into different language, God is an object who is either entirely absent or only (if we're lucky) shows up on specific occasions. Both these examples leave 'real life' somehow negated and irrelevant, and we are unable to find fulfilment in it.

But, Jesus said:

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. John 10:10

And the Letter to the Hebrews also says:

God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5

Those quotations sort of give the lie to the two viewpoints above.

The key to meeting God is actually found in one of my favourite passages in the bible; which is also one I struggled to understand, at least until very recently.

(I usually use the NIV for this blog. Here though, the NIV doesn't quite convey the true meaning, so I have slightly altered the translation to reflect the Greek original a bit better.)

Beloved friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Saviour of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister. 1 John 4: 7-21.

God is manifest in love. Love, and love alone, is what makes life worth living. Love takes what is broken, flawed, imperfect, and elevates it. Without love, life is infinitely depressing; with love, life is infinitely uplifting. Love is its own reward. As it says above:

No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. 1 John 4:12

Materially, nothing much about my life has changed since the beginning of January 2016. At that point I was feeling as low as I have ever felt. Life felt so bad that it almost wasn't worth going on - heck, I didn't think I could go on.

But then love came into my life in a new way. Every way I turned, someone was showing love to me. However curmudgeonly one feels, one can only resist love for so long before one begins, however reluctantly, however falteringly, to return it, to reciprocate (at this point I'm tempted to recommend that readers view the animated film ‘Despicable Me’ - and try to watch it from Felonius Gru’s perspective). And so the cycle continues, and grows - love begets more love, which begets...

And that is the difference. Now I feel loved, and I, in my turn, love. And then God steps in - or else is in it already (see the quotation above).

And life seems heavenly. Maybe it is the Kingdom of God; the New Jerusalem - or at least a taste of it. I don't need the promise of heaven, because I can experience the joy and freedom of the Kingdom of God in the here and now. Although this world is broken, flawed, imperfect, love renders that negativity largely moot. It may be broken, flawed, imperfect, but it is still lovely, and so are God's creatures who live in it. My friends (i.e. those whom I love) make my world heavenly, simply by being in it with me. They have faults - just like me - but love makes me largely blind to their faults; I simply see them as lovely.

As an aside, I wonder whether that is how God regards us, His adopted children: faulty but lovely despite that?

I still look forward to the New Earth and the New Jerusalem in all their glory; I still experience God in those 'thin spaces'; but now I have a new way to meet Him, to feel His presence... As I go about my life, loving and being loved by those with whom I come into contact. And you know what? Somehow, I am able more easily to see that 'spark', that bit of 'made in the image of God' which is in everyone - so I am more inclined to love them, because I see God's likeness in them and my heart and soul respond to that.

God bless you!

Copyright Phil Hendry, 2020