6. Through all the great upheavals in history, God has been with the people.
The quintessential question of the confused is to ask “Where is God?”
In the midst of tragedy, we ask it. “Where is God?” The presupposition of the question is that God isn’t there. But why?
Because we first define God as the primary actor and/or reactor. That God is pulling levers. Or that God made the original levers, let them go, and then would pull on them if anything goes wrong.
This isn’t an idea about God which originates from Scripture or our tradition. It comes from reason and confusion. It is an age-old tradition of connecting the dots presented to see what the picture looks like. But not all of the dots relate to the true identity. Some of them only reveal part of the story.
When bad things happen
We’re far more obsessed with thinking through the metaphysics about God than wrestling with the promise of God. Like the way we’d rather think about God as I AM than as I-Will-Be-There. It keeps God as a Big Other, out there somewhere. That God can go about fixing things without us.
We pretend that God’s not here with us, even when we feel so alone. Powerless. Unsafe. We’re afraid to think that God is with us then, because it doesn’t make any sense.
This is precisely where God is, though. Not out there. Here, with us.
So no, that doesn’t make sense against the metaphysical arguments we favor. But that’s the internal logic of our faith. That easier, alluring sense of outside power granting certainty isn’t Christian, it’s Roman.
For Christians, the question isn’t why bad things happen with all of the unspoken presuppositions that God did that or that God is about preventing it. It’s about where is God in our world in general. And this becomes especially valuable when the junk hits the fan.
The Crucibles of Faith
There’s a strange way many people of faith think of our Scripture like every word is of equal value and every verse is fundamentally the same.
How often we take our favorite verse and post in on our wall to share something we believe. Or maybe we make a meme to express the truth about God. But it’s an odd idea, if we think about it. That some random verse in a history may be of equal value to us as the theology of Paul or a strange Proverb might be taken like a parable of Jesus.
We do this with our Scripture like we do this with our history. It makes a kind of sense, doesn’t it? We’ve done more than 1000 words worth of things in the last 3000 years.
But this masks the expression of our faith found in our common experience. Especially when we confront the truth of our biggest challenges.
This is by no means a comprehensive list, but a selection of opportunities to wrestle with how God is revealed as present with the people.
The Rise and Fall of Jerusalem
Under King David, God united all the tribes of Israel under one roof for several decades. It was taken as the pinnacle of the Hebrew experience. It kinda feels like the way people talk about the boom ’50s in the church. Like nothing could go wrong!
This was relatively short-lived. David’s surviving son, Solomon built the Temple, but he also militarized the nation, amassed wealth, and enslaved his people. What was taken as God’s favor of David became God’s absence for the succeeding generations.
The irony, of course, is that God didn’t go anywhere. God was there the whole time. The people just struggled to reconnect with the divine.
When Babylon swoops in and destroys Jerusalem, stealing half the population back to Babylon, the people are completely unmoored. The God who they believed was present with them through the Temple lost His home.
What the exiled had to wrestle with was their sense of a kingly God on a permanent earthly throne being usurped and the throne room obliterated. The God-given king was enslaved with the rest of the upper half of society.
How could God accept that? Except that God isn’t a king on a throne, accepting anything.
God was with the people in Exile discovering that God had followed them there. And God was with the remnant, left behind.
After centuries of being ruled by outsiders, the Hebrew people, under the Maccabbees, had one century of freedom before they were beaten down again. And despite the calls for revolution, freedom, by fiat or fate would not come.
What came, for us was Jesus. The ultimate picture of “withness”.
The Rise of the Mystics
As Rome crumbled and the “known world” was slipping into the condescendingly named Dark Ages, the beautiful, powerful church was being trampled and broken. Only it never did. Its focus shifted from power toward prayer as monastic communities and the mystical experiences with the divine preserved the faith in ways walls never could.
The Great Schism
The hubris of the Jesus Wars of the first millennium saw, not the precious unity its catholics sought, but entrenched division. It created more and more fault lines in the faith and cast many people of faith out over the centuries. This conflict came to its head in the most insulting moment of Christian history: when the two remaining streams of the faith cast each other out.
While it is hard to see where God was in any of this (certainly not the one pulling strings), we can see how these wars over unity and division led us toward the nature of our faith and its obsession with authority. And we can believe that God’s presence was as necessary as ever.
The Crusades and the Reformation
The further division of the faith and its obsession with power were most clearly evidenced by the first half of the last millennium. The certainty of virtue and belief led to physical, violent battles with people they saw as enemies. The idea of killing people for Christ is no better than burning hymnals for Jesus. These wars of aggression, literal and ecclesiological expressed extreme distance from any recognizable aspect of faith.
But in this we see the truest test of the two ideas of the nature of God: the God out there and the God with us. For the God out there would never accept the Crusades as an offering or manifest destiny as a justification.
God would be with the victims of violence, however. God would see the beaten and abused as needing comfort and protection, so God would be with the persecuted. Even those persecuted in God’s name.
God is with the people
This is the most consistent truth throughout history. God is with the people, not power.
In every historical moment, God has been with the people. With. Not empowering. Nor is God driving them to slaughter other people. God isn’t punishing the people with plagues for worshipping Baal or punishing Puerto Rico with hurricanes over equal marriage.
God’s jam is not about power. Power to or power over. God’s jam is the song of liberation and the spirituals of survival.
God is with us in the joys and the junk. It just takes opening our eyes to see it.
[This is Thesis #6 of my 31 Theses. To read them all, visit the 31 Theses introduction page.]