Posts Tagged ‘ god ’

Biblical Witness & Christian Life in Relational Perspective

The third part of what is a four part review of Relational Theology: A Contemporary Introduction. Part one is here and part two here.

The section, Biblical Witness in Relational Perspective, is quite short containing four essays, all of which are excellent and well written.

I am going to tell you a little bit about and quote from Dennis Bratcher’s The Revelation and Inspiration of Scripture.  Dr. Bratcher starts the essay off telling us, “Christianity is a response to God’s self-disclosure.” A God the reveals Godself, self-discloses, is a relational God and this is reinforced in the biblical texts.

Scripture is the witness that the community of faith has borne to or about revelation…. God is the content of the revelation. Scripture tells us about and points us toward that revelation.

God revealed Himself in history (events), and the community of faith interpreted those events…. The Scriptures reflect this dynamic of the “story of God woven into the life of the community of faith through the centuries.

In this way the Scriptures, the Bible, becomes relational. Relational in the way in which it was initially received. Relational in the way it is interpreted and applied within faith communities.

The three other essays are also excellent. Of note is Dwight Swanson’s The Authority of the Bible. Swanson packs so much into his short essay that I would have to quote the whole thing, so I’ll just say that it is well worth the read.

Section III, The Christian Life in Relational Perspective, has seven essays in living out the Christian life relationally, the way it is intended.

In Prayer and our Relationship with God Libby Tedder tells us, “Prayer is to relational theology as communication is to relationship. You cannot have one without the other.”  She acknowledges that for some the idea of prayer brings up feelings of guilt, we know we are supposed to pray, but aren’t clear on how, so we neglect it.

Relational theology affirms that prayer affects us. But there is a sense in which it also affects God.

God affected by our prayers. Let that dwell a moment. God affected by our prayers.

Prayer literally changes the world. The way we pray relate to Godin prayer changes the way we live and move and have our being. By transforming us, prayer transforms the way God is present to the world by opening up new ways for love to abound…. Praying is the waking up to the presence of God.

Tedder goes on to talk about different ways to pray, some components of prayer.

Prayer can engage all the senses. Prayer can be turning to the inner world of reflections and the outer wolrd electric with clues that God is on the move.

Prayer is relational, it is interaction with God.

There is one more section, Ethics and Justice in Relational Perspective which I will get in another post very soon.

Again the book is Relational Theology: A Contemporary Introduction,  (2012), Eds. Brint Montgomery, Thomas Jay Oord, and Karen Winslow, Point Loma Press, San Diego. It is available from Amazon in both paperback and Kindle editions.

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Doctrines of Theology in Relational Perspective

Earlier in the week I posted the first part of a review of Relational Theology: A Contemporary Introduction. In that post I talked about the introduction by editor Tom Oord. I also promised to talk about the four sections of relational perspective that divide the book.

Doctrines of Theology in Relational Perspective is the first and largest section of the book, comprised of 12 essays. As I read through them I found that I like all of them and underlined most of each for quotes to use here. If I were to do that this review would be longer than the book and I would violate some copyright law by quoting almost the entire section. So, what I have decided to do is to select a couple of the fine essays, ones that stand out, to me. I hope that you will find them as interesting as I did.

Relational theologies don’t tell you how to think about God, but open doors of possibility for thinking about God, opening the doors of exploration. Well, at least that’s how I see them.

In his essay Relational Theology and the Holy Spirit, Amos Yong tells us that, “The Holy Spirit lies at the very heart of relational theology.” I think that he has something here, God in Trinity is by nature a relational being, the Holy Spirit brings us into that relationship.

If the Spirit is at the center of the relational life of God, the Spirit is also central to God’s relationship with the world….Ireneus held that the Father created the world with his “two hands”–the Word and the Spirit. If the Word of God structures the world and its creatures, the Spirit of God is the dynamic life force that infuses creativity and novelty into the rhythms of creation.

I love that last line, “the dynamic life force that infuses creativity and novelty into the rhythms of creation.” It is packed full of possibility.

Human beings find meaning, fulfillment, and significance precisely in relationship one to another, bonded together by the common creator Spirit.

In a fallen world, the bonds of human communion have been broken and people alienated from themselves, others, and their natural environments. But God’s redeeming work consists of healing the estrangement of our hearts, reconciling human beings with one another, and restoring harmony between humanity and the cosmos.

This is a brilliant little essay, so full of possibility based in the redemptive power of God.

The Image of God by Samuel M. Powell talks about how our Imago Dei  relational.

Because we are created in the image of God, our existence is marked by relationships. To be the creaturely image of God is to be essentially and unavoidably related to God, to fellow humans, and to the rest of creation.

Because we are created in God’s image we are afforded certain rights and responsibilities of relationship.

Because we are created in God’s image, each of us is due the highest moral consideration in every respect.

To be created in God’s image is to be a member of a human community in which everyone should receive respect, dignity, and consideration.

Everyone, not just a chosen elite, everyone, isn’t that how Jesus treats people?

I am going to quote from one more essay in this section.

Faith in Relations by Wm. Curtis Holtzen.

Relationship, like “faith”, is a multifaceted notion and not easily defined. When we explore relationship through the notions of love and trust, however, we see that faith and relationship become inseparable.

If faith is a relationship or communal bond, shouldn’t we think of God as someone of faith? … “Yes!” Faith is relational and relationships are reciprocal, two-sided. Because God is relational, God has faith. God’s relationship with us is not only loving but also trusting.

There are nine other essays in this section. They talk about love in relational terms, sin, and salvation in relational terms. They all open up the possibility of thinking about God and ourselves, theology in new ways, relational ways.

The  third part in this series, Biblical Witness & Christian Living in Relational Perspective is up.

Again the book is Relational Theology: A Contemporary Introduction,  (2012), Eds. Brint Montgomery, Thomas Jay Oord, and Karen Winslow, Point Loma Press, San Diego. It is available from Amazon in both paperback and Kindle editions.

Relational Theology: A Contemporary Introduction

Relational Theology: A Contemporary Introduction is a collection of short essays on relational theologies. There are 31, each about three pages long. Short, concise very good for those of us with short attention spans. Short, concise yet packed full of information.

In the introduction, What is Relational Theology?,  Thomas Jay Oord tells a little about what relational theologies are and the need for them in the Christian theological landscape. Dr. Oord tells us that in the biblical descriptions of God, by His very nature He is relational.

God instructs, expects, and responds to creatures–all of which are relational activities.

Dr. Oord goes on to explain, and even show graphically, how several other theologies fall under the umbrella of relational theology. Theologies such as process, liberation, feminist, and missional all are relational theologies.

The essays are then broken down into four sections of relational perspective: Doctrines of Theology, Biblical Witness, The Christian Life, and Ethics and Justice. In future posts we will explore each of these sections.

If you don’t want to wait Relational Theology: A Contemporary Introduction is available from Amazon. It is a very good book, well worth the read.

The first section Doctrines of theology in Relational Perspective and the second & third sections, Biblical Witness & Christian Life in Relational Perspective are now up.

Guest Post: Why I Love Islam –Jennifer

When asked to write a few words about why I love Islam, I jumped at the opportunity! Of course I would write about the greatest gift I have ever been blessed with, but where to begin? So, out came my notepad and pencil and I began scribbling away.

 

“Islam is a religion of peace”, I wrote. I sat with that for a moment. Yeah, so? That is one cliche we’ve all heard ad nauseum, the line almost every Muslim uses apologetically or in defense to some accusatory comment about Islam. I’m sorry, but being a true lover of this faith and a writer at heart, those words simply aren’t going to cut it. Something inside of me, and the vastness of this beautiful faith, demand more. Here it is:

 

Yesterday, as I was leaving my Doctor’s appointment, I walked by a long row of bright red, yellow and orange bushes. Yes, it is Autumn here in Toronto and the landscape of colors is breathtaking. For some reason, I found myself unable to move. I stood there in awe of this perfect scene and felt completely overwhelmed by the beauty of nature before me. Without even a thought, I found my heart and lips uttering these words:

 

رَبَّنَا مَا خَلَقْتَ هَذا بَاطِلاً سُبْحَانَكَ

Our Lord, you have not created all of this is vain. Glory be to you!

 

That, is one of the reasons I love Islam. You see, Islam is not a list of do’s and do nots. It is not simply a dogma to be followed or a prescribed set of rules to govern, but rather a true love, a spirt, that dwells inside the hearts of those who believe. It is a gift for all of us to be blessed with so much beauty that surrounds us, not only in nature, but in science, language, human kindness, etc., but an even a more so profound gift for our hearts to be inclined to naturally associate beauty with God and his bounties. So, when we see something that catches our eye, makes our hearts flutter, such as the Autumn scene I fell in love with yesterday, it is not short of a miracle that we can see God’s intrinsic beauty in those things and in turn give thanks and duly praise Him! Islam lends that gift to its believers. It leaves us in a continuous state of internal worship, reflection and connection.

 

Connection, is one of the other many blessings of Islam. When I think of my faith I think of a family; a group of people from different places all over the world, speaking a myriad of languages, celebrating the richness in the diversities of their cultures and yet sharing in the love of One God, following the teachings of One final messenger and striving towards One ultimate goal: living a mindful, peaceful, content life in hopes of attaining God’s pleasure. It always amazes me when I’m out and about and someone smiles and says “As-salaamu ‘alaikoum Sister” to me as they pass by. It makes my heart overfill with a sense of belonging. There could be no greeting lovelier than “Peace be upon you, Sister”. Sister.  Just the thought of us all being a part of one big family, that binds us only by God’s love and mercy, brings tears to my eyes.

 

When I think of a family, I think of safety, security and well being. Those are all things that I feel my faith offers me. Yes, it would be nice to sit and write an entire article on things that make us feel all warm and fuzzy inside, but the reality of the world we live in is that there are things that can lead us unto paths that aren’t  in our best interests.

 

Probably one of the most important things I’ve learned from my faith is Trust. I Trust that God loves me and wants what’s best for me. In that, I follow what He has lovingly and wisely prescribed for me so that I might live the best possible life I can. Having my faith to turn to for answers when choices are difficult takes a huge weight off of my shoulders. In essence, I turn my faith and trust to God and know that I am in good hands.

 

What I really love about Islam is its simplicity. There is no middle man between me and God. His promise to me, as revealed in the Holy Qur’an is this: “When My servants ask you concerning Me, I am indeed close (to them), I respond to the prayer of every supplicant when he calls on Me”.  (Al-Baqarah: 186). Each time I read or hear this verse I break down in tears because it is a reminder to me of just how easy it is to be close to my Creator. I love this verse because it says “every supplicant”, not only the super pious ones, those in positions of power, saints, but EVERYONE, including me! It also says, “whenever he calls upon me”. It doesn’t say during the 5 daily prayers, or in the middle of the night or at any other prescribed time. It simply says, “whenever”. For me, this is the best gift God has given me: His presence and closeness in my life at all times.

Lessons

11 September 2001 I was in the Placer County Jail awaiting trial for offenses arising from drug related activities. By 0550 hrs PDT the correctional officer assigned to our tank turned on the TV. He had been on the internet while we slept and received a news feed which reported the first attack, the first plane which flew into the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York. Several of us got up to watch the coverage. My memory may be playing tricks on me, but as I recall we saw the second plane slam into the South Tower. We watched as the North Tower collapsed, then watched as the South Tower collapsed. We watched in disbelief. How could these buildings just collapse like that?

I have to admit that I am ashamed of my initial reaction to the attacks. Remember that just three months prior Timothy McVey was executed (11 June 2001) for his involvement in the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995. At this time (2001) I had been of the opinion that McVey would have been an American hero had he timed his assault differently and only destroyed property. The killing of the children in the on-site day care turned an act of revolution into an act of terrorism. I was sympathetic to a new American Revolution. So, my initial reaction was one of hope that this was an act of revolution. I was in the height of my atheism, four years prior to my conversion to Christianity. I had no, initial, thought of the potential loss of life. Regret for the deaths of innocent people began sometime later. When it was discovered that al-Qaeda, an Islamic terrorist group, was responsible my initial reaction was one of disappointment. I so wanted it to be American revolutionaries. This disappointment gave way to disbelief, but that’s stuff for another post, maybe even another forum.

Now, as a Christian I am ashamed of my reaction at the time of the 2001 attack on America. I am ashamed because my initial thought was not sadness for the loss of life. I am ashamed because I actually cheered this horrific act of violence and hate. I am ashamed that I ever thought that armed and violent revolution was a viable option for reclaiming America from the evil, hierarchical power structures that marginalize and oppress. I am ashamed of who I was at that point in time. I am ashamed. More I apologize to all for having held these ideas, for these reactions to this horror that claimed so many innocent lives.

I read a blog this morning before I went to church, Jesus Creed reposting of Will Willimon’s portion of a Christianity Today article, How Evangelical Leaders Have Changed Since 9/11. This post is a mere three short paragraphs and has changed the way I think about the attacks of 11 September 2001 or rather our response.

The American response to the attacks has been one of violence, and for a secular government maybe that is not totally inappropriate. I do think that we went too far, even in the days of my atheism. We were duped into thinking that countries were our enemies, when that wasn’t true. So we went in and killed innocents in our pursuit of the criminals responsible. We shredded our constitution and stripped American citizen of civil rights. If you think I am wrong, consider this fair analogy. A criminal group commits a particularly violent and heinous crime in one of our cities or towns. Lets say that in a botched robbery they killed several innocent people. They get away from the scene. Lets say that one of them has a friend who lives in your neighborhood or apartment complex. Now the authorities get information that this friend of theirs may be harboring them. Now the authorities invade your neighborhood destroying your house, killing your friends and maybe even your kids just to get to this criminal group. Appalling isn’t it? We certainly wouldn’t stand for it, would we? Would we? Maybe we really would, because that is exactly what we stood for, albeit unwittingly, when we stood for our government’s response to the terror attacks ten years ago. But I digress.

As I said, I can almost understand a secular government’s desire for the retributive action, such as ours took. But what I cannot understand is the Christian response. The church in America supported and even cheered on this violent response. We have joined our attackers in an assault on the Kingdom of Heaven. We do this when we hate, worse we generalize our hate to entire people groups, to an entire religion, to entire races. We have responded with hate and violence towards innocent people, demonized them because they happen to share the skin tone and religion of those who hurt us. Is this truly how we think Jesus would want of us? Seriously?

Another fair analogy. Back in my daze of agnosticism and eventual atheism I would read of Christians who gunned down doctors who performed abortions, who killed women who had had abortions, bombed abortion clinics and killed people. I judged all of Christianity based on the actions of these few mentally deranged individuals and the extremist groups that bred and supported them and their activities. This is exactly how American Christians have treated Islam and its followers.

In our unforgiveness, hate, and violence we have declared war on the Kingdom of God. In our unrelenting defense of Christendom we are wreaking destruction on the Kingdom of Heaven. Although I do not think that we are able to see this because we have so confused Christendom for the Kingdom of Heaven that we in our collective mind think they are identical. They are not! Christendom is empire, it is a part of the hierarchical power structure that oppresses. This happened when Constantine adopted Christianity as the state religion and made it a tool of the Empire. The two, the church and state, fused, Christendom was born, the Holy Roman Empire. This is what we try to defend so vehemently. Yet, Jesus brings in the Kingdom of Heaven, the Kingdom of God. This Kingdom is antithetical to empire, subverts the power structures that are empire. Don’t kid yourselves America is every bit empire as were the biblical empires of Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Rome, and even Solomon’s Israel.

We have been conformed to the ways of this world, we have adopted the wisdom of the world (empire) and we think the wisdom of God foolishness. We twist the biblical witness to fit our worldview, to show how God is for empire, for the hierarchical power structures. When we think that God is for violence and hate. We may give lip service to love, but it is some perverted love that promotes the killing of innocents. A perversion of the Gospel when we believe that peace can be won through violence. This was the way Rome achieved Pax Romana, through superior firepower, oppression, violence. The way of Christ is true peace through love, forgiveness, non-violence.

If the events of 11 September 2001 have taught us anything it should be that the hierarchical power structures of oppressive empire are violent and lead to the escalation of violence. That violence is devastating in the lives of the innocent, their families, their friends, their communities, their countries, to the world. That it is devastating to you and me as well. When our consciences have become so seared that we support violence we too have become its victims.

So, on this tenth anniversary of the horror that was 9.11 lets us honor the victims by allowing ourselves to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. Let us no longer think  like the world that the wisdom of God is foolishness, that Jesus way of love is NOT stupid or foolhardy, but is the only way for us to achieve real peace. Lets us stop defending Christendom and start promoting and living the Kingdom of Heaven.

Monet, Science, and God

Back in 1997 or 8 I went to see an exhibit of Monet’s works at the Art Institute of Chicago. My boss was a member and we were at the opening which included dinner and a very good lecture about Monet and how he worked. Monet was a stickler for lighting. As he painted in the late 1800s he utilized the sun for light. Well the light from the sun changes throughout the year and varies day by day. Monet would paint for the few days that the light was how he wanted it. Pack up his stuff and wait until the next year. Meticulous about the lighting.

After the lecture we were off for the galleries to see the paintings. This was the largest collection of Monet’s paintings ever displayed, some of these paintings had never been together before. Magnificent paintings. I was amazed at the size of the canvases, some over 10 feet square. All of them magical in the images.

I was particularly drawn to Harbor at La Harve at Night with the golden lights shimmering in reflection off of the surface of the water. Amazing, magical, inspiring. Monet painted this 10 foot square canvas from the distance of the length of his arm plus the length of the brush. So amazing. My curiosity got the better of me, the scientist that I was I had to know how it was done. How Monet made this magic with his dabs of paint. So I walked right up to the painting. I could see each dab he placed on the canvas. From that close you cannot see the full painting nor see the light shimmer in reflection. From 20 feet away there is magic in the painting and you can take in the whole thing. From two feet away you can no longer see the whole painting and the magic disappears. For me the painting lost its magic. But I gained such a deep appreciation for the genius of its creator. It was a trade off, one I did not know that would occur, but a trade that was worth it.

It took some time before I could look at that painting and see the magic again, but it came back. Now I have the magic of the creation and the deep appreciation of the creator.

For me science is much like this. I may temporarily lose the poetic magic of the Creation, but gain a deeper appreciation for the Creator and I know that the poetry, the artistry of His Creation will return and I will have both just like with Monet and the harbor scene he painted.

(originally posted as a comment on Rachel Held Evans blog )

The Dark Night of the Soul

I want to take you on a journey, a journey of faith that seems near universal, yet never discussed in church. Our journey will take us right to the cross, the crucifixion, the most Christlike of positions.

When we first come to Christ we are like the Samaritan woman who meets Jesus at the well. We find ourselves outcast in one way or another. She says that her well is deep. The word she uses here is Phrear, which means abyss or dungeon, a bottomless space of emptiness. When we first meet the living Christ we realize that we, too, have this deep emptiness that we have tried to fill to no avail. But once we meet this Jesus we are filled and it feels great! We are ecstatic with joy and elation. So filled with joy that we cannot contain it we have to run to town and tell everyone we meet about this Jesus, tell them that He is the Christ and the way to salvation and eternal life. This is sensual and sentimental. We get happiness and good feelings from our new relationship with God.

Maybe we were introduced to the living Christ by someone handing us their faith, all wrapped up in a nice, neat, little package. “Here you go this is all that you need to have the life I have, to have eternal life and not burn in Hell.” Maybe this person was a parent, a friend, a stranger on a street corner, maybe it was a famous evangelist at some big rally and we went down for the alter call. Whatever, we recited some form or another of the so called “Sinner’s Prayer” and were told that we were good to go. We made a cognitive assent to a set of propositional statements, all very modern and neat. “Believe these things and say this prayer and you will have the life in Christ.” We are bathed in the Light and on-fire for the Lord, full of sentiment and sensuality. Here we experience the presence of God. We get good feelings when we obey Him. Almost as if God rewards us here and now for our obedience. Yet Jesus tells us through Luke in chapter 6 that we are to feed the hungry, lend to those in need, to love and expect NOTHING in return. Then in an aside He says, “And your reward in Heaven will be great.” We are not to do it for anything in return, not even that good feeling we once used to get, not even for the experience of the presence of God. It is almost as if God is using operant conditioning to help us change our habits until our minds have been renewed. This is the first stage in our journey to the cross.

Many Christians remain in this place. Never questioning that little faith package that they received. The feelings so great and good that the thought of questioning is very uncomfortable. These Christians can only take the milk, they are babes in Faith. Many of them live out this faith, helping feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the homeless. But they do it in exchange for the helped person’s attention for a few minutes while they explain the Gospel to them, tell them that the way to avoid Hell is Christ Jesus. They have fruit and maintain the sensual and sentimental feelings of when they first met Christ. They have grown enough for this to be solid, they can take the storms of the world and their faith remain intact.

Some move into the next stage of the journey. This is the stage referred to by St. Gregory of Nyssa as being in the cloud or as St. John of the Cross called it, the First Night. This is the place where we become like Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, we consider whether it is our will or God’s Will. We seek knowledge as we begin to question the faith that was handed to us in the nice neat little package when we first came to believe. We seek knowledge of God, who He is, what is faith. Sometimes we can’t feel our faith, it ebbs and flows. We have suffered some for Christ. In this part of the journey we are closer to the Cross than we were in the initial stage of the journey when all was sentiment and sensuality. It is here that we give up all for Christ, even some of our most tightly held as we begin to question our faith, our beliefs.

Like with Jesus many of our “friends” can’t handle the threat to their comfort zone when we begin to openly ask the questions that we have been asking within for so long. Gregory of Nyssa says that this is a time of inner reflection with the Holy Spirit. Like in a mirrored room, we begin to reflect and see through a glass darkly. So people flee from us, abandon us so to speak. Maybe they are still around, but make it fairly clear that it is not okay to ask these questions, not okay to question this faith package that we were handed. Maybe some actually do quit us. But we do begin to feel abandoned by those we once felt closest to. This becomes a time of pain and suffering. Just like Jesus on His way to the Cross. We feel tortured inside. Where can we turn? Where can we ask these questions? We seem to learn quite quickly that the very place where we should be able to openly ask these question, the place where we should be able to openly share our sufferings is the place where we are most condemned for them, so they go underground as we keep these feelings and reflections to ourselves and suffer in silence all alone, like Christ when His friends fell asleep then ran from Him on His way to the cross. I have heard pastors teach their congregations that this place of questioning and doubt, because we won’t question that which we do not doubt, a “Ministry of Demons”, what a guilt trip to place upon those sheep that God has given you. And what nonsense! This is not the doubt of mockers. This is not the doubt of those who do not believe. This is not the kind of doubt that a satan would inspire. No, this is a divine doubt, a divine atheism. An atheism which questions and denies the concepts of God that we have been handed. An atheism that puts us in the position of Jacob wrestling with God. An atheism that leads us to become Israel—one who contends, fights with God.

If we survive this first night, this night of the purgation of the sensual and sentimental. If we do not turn back, and for many turning back is not possible because we ring a bell that cannot be un-rung when we first begin to doubt, question. Then God may take us into the next level, the next stage, to the mountain top.

Exodus 20:21, “Then the people stood at a distance, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.” When Moses reaches he mountain top he sees God in the darkness. This is where our journey from the first light of new belief to the position of the cross takes us. St. John of the Cross calls this The Dark Night of the Soul. It is here we cry out with Christ on the Cross, “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?”

We often hear that it is a sin and wrong to think that God has abandoned us. “God never abandons us, there must be something wrong with you, you shouldn’t think that way.” Often people will quote, Hebrews 13:5 which echoes Deuteronomy 31:6 & 8 as well as Joshua 1:5 where God is speaking to the community of faith. It is a promise to the community and not necessarily to the individual. God will never forsake His church, His people. Yet, we hear this cry from many of the characters in the Bible. David, that man after God’s own heart, cries out in Psalm 22,

1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
   Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
2 O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;
   and by night, but find no rest.”

Jeremiah echoes this in Lamentations 5:

20 Why have you forgotten us completely?
   Why have you forsaken us these many days?”

Then just before He dies on the cross Jesus repeats the lamentation of David when He too experiences the absence of God. It is in this experience when we are in the most Christlike position of the cross. We have entered into the divine experience, into the divine mystery. We find ourselves at the end of knowledge. The end of reason. Face to face with God in the deep darkness like Moses. Yet, we are in the midst of experiencing the absence of God. We have gotten here through much pain and suffering. People have abandoned us. Calamity has befallen our emotions and psyche. And now to add insult to injury God abandons us. The ultimate pain, the pain of Jesus on the cross the experiencing the absence of God. Can it really get worse than that? Isn’t that how Hell is described?

So here we are in this very dark night of the soul, abandoned, forsaken. Yet we can find joy in this. This is not the end of the journey but the beginning. It is from this place of not feeling the presence of God that we step out in true, perfected faith. Paul in 1 Corinthians 13 tells us that faith is one of the three things that can be perfected in this life. He tells us that all our knowledge is but imperfect (not that seeking knowledge is bad, it is not it is actually necessary and good.) But faith and hope and love can be perfect in this life. This is the resurrection life. The life of faith when we obey in the middle of our experiencing the absence of God, in the middle of our divine doubt and divine atheism. When we are the sheep of Matthew 25, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, housing the homeless, giving comfort to those in the hospitals and prisons, those dying and in chains absent the good feelings, the sentiments and sensuality of the early days when we first came to believe and seeing God in the midst.

It is from this position that we can have the mindset of Christ as Paul tells us in Philippians 2:5-8,

5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.

From this position we find ourselves saying with Mother Teresa, “If I am ever to be a saint I will be one of darkness: I will continually be absent from Heaven—to light the light of those in darkness on Earth.”

Is there a place for us who are in the middle of this experience in church? Peter Rollins talks about church usually being thought of as an oasis in the desert. But in this oasis it is all about God as my therapist whose job it is to make me feel good. and songs that sing of Jesus is my boyfriend. That in this feel good church God is a theatrical device we wheel in, a Deus ex machine, the god of the gaps to relieve us of all suffering. In this church there is no place for the real feelings of the people. Feelings such as this divine doubt and divine atheism. Real feelings that as I alluded to before are driven underground, into the shadows. Rollins suggests that maybe church needs to carve out a space for the honest expression of the Dark Night of the Soul, a space that is the desert in the oasis. Maybe we here can create this desert in the oasis where we can come together and talk honestly about what we are going through. Maybe we as a community can find the joy in experiencing the absence of God in living in pure, completed faith.