A LOVE SUPREME

I am now blogging at a new blog: erdman31.com

If you post comments here at Theos Project, please know that I will respond and engage your thoughts in a timely manner.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Closer to God


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z7cQkg1ZAZs


You're the only tie that binds my heart
Away from you I'm falling apart
We need to be closer than we are

Sanctus Real
Closer
Fight the Tide

I'm not alright, I'm broken inside
Broken inside
And all I go through, it leads me to you
Leads me to you
Closer to you
Closer to you
Closer to you

I'm not alright I'm broken inside
Broken inside
I'm broken inside, Broken inside
And all I go through leads me to you
Leads me to you

I'm not alright, I'm not alright
I'm not alright ... that's why I need you.

Sanctus Real
I'm not alright
The Face of Love


One of the lessons taught me during my time in Christian evangelical circles was that one needed to pursue God, to be "close to God." Being close to God meant peace; being close to God meant that you were okay; the presence of God was to be pursued, the absence of God, eschewed.

But....does God really want to be close to us? I ask a serious question here.

Should we exist in a relentless pursuit of God's presence in our lives? Again, though many Christians take this to be an unquestionable axiom, I am raising the question, and I am doing so not simply for sake of argument.

I have previously posted on Peter Rollins, a/theology, and other explorations of negative theology. The idea is basically that I question the assumption (held almost without question in most evangelical circles) that the presence of God should be privileged over his absence....I oppose this assumption, at least, as some sweeping, categorical formula....what if God truly desires to be absent from us for a while? Would that be okay? What if there is nothing broken or wrong with us when God is absent? What if, in fact, such absence were a positive aspect of spiritual formation?

In a very real way, we can never escape the presence of God because he always surrounds us. God is really unknowable, truly transcendent, and yet She/He surrounds us at all times: "'For in him we live and move and have our being.'"

It may very well be that the presence of God heals and repairs....and it may very well be that the absence of God breaks and damages us....but I don't think these things hold absolutely. There is surely something wrong with faith when it obsesses about the presence of God. Exploring the absence of God is a means of knowing God that cannot be understood if God is present. When those we love are absent, our love grows in a unique way, love grows in the absence, and in the absence we learn more about ourselves and our relation to those we love; we learn more about the love itself; we desire the presence of the absent one; we cultivate an isolated and present-less desire.

Absence can be necessary also from the perspective of distance in order to understand our doubts and fears of God. When dealing with his people at Mt. Sinai, God appeared as a God of distance--to be feared and respected. While I'm not sure I understand the logic of such a move, I raise the issue because God himself seems to create distance from those he loves. Similarly, I think there are times when we need distance from God simply to attempt to reckon with inner doubt and faithlessness.

In short, I think that cultivating the absence of God seems to be invaluable in knowing God: we know God in presence and we know God in absence. Theologies and spiritual teachings that perpetuate God's presence as the supreme experience of spirituality feels very unhealthy to me, at this point in my life.

Thoughts?

When my love was away,
Full three days were not sped,
I caught my fancy astray
Thinking if she were dead,

And I alone, alone:
It seem'd in my misery
In all the world was none
Ever so lone as I.

I wept; but it did not shame
Nor comfort my heart: away
I rode as I might, and came
To my love at close of day.

The sight of her still'd my fears,
My fairest-hearted love:
And yet in her eyes were tears:
Which when I question'd of,

'O now thou art come,' she cried,
''Tis fled: but I thought to-day
I never could here abide,
If thou wert longer away.'

Absence by Robert Bridges

89 comments:

jps said...

Jon,

A couple of thoughts...the mystics called the absence of God "The Dark Night of the Soul" and held it to be essential to spiritual growth. If you always sense God's presence you are walking by sight, not by faith-at least that was their reasoning.

Second, Michael Card has a wonderful song"Could it be" with a refrain that starts with "could it be that you make your presence known by your absence." Quite insightful.

Just an idle musing...
James

Jonathan Erdman said...

JPS,

Based on your conversations, I was hoping you might be able to comment...thanks.

Peter Rollins talks about the darkn night of the soul in his book How (not) to Speak of God. I think you should read Rollins....I will let you borrow my copy, if you like.

Also, I love your profile picture. Did you take that a month or so back, when we got all that ice?

tamie said...

"A man in a desert can hold absence in his cupped hands, knowing it is something that feeds him more than water." -Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient

ktismatics said...

Erdman there's a blog on my blogroll called "Speculative Heresy," which I think might be an apt title for these sorts of musings you undertake. You could write a book: What if God wants to be alone sometimes? What if God isn't interested in morality? What if the church closed up shop? And so on. Given that you're still "in the fold" I think you could carry this off.

tamie said...

Is Erdman still in the fold? I thought maybe he had wandered out into the rolling hills, where we've been told for years that there are wolves prowling. How's the view from those hills, E? Hear any wolves at night?

Jonathan Erdman said...

In true poststructuralist fashion, I choose to neither be "in" the fold nor "out" of the fold....neither side of the binary opposition will be privileged for me.

Good idea about the book, K....interesting.

tamie said...

In true post-post-post-post-post-post-post structuralist fashion, I am embracing binaries as the poetic fun they can be. I like to think about sheep in their folds in the mountains.

tamie said...

This morning I am reading through a journal I kept a couple years ago. I came across this sentence: "I have been willing to live with great disappointment and dissatisfaction because I didn't want to live with this aching, longing absence. What would happen if I became willing to live with it?"

Aside from it being a little creepy that I came across this sentence right after your reading your post, I am also interested by the possibility that perhaps sometimes we obsessively scurry after "presence" because we're pretty fucking terrified of absence. I bet that, a lot of times, what we get is a mimic of presence. Just like, in a human relationship, if you cling and clutch and try to force the other person to be with you, the odds are slim that you'll get that person's genuine and free presence. (Not that I think God is playing games with us, but it does seem to me that so much of the time we don't even want *God*. What we want--demand!--is something that will stuff our emptiness, even if we have to invent it, even if we have to settle.)

We don't just do this with God, by the way. Our culture is hellbent on acquisition--more stuff, more food, more "friends," more weapons, more money, more entertainment, more square-footage. Sitting still with absence, silence, emptiness....this is not really our cultural forte. More=solution to the existential ache at the core of all of us. More=freedom, we think.

So what would happen if we were willing to give up, turn off the music, the TV, exit comfortville, relinquish entertainment, and just be, present to whatever--absence, presence, something else entirely--showed up?

(I think that the poem I posted on my blog today speaks to this, now that I think about it.)

Melody said...

Silly evangelicals...where do they get these crazy ideas?

I know you're not exactly sola scriptura, but the authors of the Bible talk a lot about pursuing God and pursuing righteousness. They speak of knowing God and being like Him as goals to be completed upon our arrival in heaven. Looking always unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith...that sort of deal.

There's not much (read: anything) describing separation from God as positive or desirable.

From personal experience I've never found that the absence of God is a helpful thing.

I was going to say that I appreciate God more upon His/my return, but that's not true. I appreciate Him more than when I wasn't with Him, but I don't appreciate Him more than when I was.

What happens to me when I'm not talking to God is the same thing that happens for me when I don't see a good friend for a while. I don't exactly miss my friends, I just have an increasing sense of something not being quite right. Things start to go badly and until I talk to them I'm really baffled as to why things aren't going well.
Then I talk to them and it's quite clear that I needed them all that time.

I don't love them or God more for their absence. I might love them less. The less time I spend with God the less I want to.

Same for friends. There are some people I really never want to see again. I've been gone too long.

As for God desiring to be absent...what do you have to support such a theory?

Just for clarification I would say that distance and absence are different things. God made Moses keep his distance from the burning bush, but no one would claim that as absence.

In the OT God's absence is always counted as a punishment. In descriptions of heaven His eternal presence is our ultimate reward.

In any case "cultivating absence" sounds silly to me. It's not exactly strenuous to achieve.
While being in His presence can be quite hard at times.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Tam,

You talked about being terrified of absence......this makes me think of times when biblical folk were actually terrified of God's presence.....Moses & Co. and Job come to my immediate mind.....also Isaiah.....these good folk wanted to get the hell out of God's presence!

A good argument can be made that God doesn't deal with people by scaring them anymore....and I think that is an important question to have.....yet still, it seems like many of us have a notion of God that says, effectively, "God's presence = good." I'm not sure if that's really the case.

tamie said...

Mmhm. God's presence=good is probably an absolute we can relinquish, one based on a misunderstanding of God, and perhaps also a misunderstanding of presence and a misunderstanding of good.

Define "good"! (I realize this is grammatically incorrect, the exclamation mark and all, but it's correct in terms of expressing my intension.)

(Define presence.)

I wonder what it was about God's presence that scared those people. Hm. I want to ponder that today. And, what have we lost by making God so un-scary, so thoroughly knowable? (I mean, aside from the folks who base God's scariness on His ability to torture/damn us forever, which I find a bit over-the-top and just not really all that scary.)

Jonathan Erdman said...

Melody,

Thanks for the personal reflections.

And yes, you are correct, I am not sola scriptura. I think sola scripture is actually impossible for human beings, even for those who claim the sola scriptura mantra. Interpretation of scripture is always a factor, and our interpretations are always conditioned by culture, language, experience, the Holy Spirit, and a million other things. Interpretation is always a buffer between us and the text, if you would like to think of it that way. Sola scriptura tends to naively think there is no buffer.

However, that said, I hold the Bible in very high regard and I look to it as a guide to knowing God, experiencing God, learning truth, and navigating life....the B-I-B-L-E, yes, that's book for me....it remains one of my primary source for truth....So, I take it very seriously and appreciate it when you bring up passages that shed light on our current topics and/or add as correctives.

You said: What happens to me when I'm not talking to God is the same thing that happens for me when I don't see a good friend for a while. I don't exactly miss my friends, I just have an increasing sense of something not being quite right. Things start to go badly and until I talk to them I'm really baffled as to why things aren't going well.
Then I talk to them and it's quite clear that I needed them all that time.


Funny (ironic, not "ha, ha") that you mention this b/c I recently had a similar experience. Time had come between me and a close friend. The result, was that he felt as though there was "something between us," that there was "something" that we needed to deal with. And, I guess, for him that was true. For me, though, I didn't feel as though there was something there, I just missed the time w/ him and looked forward to the opportunity to hanging out, discussing our lives, etc.

So, I would suggest that absence from a friend does not necessarily mean "something is wrong".....although it certainly could. Is it possible people just get busy? But still feel the emptiness of missing that person?

Also, even when something truly is "wrong," trying to work it out face to face may not be the best strategy, at least at first. Sometimes, we need to sort things through for ourselves, personally, b/f engaging the other. Sometimes not. Relationships are tricky, that's all I'm sayin'.

As for God desiring to be absent...what do you have to support such a theory?.....

Melody: In the OT God's absence is always counted as a punishment. In descriptions of heaven His eternal presence is our ultimate reward.

Just off the top of my head, I think Mt. Sinai is a good example, perhaps the quintessential example.

God is absent in the Garden, until human beings sin.....God only comes to Abraham and the Patriarchs once in a while to confirm the covenant....God hides himself in his glory from his chosen nation....there is the case of Isaiah chap 6.....and there is Job, where God appears to him in order to crush him. God never reveals himself to Job as a God of love, at least as far as I can tell (i'm certainly open to corrective here)......God "forsook" Jesus on the cross, in some sense.

I wouldn't describe these as "punishments" as much as just.....well.....I'm not sure....God just choose to be absent and/or distant. But it is more than evident, textually, that Job was not being punished (contra his amigos's suggestions).

M: Just for clarification I would say that distance and absence are different things. God made Moses keep his distance from the burning bush, but no one would claim that as absence.

Sooooooo......what if we changed up the terminology a bit.....and I said that we should cultivate distance from God......how would you feel about cultivating distance from God??? Would you embrace such a suggestion?

Melody said...

Don't have time to respond to the whole thing this second, just a clarification on one point:

You said:
Is it possible people just get busy? But still feel the emptiness of missing that person?

Emphatically, yes.
That's really what I meant.

For me there are certain people that if I get to busy to see them/talk to them my life goes off kilter.

There's nothing wrong between me and my friend, we're good. But it messes with me to have them gone - even though I don't consciously miss people.

But if I don't see them for long enough, that stops. I still like them as people. There's no anger there. The relationship just dies from lack of relationship.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Melody,

I guess that's what I'm wondering: does the relationship "die" from the inactivity? Or does it just take on another dimension? The Bridges poem suggests that lovers still keep each other in their hearts in a very real way, even if they feel like they are going to die if they don't see each other. Love takes on a new (albeit challenging) dimension when distant from each other.

tamie said...

T.S. Eliot: I said to my soul, be still, and let the dark come upon you/Which shall be the darkness of God.

So far, much of the conversation has been about our drawing close to God, or getting busy and not drawing close to God. But what about Jon's question, does God always want to be close to us?

Melody said...

Jon,
They were apart three days. I'm not suggesting a relationship would die in three days, but if I never communicate with someone I don't have a relationship them.

With some people the original relationship is strong enough that it can be picked up again even after more than a few years, with others even the desire to do so is gone.

In either case I don't think the argument could be made the absence strengthened the relationship.

Jason Hesiak said...

God "forsook" Jesus on the cross, in some sense.

I wouldn't describe these as "punishments" as much as just.....well.....I'm not sure....God just choose to be absent and/or distant. But it is more than evident, textually, that Job was not being punished (contra his amigos's suggestions).


leaving aside the job thing pretty much just because i'm at work...maybe its true that God wasn't "punishing" Jesus...or maybe its even true that Jesus wasn't bearing the brunt of our punishment...but it still seems to me that sin is the reason Jesus was forsaken. or...at least...without sin Jesus would not have been forsaken. i can't imagine a scenario where everything is hunky-dory and then suddenly God decides to abandon and torture us seemingly randomly.

on the TS Eliot quote...i think that was mystical talk for...not so much talk about the absence of God as much as the presence of God through getting ourselves out of the way...although that's a crude way of putthing it and in that case i think presence/absence talk just confuses things. what do you think?

Jason Hesiak said...

i was referring to kenosis. of the contemplative prayer variety. like St. Francis stigmatta variety. which involves the "presence of" the love of God. but also blood and such, obviously.

tamie said...

Hey Melody....a couple years ago, a friend and I took an indefinite period of absence/silence, and it was one of the most strengthening things I've ever done in a relationship. I was able to dive more deeply into love than almost at any other time in my life. I felt like I was being emptied of everything that wasn't love.

I understand what you are saying, that presence and being in touch with people is really important in relationships. But I do think in some cases, absence can deepen love in ways that nothing else can.

Jason....in regards to the Eliot. Yes, I think it can be read that way. But I also think it can be read as the actual and substantial absence of God. Later in the poem he says, "So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing." I think perhaps he is indicating that perhaps absence is more/other than what we think it is, and perhaps at times presence can be less than we think it is.

Also. Can it really be so simple as sin always being the cause of God's absence? Why was God absent from Job? Why was God absent from Jesus in the desert? Why does God not swoop in and save all the suffering people of the world now?

Jason Hesiak said...

all right now look here you're talking about one of my favorite poems...period...so...this is fun :) here's why i read it the way i do...and i'm about to quote him about "presence" but i still think he's primarily talking about existing and/or motion as much as or moreso than "presence"...because like you said...what the heck is "presence"?

So we moved, and they, in a formal pattern,
Along the empty alley, into the box circle,
To look down into the drained pool.
Dry the pool, dry concrete, brown edged,
And the pool was filled with water out of sunlight,
And the lotos rose, quietly, quietly,
The surface glittered out of heart of light,
And they were behind us, reflected in the pool.
Then a cloud passed, and the pool was empty.
Go, said the bird, for the leaves were full of children,
Hidden excitedly, containing laughter.
Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.
Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.


And the lotus thing from above along with the folloiwng make me think he's talking about a kind of kenosis...although i kind of mis-spoke before probably...he was probably being a bit more lotus-y than Francis-y...

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.
I can only say, there we have been: but I cannot say where.
And I cannot say, how long, for that is to place it in time.
The inner freedom from the practical desire,
The release from action and suffering, release from the inner
And the outer compulsion, yet surrounded
By a grace of sense, a white light still and moving,
Erhebung without motion, concentration
Without elimination, both a new world
And the old made explicit, understood
In the completion of its partial ecstasy,
The resolution of its partial horror.
Yet the enchainment of past and future
Woven in the weakness of the changing body,
Protects mankind from heaven and damnation
Which flesh cannot endure.
Time past and time future
Allow but a little consciousness.
To be conscious is not to be in time
But only in time can the moment in the rose-garden,
The moment in the arbour where the rain beat,
The moment in the draughty church at smokefall
Be remembered; involved with past and future.
Only through time time is conquered.


but anyway..."Only through time time is conquored" indicates to me that he's not just talking about a simple "absence."

also notably...like the Erdmanian was getting at...notice how he mentions the escasy and the horror one right after the other!

Words move, music moves
Only in time; but that which is only living
Can only die. Words, after speech, reach
Into the silence. Only by the form, the pattern,
Can words or music reach
The stillness, as a Chinese jar still
Moves perpetually in its stillness.
Not the stillness of the violin, while the note lasts,
Not that only, but the co-existence,
Or say that the end precedes the beginning,
And the end and the beginning were always there
Before the beginning and after the end.
And all is always now. Words strain,
Crack and sometimes break, under the burden,
Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,
Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place,
Will not stay still.
Shrieking voices
Scolding, mocking, or merely chattering,
Always assail them. The Word in the desert
Is most attacked by voices of temptation,
The crying shadow in the funeral dance,

The loud lament of the disconsolate chimera.

The detail of the pattern is movement,
As in the figure of the ten stairs.
Desire itself is movement
Not in itself desirable;
Love is itself unmoving,
Only the cause and end of movement,
Timeless, and undesiring
Except in the aspect of time
Caught in the form of limitation
Between un-being and being.

Sudden in a shaft of sunlight
Even while the dust moves
There rises the hidden laughter
Of children in the foliage
Quick now, here, now, always—
Ridiculous the waste sad time
Stretching before and after.


notice how the temptation of the desert is associated with the stillness of death. doesn't mention "absence."

:))

Jonathan Erdman said...

Jason: leaving aside the job thing pretty much just because i'm at work...

Jason, I assume you meant "Job," as in the guy whose name is synonymous with senseless suffering.

If one wants a complete and biblical picture of God's dealings with people, then the Job story has to be reckoned with....God withdraws himself, Job suffers, God finally meets Job and does not extend love, and then God gives Job a bunch of stuff.

There's a lot in the Job story, but in terms of our discussion it is important to me that Job experienced the absence and distance of God in a way that is difficult to reckon with.....I don't have an answer for what God did, I just take the text as is.

ktismatics said...

If a person goes away or dies, then others who love that person can experience the absence. If that person never existed in the first place, can this too be experienced as absence? E.g., can a single person miss the spouse s/he never had, or the childless couple miss the nonexistent child? Can people miss a god who never was?

Melody said...

Jon,
Ok, going to try and address some of the other stuff in your post

the B-I-B-L-E, yes, that's book for me....it remains one of my primary source for truth....So, I take it very seriously and appreciate it when you bring up passages that shed light on our current topics and/or add as correctives.

Yeah, that's what I was getting at/wondering about.

You gave several examples from the OT - good examples, not stuff I would have though of off the top of my head, though I would maintain that those are cases of distance - not absence - with the possible exception of Jesus on the cross. That does seem to have been a pretty severe cutting off.

Of course in the case of Jesus I would say it is punishment - because Jesus happens to be taking our punishment for us.

I'll have to think about the others for a bit - again... out of time.

But as for changing the terminology to make your suggestion work - I don't know.

Personally it seems like distance is just there. And in some respects I'm not sure that, that's a bad thing while we're on earth (I think heaven will change things a bit - though I don't have real distinct thoughts on what that will be like) because in the OT there's is somewhat of an implication that being too close to God's glory might make one drop dead.

On the other hand, when people talk about being close to God - I don't think that's what they're talking about.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Ktismatics: If a person goes away or dies, then others who love that person can experience the absence. If that person never existed in the first place, can this too be experienced as absence? E.g., can a single person miss the spouse s/he never had, or the childless couple miss the nonexistent child? Can people miss a god who never was?

Insightful questions. Very perceptive.

If you will indulge me, I will copy and paste some existential mumbo jumbo from Sartre's Being and Nothingness. It is actually directly related to your question and quite interesting. Sartre talks about going to a cafe and expecting to meet his friend, Pierre. Pierre, however, is a no show. Because Pierre was expected, his absence is felt...indeed, it is as though his absence is present, in a certain sense. (Thanks to Tamie for calling this Sartre example to my attention.)

Pierre's absence supposes an original relation between me and this cafe; there is an infinity of people who are without any relation with this cafe for want of a real expectation which establishes their absence. But, to be exact, I myself expected to see Pierre, and my expectation has caused the absence of Pierre to happen as a real event concerning this cafe. It is an objective fact at present that I have discovered this absence, and it presents itself as a synthetic relation between Pierre and the setting in which I am looking for him. Pierre absent haunts this cafe and is the condition of its self-nihilating organization as ground....non-being does not come to things by a negative judgment; it is the negative judgment, on the contrary, which is conditioned and supported by non-being. (bold emphasis added)

I would say that there is a real sense in which God's absence indicates his presence if he is expected. So, what is this expectation based on??? Probably many was to interpret it. Much of your interpretation, though, would depend on whether you believe God actually exists and makes his presence felt.

Nietzsche talked about the death of God. Presumably, N didn't believe that God ever actually existed, but that God was a necessary concept developed by humans for various pragmatic reasons.....we needed a god and/or gods.....but now, N wanted us to move into a new era of self-reliance and self-determination, which would eliminate the need for God.

So, to directly answer your question: yes, I think it is possible to expect God to be present, even though he does not actually exist. Conversely, however, since I believe God actually exists, I think that the feeling of God's absence is related to his actually being present....also, I tend to believe in sensus divinitatis, the idea that we have something of an "innate" sense of God.....this is something I go back and forth with, however.

God absent haunts this world?

ktismatics said...

It's notable how you shift the tenor from interpersonal to philosophical here, Erdman -- as if God's absence from a prior presence is felt personally whereas his nonexistence isn't. But Sartre's example is a good one: the cafe is haunted by absence only for the one who expected a presence. That presence can be desired or dreaded, as the discussion has pointed out. And I think it goes beyond expectation to hope and fear, even in the absence of expectation. So someone who wants to get married or who doesn't want to get pregnant might be haunted by absence even when s/he doesn't expect either the spouse or the fetus actually to appear.

Anyhow, speaking for myself, I have little to no expectation that God is ever going to show up. Do I experience his absence anyway? Probably, in the sense that I wish Someone would come along to make everything okay, validate me as a human being, confirm my passion and calling, etc. Still, my experience of this absence has waned over time.

Let's play a little speculative heresy. Suppose God exists, and you experience his absence. This absence continues indefinitely. At what point would you decide that in all likelihood he's not coming back? E.g., he got disgusted with the human race, he found something more interesting to do, he slipped back through the wormhole that brought him into this universe in the first place, etc.

No need for reply; just messing about now.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Melody: ....in the OT there's is somewhat of an implication that being too close to God's glory might make one drop dead.

On the other hand, when people talk about being close to God - I don't think that's what they're talking about.


Can you expand on that last thought a bit.....that is, what do you think "they" are talking about? And who are "they"?

Jonathan Erdman said...

Ktismatics: Let's play a little speculative heresy. Suppose God exists, and you experience his absence. This absence continues indefinitely. At what point would you decide that in all likelihood he's not coming back? E.g., he got disgusted with the human race, he found something more interesting to do, he slipped back through the wormhole that brought him into this universe in the first place, etc.

I think it is interesting that there are many instances in the Bible that this kind of question is confronted. It is probably one of the primary themes, recurring in every section of the canon: Abraham waits on the promise, the Israelites wait on their deliverer, the kings of Israel must wait on God for victory in the face of defeats, the blessing of God on the nation seems questionable in captivity, the disciples are waiting on Jesus to usher in the Kingdom, and ultimately, the NT believers expect that Jesus is coming back in a very short time......and the beat goes on, as it were.

As a younger lad, I was always taught these passages in conjunction with some kind of dogma about the fact that if you wait on God he will always come through.....or that God is sovereign and he can do what he wants...etc., etc. I think the true lesson from reading Scripture as a whole is that, yes, God can do what he wants, even if that means not showing up when he needs to, and that it is in fact human and appropriate to engage God and/or question the legitimacy of Her actions....in other words, it is the process of engaging faith that seems to matter much more than the actual place one lands. To follow through on our existentialist theme, we might say that existence precedes essence.

So, the answer to your query seems to depend on the person: is God worth waiting for? Or, perhaps one might even come to the point of determining that the God they are waiting for does not, in fact, exist. From a non-believing perspective, then, it would seem that the obvious reason why God can be so absent/distant is that s/he isn't actually out there to be found.

samlcarr said...

I think part of the problem is that when we think of God we want something remarkable, extraordinary... as my friend Ivan keeps asking, why doesn't God just appear 'in the heavens' and shout, 'here I am, this is me'?

The other place where we expect God and She doesn't appear (causing much angst) is when we are in trouble (or just being greedy) and have asked God to do something. Many of the biblical episodes that Jon refers to were in the latter camp.

The simplest explanation for not being abe to 'find' god is that there is no god. Another option is that we are looking in the wrong way/for the wrong thing. God may be very ordinary, and this seems to be what Jesus stressed, 'dad'.

God may well not be present, or perhaps we just feel as though He is isn't.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Yeah, good thoughts Sam....thanks.

Melody said...

Jon, you asked me to explain

...that is, what do you think "they" are talking about? And who are "they"?

I don't know why this requires explanation unless you're just being ornery.

People mean "close" the same way they mean it when they speak of being "close" friends. It isn't proximity. It's how much a part of each other's lives they are.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Melody,

No....actually, in this particular case, I was asking a sincere question.....that is, I was wondering how you perceived the typical conservative, evangelical idea of "being close" to God. And, yes, I agree with you, that it usually means something along the lines of making God a part of your life. God should be a part of our lives just like our friend. Not that God should be reduced to a friend, but the idea of "being close" has a lot to do with the fact that most people view our relationship to God as one that should be close, in just about every way possible: feel his presence, talk to him often, think about him, talk about him to others, etc.

But this really doesn't seem to be the uniform idea in the Bible. Now, don't get me wrong, if you read through the Psalms, you can find all of these ideas of longing for God's closeness. But I bring up counter examples like Job, Moses and Mt. Sinai, Isaiah, etc. (really there are many) because there are times when God seems like he most definitively does NOT want to be near us.

So, what to do with all of these mixed messages......I suggest we embrace them and allow them to work themselves out according to who we are and how we believe God is working (or not working, as the case may be) in our lives.

The point of my post was simply to suggest that in our American contemporary Christian culture (see ccm, pop chr. books, dvds, etc.) there is an overwhelming bias for the presence and closeness of God. My thought is that the Bible itself expresses a wide variety of experiences with God and that neither presence nor absence should necessarily be considered "better."

Anyway....I was asking a sincere question to get your take on how you perceived the currents of pop Christian culture.

tamie said...

For some reason, the exchange between Doyle & Jon reminds me of The Plague, by Camus. It reminds me of Tarrou, and Rieux, who are told that God has rained plague down on the people, that God is punishing and cruel...and they refuse to believe in God. They are both atheists, because they refuse to accept a cruel God. Out of this refusal to accept that kind of God, they dedicate their entire lives to compassion for the people dying of plague, to the point that one of them dies of plague because he's had so much contact with others who have died. And I would say that that one who died is a self-sacrificing, God-revealing character, who, by his staunch dis-belief, and by his compassion, revealed a God he had not known in any way he was conscious of.

Also. Jason--the "still point" seems so crucial to the poem. What is the still point? I don't think it's the same as absence, not at all, but perhaps sometimes we have to be willing to open ourselves to what feels like absence or abandonment, in order to arrive at the still point which we come to understand is full/empty of something that is beyond the absence/presence category.

Which is what I would say about God. Today in yoga, Alvaro talked about how the highest form of yoga is union with God, which is also considered the void. It is the place where absence and presence are one.

samlcarr said...

Just out of curiosity, do you guys think we can actually feel God's presence (or absence)? Should we? If yes, how would one categorise or recognise that particular feeling?

Melody said...

Anyway....I was asking a sincere question

Ok well, hard to tell sometimes.

Yeah, um, ok. Food for thought. Perhaps not as half-baked as I thought it was when I first read your post. I'll have to think about it some more. Perhaps re-read some of those incidents with this in mind.

I do happen to be reading through Psalms right now so it is rather a lot of David asking God not to turn His face away or rejoicing in His nearness to God.

What about in the NT? Not saying the OT examples aren't any good, I just wonder if you see that continuing on into the NT.

Jason Hesiak said...

Also. Jason--the "still point" seems so crucial to the poem. What is the still point? I don't think it's the same as absence, not at all, but perhaps sometimes we have to be willing to open ourselves to what feels like absence or abandonment, in order to arrive at the still point which we come to understand is full/empty of something that is beyond the absence/presence category.

Which is what I would say about God. Today in yoga, Alvaro talked about how the highest form of yoga is union with God, which is also considered the void. It is the place where absence and presence are one.


Hey Tamie I totally agree, I think. I just think its easy to forget about the Cross when we think of the Lotus. Not that there's anything wrong with thinking of the Lotus. But I do think the Lotus takes us to a bit of a different place as compared to the Cross. That is to say...I agree up till you get to the second paragraph. When I lived in LA I actually practiced the whole empty/full thing as a path to God.

Now I'm in a place where I look more to the Cross. And that was a journey. And I don't say that to compare that to you. And I only say I don't say that to compare that to you because I realize it can sound that way. I'm just telling you what happened to me. But I do think the Cross is at the center of the...cosmos?...and not the Lotus. In other words...I dig the Lotus...even as a pathway, if you will....but I think its a marginal pathway. Like...I guess...if you imagine a Gothic Cathedral, with a central nave and side aisles...I think the Lotus belongs over there in one of the side chapels...and the Cross belongs exactly where it usually is in a medieval cathedal...right in front of you above the iconostasis.

And I like your abandonment lingo better than "absence", I think.

Jason Hesiak said...

erdmanian...remember the gnostic post?

Jason Hesiak said...

Just out of curiosity, do you guys think we can actually feel God's presence (or absence)? Should we? If yes, how would one categorise or recognise that particular feeling?

Sam I would say I've "felt God's presence", but I don't like that lingo. I wouldn't say that does it justice...at all. The language I've found that comes closest, for me, is either poetic, like TS Eliot like what Tamie and I were discussing, or mystical.

As far as "feeling his absence"...I feel like its more like I just do dumb shit and then nothing about me or my life feels right (that's probably a horrible way to put it). I did have a kind of encounter with God once that involved a kind of mourning over that...I guess you could say I felt something like or close to the reality of some sort of abandonment going on between God and I. But there was also a joy because that encounter, that facing of the reality of the abandonment, wouldn't have been possible without the actual encounter with God, which involved His "presence."

tamie said...

Jason...can you say more about why the Cross is so central for you, in contrast to other paths?

Jonathan Erdman said...

Melody,

I think the NT examples of absence would be Jesus in the wilderness and Jesus on the cross.

It's interesting to me b/c I don't know that the NT really deals much with the presence/absence of God, in either direction. Paul builds his theology around being "in Christ" or being "in the Spirit," and also about realizing and changing one's orientation and being to align it with the reality of the "new creation." (Our friend John has recently done a good series of posts on this new creation.) However, Paul's notion of being "in Christ" and "in the Spirit" are different, imho, than how we usually think of God's presence in 21st century American Christianity. That is, Paul doesn't seem like he has the whole "have a relationship with God" thing in mind......I'm not saying that having a relationship with God can't fit within Paul's theology, I'm just saying that it isn't Paul's main focus. Paul seems interested on being empowered by Christ/Spirit and by changing the whole orientation of our being....well, I guess I've already mentioned that.....

samlcarr said...

I was attending a youth fellowship (way, way back there somewhere) one night. Very active, lots of 'good' teaching, lively worship an fine fellowship... but there were camps within.

One winter night I was sniffling my way through an after the meeting one of my friends came up to me an said, 'why all this needless suffering?' 'come with me' and dragged me to a corner where a group was standing in a circle, holding hands. They asked me to get in the middle an then started to pray. After a bit someone said 'I don't feel it, the Spirit is not moving', all eyes were on me and then someone else said 'what's the problem Sam?' 'any sin in your life?'...

I've never felt 'this way' about God, but then that may be because there's something wrong with me!

ktismatics said...

Sam, your story sounds reminiscent of Job and his "pals." On the other hand, when the guys on the boat through Jonah overboard the sea really did become calm. Proof texts for every occasion...

Of course God might be present even when we don't feel it -- this is a typical Bible lesson. Or we can invoke a paradoxical "he is present in his absence" sort of negative theology, a move that ultimately affirms presence by negating the negation. But returning briefly to a more mundane brand of speculative heresy, suppose that there are no gods period, regardless of how or whether they make their appearance known to humans. Then let's say that someone says that s/he feels God's presence. What then? Is this person psychotic? Engaging in wishful thinking? Making contact with his/her unconscious? Creating a god that didn't exist before? I.e., now it's experiencing God's presence that becomes the problem needing explanation.

ktismatics said...

"threw" not "through" on the Jonah thing...

Jason Hesiak said...

tamie...do you want more along the lines of my personal story or do you want something more like a philosophical/theological statement? i ask partially b/c i'm about to take a nap and am stalling :)...and partially b/c i am wondering what direction to take...?

tamie said...

I suppose I'm looking more for philo-theological. But obviously your personal story will be involved. :)

samlcarr said...

John, I guess what puzzled me then (still does) was that that whole subgroup felt something that was recognisably similar to all of them as the 'moving of the Spirit'. They were unanimous that it wasn't working that night.

Unfortunately, on being asked about sin my immediate response was 'plenty' and that didn't get a very encouraging response at all...

I guess my own experience of God has always been more cognitive and perhaps one reason for that is that I distrust my feelings.

Now, if God does not exist, I'm barking up the wrong tree. One question then would perhaps be 'does this sort of speculation have any survival value?' which is the route that Dawkins has taken.

But, as you suggest, perhaps it's possible too to 'create god', would that go then be any less real and how would we go about disproving this created god?

We are always in the darkest of nights, it's just that some of us insist on being able to see some light shining somewhere out there, and such hallucinations do signify a significant psychological abnormality.

Jason Hesiak said...

Tamie there's a book at home that I want to look at. I'll have to get back to you. Probably/hopefully tomorrow night :)

Jonathan Erdman said...

John: But returning briefly to a more mundane brand of speculative heresy, suppose that there are no gods period, regardless of how or whether they make their appearance known to humans......i.e., now it's experiencing God's presence that becomes the problem needing explanation.

John,

Might a certain exegesis of Paul's "new creation" break down the barrier between theist and a/theist? And if so, then it would seem to me that neither God's presence nor his absence could be interpreted as "problems" demanding explanation.

ktismatics said...

And that reading would be...?

ktismatics said...

I suppose Paul could have said that neither the Jews' god nor the Gentiles' god exists, so everyone is in the same situation. We'd all be resurrected together into a new creation where people are no longer dominated by emotions and behaviors and societal arrangements prompted by nonexistent deities. I don't think that was the tack Paul was taking.

samlcarr said...

that would be just imago...

Jason Hesiak said...

Tamie tomorrow night didn't happen (uuhh last night) but I found that book this morning. I'm at work...hopefully later I can get to this...
:)

ktismatics said...

I'd be interested in how this paradoxical "apophatic psychology" of presence-in-absence applies to strictly human relationships. So, e.g., would you say that we can never really experience one another's presence, that there's some essence to each one of us that always retreats from presence to the other? That relationship is always a matter of knowing about someone or connecting with their surfaces, but that you can never actually know anyone's true self? And does this also apply to one's relationship with oneself?

Curiously enough, I've been messing with some of these ideas as related to non-human objects, reading a guy named Graham Harman and his theories of "speculative realism." Is it possible to "know" a tree or a chair in its essence? Just by looking at a thing, or using it for some pragmatic purpose, or listing off its features or qualities, or contemplating it in memory, or basking in its presence, do we ever come to know the essence of a thing?

Is God similar to people and things in this regard: accessible to relationship but never fully present and ultimately unknowable? Or is God the name we give to that ultimately unknowable essence of everything or everyone? Or is God just the opposite of that: the immanent and emergent force that connects everything to everything else?

I've never read Peter Rollins, but my sense is that he tries to open up closed structures by combining Derrida's deconstructive approach to inverting everything with Zizek's project of "negating the negation." I wonder whether he's exploring the speculative realism thing too, which fits well with the other two. As Harman observes, this sense of the unapproachable essence of things has roots in older philosophical traditions, including the medieval.

daniel hutchinson said...

Mother Theresa embraced this theology of absence. It was pretty miserable for her.

daniel hutchinson said...

I would not wish for the absence of God anymore than the absence of my wife or children.

Maybe that comes across as self-centered, but I love God, and I love his presence. I love my wife, and I love her presence. Hence the comparison.

"Absence makes the heart grow fonder..."

....sometimes....

because you long more for the presence.

"But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign LORD my refuge"

Psalm 73:28

daniel hutchinson said...

Absent Member

A member of a certain church, who previously had been attending services regularly, stopped going. After a few weeks, the pastor decided to visit him. It was a chilly evening. The pastor found the man at home alone, sitting before a blazing fire. Guessing the reason for his pastor's visit, the man welcomed him, led him to a big chair near the fireplace and waited.

The pastor made himself comfortable but said nothing. In the grave silence, he contemplated the play of the flames around the burning logs. After some minutes, the pastor took the fire tongs, carefully picked up a brightly burning ember and placed it to one side of the hearth all alone. Then he sat back in his chair, still silent.

The host watched all this in quiet fascination. As the one lone ember's flame diminished, there was a momentary glow and then its fire was no more. Soon it was cold and "dead as a doornail."

Not a word had been spoken since the initial greeting. Just before the pastor was ready to leave, he picked up the cold, dead ember and placed it back in the middle of the fire. Immediately it began to glow once more with the light and warmth of the burning coals around it.

As the pastor reached the door to leave, his host said,

"Thank you so much for your visit and especially for the fiery sermon. I shall be back in church next Sunday."

daniel hutchinson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
daniel hutchinson said...

I suppose the point with reference to the above story could be made that I am glad to be present again on this blog after my prolonged absence.

Back in the fold, after roaming the hills. Good to see fellow sheep again, Ktismatics, Melody, Sam, Tamie, Jason... after some time. I enjoy all that is shared here.

Jon, our humble shepherd, you have my great respect.

Good to catch some of the fire again.

samlcarr said...

Hey Daniel, nice to see you back. We do take breaks sometime and will sometimes be missed too. I don't think it automatically leads to a feeling akin to being in darkness, but there's no mistaking the joy of being welcome with open arms...

Jason Hesiak said...

all right so i'm back.

Jason...can you say more about why the Cross is so central for you, in contrast to other paths?

well i guess the answer to the question of "why" actually has to do with faith. i mean...i don't "know." i can't say that my "knowledge" is the reason why i look at the cross as more central then - as a good example - the lotus. although in a sense...in terms of how consciousness works...i don't think of faith and knowledge as so different. that's why i was putting "knowledge" in quotes. i'm just saying...really...that its not like the cross is more central for me based on some certainty that i have. its a bit of a shot in the dark. but then for me its a shot of light into my dark, but that's probably the same for you.

i suppose another good question, though, is what i mean when i say that the cross is more central for me than anther path like the lotus. and that has to do with...i was thinking about it...and i think a good way to put it is that it has to do with "order." i guess, after all, what i mean when i say that the cross is central to me is actually part of why it is so. anyway, as an architect, and as part of my architectural/cultural/what-have-you education, the idea of "order" has been important.

a favorite architect said, "order is." ok whoopie. to me this relates to a lot of things, when it comes to jesus being of the highest order. it relates, for example, to the erdmanian's thought a while back about how who God is is intimately related to God's actions in the world. this relates, for me, to the basic idea of what a god is in ancient times. to "reason," i think properly understood. "cause", if you will. maybe "God" as "prime mover", "first cause".

but two things there. 1 - god as "first cause" understood ontologically (will explain more in a moment). and 2 - god as "first cause" as revealed at the Cross as an act of love to which man responds, rather than the "first cause" of...anything...being owed to our efforts at finding the still point.

back to the ontological thing (#1 above). what i mean by that is...if you take (2) above into consideration into it...and you just sit in a coffee shop and look around you...or you just think of the folks you know and think about what "moves" them...it is revealed first and foremost in the Cross. there are other things that move us (or things that could be identified in some other way), but it is firstly the incarnate God who revealed Himself, i think, most deeply, at the Cross. what i mean by that is...people's strivings for whatever...as well as their desires to not to have to strive for...whatever...are revealed at the Cross. look around you...everywhere...and you will see remnants of either the Cross, or memories of it, in action, or you will see the (love of the) Cross revealing the truth of whatever it is that is being set in motion.

more or is that clear? or what you were looking for? or whatever...?

Jason Hesiak said...

btw...in my last comment...i mentioned our efforts to strive to find the still point, as opposed to our response to bla bla bla. this is why i enjoy Zizek's fascination with universals and the archimedian point and moderity/postmodernity ect. how things relate to "globalism." the god Pan. whatever. anyone involved in Zen or yoga or with any sense of enlightenment in the least will tell you, even if they just heard it from someone and knew it was true only because it sounded so true without their knowing what the heck they were talking about, will tell you that you find the still point when you stop looking for it.

i find that itneresting. there is a truth in that, which sort of negates the point i just made about striving for the still point. the truth in that form of enlightenment, to a degree, i think, sort of negates my point that the Cross is to be contrasted (as "more central than") to the Lotus. the truth that you find the still point by letting go of it sort of makes that truth sound similar to the truth that the Cross is a love to which you respond rather than a love for which you strive. also the depth of the truth of the idea of "letting go" itself makes it similar to the Cross. but i still think they are different. i think that, as Thomas Merton says in The Seven Story Mountain, when you are in a state of deep contemplation, you are basically just enjoying a pleasure that belongs to the "natural order" (Merton's words) rather than to the "higher order" (also Merton's words) of divine Grace :)

and btw i don't think i would have said all that about natural order and higher order and contemplation like 3 years ago. i think i probably would have said the exact opposite, actually. but i was more mystical and crap then. by that i mean that i "strove for"... "mystical experiences". now i just sort of bumble along mostly in "the natural order" with a few glimpses here and there, and, well, i'm fine with that.

but oddly enough i seem to have seen it for what it is. something in me says i would think it would be the opposite. i would think that as i hang out on the ground, i would think of those "mystical experiences" (in contemplation/hanging around in the area of the still point) as some sort of special magic belonging to some other world. but no, that's not how i think of it. not sure how to explain why. but the "otherness" of Grace seems to start to give me a thought toward an answer. btw i totally just made up the "otherness of Grace" thing. wouldn't try to build a theology around it. migth lead nowhere. just trying to explain what i meant.

now i'm rambling. done. bye bye lazer toodleoo.

daniel hutchinson said...

Great thoughts and experimental language, Jason!

Alas, And Did My Savior Bleed? And Did My Sovereign Die?
Would He Devote That Sacred Head For Sinners Such As I?

At the cross, at the cross where I first saw the light,
And the burden of my heart rolled away,
It was there by faith I received my sight,
And now I am happy all the day!




Its a good question, "why the path of the cross"? To me the first aspect that springs to mind, is denying yourself and picking it up. That's a journey in itself. And then, nailing the old man up there, and "dying to self".

So also in the Christian terminology death is the expression for the greatest spiritual wretchedness, and yet the cure is simply to die, to "die from." - Soren Kierkegaard

samlcarr said...

I think I understand what you're saying Jason, though it took me a while to figure it out (I think).

I am attracted to both the idea of cross and to Jesus himself because that's my clue to how god is actually 'otherly'.

Thinking others more important than self is dangerous. In action, the idea leads to essentially a severe threat to all that is worldly, the economic-political-religious-cultural selfishness.

It's also not a thought that can be striven after, but it keeps working from the inside out and starts to have a lasting effect eventually.

tamie said...

Jason... There is a quote: "The answer can not be found by seeking, and yet only seekers find it." Good quote. I think it speaks to some of what you're talking about. Letting go and then what you most want will arrive with you. And yet of course you have to strive...

I am unfamilar with referring to the Eastern way as the Lotus. Is this a way of referring to Eastern thought in general? Or one stream of thought in particular? I guess I still don't see how the Cross (and of course we'd have to define what we meant by the cross) is *better* though I think I can understand a bit why it is the way you have preferred.

And Sam--I'm curious to know why you think the cross gets at God's otherness. I would have thought it got at Jesus' humanity pretty profoundly.

daniel hutchinson said...

Sam, I thought you put it very well in emphasising the life of Jesus too. We see it all in his life. It's all there.

Where are you in India? My brother just got back from 6 weeks in India. What are you doing there?

samlcarr said...

Tamie, I guess I see the cross as a natural result of Jesus' life. He chose to be a true son of his father and I think he knew the score and embraced the world, yet refused to compromise with 'the way of the world'. The result is always the cross. So, for me, the cross symbolises (though symbols are always dangerous) choosing to love others more than ones self.

It's this very particular otherness that I see coming through most particularly in Jesus but also in many other historical figures too (once the 'normalizing' glosses are removed) like e.g. Karnan in the Mahabharatha, or more recently MLK and Gandhi. Mohamed is more difficult, but early in his career?

Daniel, I live in the Southern state of Tamil Nadu in Coimbatore and I'm now fully engaged with doing medical transcription training, though I'm originally a blood banker.

daniel hutchinson said...

Sam, the way you speak about Jesus reminds me of what Tony Fitzgerald, the leader of our church move, has said: "Even if Jesus wasn't God, he would still be my hero. He would still be the greatest man that ever lived. I would still follow him".

Can you relate to that? I've often been challenged by that statement.

Are you in more of a rural area? My brother didn't visit your part of the world. Anyway, he had an amazing time, happened to be in Mumbai on the day of the attacks. They were thinking about going to the Taj Hotel to look around, but decided to catch the ferry. That's how they avoided the killings. Besides being in Mumbai, he also spent time in Calcutta and Masoori, where we have friends.

Don't you also have a connection to South Africa Sam?

It's interesting you mention Gandhi. The one thing that kind of spoils his reputation is the way he treated his wife and his own family. That is the aspect in which no-one can compare to Jesus, the sinless life. There are many great public figures throughout history that seem to trade of on their private lives - its a tough balance to achieve.

In the same breath, mentioning of Mohammed's early life was an interesting reference. Do you mean before or after his marriage to Khadija?


Falling in love with Jesus,
was the best thing I've ever done.
- Jonathan Butler

samlcarr said...

Daniel, I absolutely agree with your pastor's sentiment and I think it's a widely held opinion. Even my atheist buddy Ivan from Australia says that his two heroes are Jesus and Einstein!

Gandhiji is a towering figure. I'm not sure though that Jesus was a better example as fa as family relations go. Gandhi is controversial to me for a couple of other reasons, though one should be careful in criticising great souls like his. One thing that I'm unhappy with was his fight with another Indian great, Ambedkar, over the status of the 'untouchables' whom Gandhi called the Harijans. That term is unfortunate as is the failure to make the point more forcefully that all Indians are equally Harijans. Another quibble I have is Gandhi's tangle with India's greatest poet Tagore, also a powerful thinker in his own right.

Mohamed I'm not very well versed with, but I can see two distinct personalites in the Quran and one is irenic while the other is definitely not. This has been explained to me as Mohamed before and after his departure from Mecca.

I don't want to distract from Jon's post with a lot of personal stuff but my main connection with Africa is with Kenya and Zambia, where I grew up.

Sounds like your bro had a very narrow escape indeed.

tamie said...

Sam--thanks for your explanation about Jesus and the cross and otherness. There are just so many ways of interpreting the cross that I was wondering where you in particular are coming from. What you said makes sense, and is helpful.

I, too, think that the cross was the natural outcome of Jesus' life, given that he was living in a context that prioritized violence and oppression. Most of us live in that kind of context, actually. If we really really followed Jesus' example, I wonder what the natural outcome of our lives would be?

daniel hutchinson said...

Sam, I don't understand what you mean by "two Mohameds in the Quran" - I mean, there is only one. The big change I percieve in the biography of the prophet, is where he marries his wife. If you care to explain a little your perspective, I'm all ears.

Interesting, it was Gandhi who said "to err is human, to forgive divine". You compared Jesus to Gandhi, Martin Luther King, presumably also because they faced death for their convictions.

samlcarr said...

Daniel, I was unclear in that comment. I don't really know a great deal about Mohamed. I've read the Koran and there I was pleasantly surprised to find an intense concentration on justice as well as on mercy but interspersed with that was also 'call to arms' stuff and some pretty strong language (though nothing as bad generally as what we have in the bible). So, it left me wondering and when I asked some friends who are better versed with that history they told me that generally it's thought that until Mohamed was expelled very nastily from Mecca, he strove for understanding, unity, peace, and tolerance.

Still there is no hard evidence to back that up so it's just one more theory. Generally, my feeling is to take the text on its own merits, so looking for external explanations for such phenomena is probably counterproductive anyway.

daniel hutchinson said...

I think where I'm coming from is the life of the prophet Mohamed. I mean, there is a point where he waged war to defend and extend Islam, and his wife and her business interests was instrumental in this move away from his youthful idealism and thirst for truth that resulted in the Koranic revelation.

Its not really about the Quran as much as how the prophet lived his life.

There is a similiar point to be made with Gandhi. Great ideals, tragic application and a seriously flawed life (if you accept the accusations of wife-beating).

So really Jesus is unique in history, because of who he was not just what he stood for and what he said.

I believe he had an advantage because he was not "merely" fully man, but also fully God, so being beyond reproach in every area of life was not just his character but also his mission.

That Jesus calls us to follow his example, to live as he lived, and to follow him to the cross, seems impossible humanly speaking (and it is impossible, don't let anyone tell you otherwise).

tamie said...

Daniel--I'm wondering two things...

#1. Jesus only lived 33 years. If he had lived longer, would he have "screwed up" in the ways that people like MLK and Gandhi did? We see the Buddha maturing...what would Jesus have taught if he'd lived as long as the Buddha?

#2. Is it possible that Jesus did have flaws, but that they weren't recorded in the Gospels?

daniel hutchinson said...

Tamie, I'm not the one who compared Jesus to Gandhi, but if anything Gandhi become more saintly in later life (the bad stuff happened in his earlier family life).

I'm also don't want to be judgemental, because I'll be the first to admit my own mistakes and weaknesses. And no doubt about it, Gandhi, Buddha, Martin Luther King, are great people; far greater than I am.

#1 - I think in general we all get better as we mature in age. There are exceptions due to bitterness, unforgiveness, weariness, despair, depression, illness, toxic relationships, unfair circumstances and so on where the opposite happens though. Jesus had ample experience of the worst the world has to offer and still said "Father forgive them" so know, I don't think he would have gone downhill had he lived a longer earthly existence.

#2- The Bible truthfully records flaws for everyone else, including great heros such as Moses, Abraham, Joseph, Paul, Peter, but not Jesus. What does this tell you?

chris van allsburg said...

Jon,
Reading the Psalms and other wisdom books reveal the full spectrum of human experience in the life with God. In Psalm 73, Asaph says,

Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire besides you (v25).

and, "Why Are You Cast Down, O My Soul? To the choirmaster. A Maskil of the Sons of Korah. As a deer pants for flowing streams,so pants my soul for you, O God," (Psalm 42:1).

Panting after God is good.
We long for him out of our angst, despair, need for rescue, and redemption.

Jeremiah laments that "he has made me dwell in darkness
like the dead of long ago," (Lamentations 3:6). Even in his pain that God has brought upon him, Jeremiah says this:

The LORD is good to those who wait for him,
to the soul who seeks him.
It is good that one should wait quietly
for the salvation of the LORD, (v. 26).

We may have times of darkness or experience his "absence," but we are still told that it is good to seek him. Never stop seeking him. That is the command of the Lord.

2 Chronicles 15:2: "...and he went out to meet Asa and said to him, "Hear me, Asa, and all Judah and Benjamin: The LORD is with you while you are with him. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you."

chris van allsburg said...

If what you are saying is that there is the potential of a positive result on our lives and relationship with God when we experience the "Dark Night of the Soul," which most saints of God do experience, then I concur: there is a positive result of this.

However, I gather from your post that you are saying the absence of God is an essential good. However, the Scripture (which is entirely absent in your post) refutes this idea.

Psalm 105:4
Seek the LORD and his strength; seek his presence continually!

Yours,
Chris

Jonathan Erdman said...

Chris,

Hey Chris. Nice to hear from you.

My main point was not to do an in depth scriptural exegesis....it was kind of just a few short responses to the prevailing popular Christian view....and a Christian music industry that is cashing in on this view. However, if you notice, I cited the Mt. Sinai experience, as recorded in Scripture.

Then of course there is the example of Job, and how he experienced the absence of God.

And then Qoheleth, who suggests in chapter five that we should be careful in the presence of God.

My thought is simply that there is a diversity in Scripture about how people approach God. That there is, it seems, no "one right way" that would lend itself to many of the formulas that we invent that will result in "spiritual growth" and/or "being close to God."

From your comment, though, I would imagine that you and I probably have a significant hermeneutical difference that could not be resolved merely by citing texts. That is, I do not believe that God gave us Scripture in order to "command" a certain way of seeking him or not seeking him, as you suggest when you say, We may have times of darkness or experience his "absence," but we are still told that it is good to seek him. Never stop seeking him. That is the command of the Lord.

chris van allsburg said...

Jon,
yes, I agree with you that evangelical christianity is banal, bereft of meaning, market-driven, and bent on the pursuit of personal happiness, using the rubric of "seeking God" in order to obtain such happiness.

And I agree with you that peope experience God in Scripture in different ways. At Mt. Sinai, God's presense is terrible, but also wonderful. Don't forget that Moses spent 40 days with YHWH, and his face revealed that glory to the point of the necessity of a veil.

And Job, despite his groanings, did experience God's presence in the end--and it was indeed frightening. Hence the command (there's that word again) in 1 Samuel 12:20-25, "Don't be afraid" yet "fear the Lord."

That's the covenantal relationship we have with the Lord. We are not to be afraid, and we are to fear also.

But we ARE to seek him. Forget any hermenuetical issue for a moment and merely consider the imperative throughout the whole of Scripture: "Seek the Lord while he may be found," (Isaiah 55:6) and elsewhere.

You are right that evangelicals have reduced our relationship to god as a selfish, 12-step, individual approach replete with "to do" lists. You are correct sir!

I think however, what might help you, Jon, would be to write more clearly as to your intent on your posts. For often times I wonder to myself what you are saying exactly. Your response to my comment was helpful in this regard.

Yours,
Chris

Jonathan Erdman said...

Chris: yes, I agree with you that evangelical christianity is banal, bereft of meaning, market-driven, and bent on the pursuit of personal happiness, using the rubric of "seeking God" in order to obtain such happiness.

I don't know that I would put it that way, b/c that's not really an accurate description of my take, Chris. My criticism here in this post would apply equally to your comments in the same way that it applies to popular Christianity at large: that there is an unquestioning privileging of God's presence over his absence.

I don't think God's absence is something we should label as "bad"....nor do I think his presence should be categorically presented as "good." Certainly the text in Job gives no indication that this is the case, neither does Qoheleth, and neither does the Mt. Sinai narrative.

The hermeneutical issue is the dividing line, though, Chris. By hermeneutical here, I am simply asking about some of our presuppositions and objectives in reading Scripture. I don't read Scripture to find "the one way" to relate with God. I see diversity in how people relate with God. I see diversity in God herself. But it seems to me that your beginning assumption is that there is one way that we should relate to God. Is that an accurate assessment of your interpretive presuppositions?

daniel hutchinson said...

I think a mature approach to diversity in the body of Christ goes a long way.

It's like Duke Ellington said about music - there are only two kinds, good music and bad music.

Similarly, there are only two kinds of Christians - those led by the Spirit, and those not. It has nothing to do with surface features or differences.

"...for as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God." Romans 8:14

Jason Hesiak said...

i am confused. i don't really see the point of this conversation. i mean...on the one hand...i'm like...and this one is a command...it says "Love the Lord your God with all your...". I mean...those I love i want to be in their "presence." Seems kinda obvious.

But regardless...I couldn't figure out for the life of me, Erdmanian, the real point of this post. And it hit me...the word "priveledged" sort of set me off to it, I think. But with the whole PoMo thing, it seems to me, the quest against all things "priveledged" is more about a VIEWPOINT. a priveledged "perspective"...is dumb. and then that involves a bunch of other stuff, too. anyway, it seems to about how perception words. but you said just now...what you are referring to: there is an unquestioning privileging of God's presence over his absence.

i would be less confused if you phrased it in such a way as to distinguish between the typical christian perception of God and/or how to relate with God, but...that distinction seems to be nowhere in your blog speak here. so then i return to my original paragraph...why is it not obvious that we would want to be in God's "presence"? i mean...i'm not gonna say to my girlfriend..."i love you. bye. and i'm happy to be leaving, too, you bitch." i mean...huh?

i mean...actually...i can totally see exactly such conflicting sentiments in actual practical relations with people AND with God...but...you also don't seem to be saying anything about "practice" in particular, either. still...i'm confused.

Jason Hesiak said...

anyway, it seems to about how perception words.

uumm...ok. what did i just say? lol yeah...take 2: i think what i meant to say..."it seems to be about how perception worKs."

lol.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Jason,

I've got no problem with you using the romance analogy with God: I love God, therefore I want to spend time with Her. I even have no problem, at that point, incorporating sexual language into our relationship with God. Paul describes the church as the bride of Christ, and Christian mystics throughout the last couple of thousand years have explored their relationship with God as a sexual thing. I'm all for that. I think Christians should understand their relationship with God in sexual terms.

HOWEVER.....and here's my however: God is not your girlfriend.

Your girlfriend is immanent, God is both immanent and transcendent.....ergo, my point is that if he decides s/he (God) wants to be absent, then that's his/her business.

Remember a while back I talked about how my view of God is a "radical sovereignty"? I think that applies here: the idea that we must preserve God's ability to do whatever the hell he wants to.

Scary.

Yes.

Scary.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Jason.....yeah, I kind of cocked my head to the side and was wondering what that sentence was trying to say!

So....in good pomo fashion, I figured I would just make up my own meaning!

Jonathan Erdman said...

Chris,

As a side note to someone sympathetic to the Reformed perspective. Why would you not want to preserve God's sovereign right to be absent if he wants to be absent? Is there a place in this discussion to dialog on our theology of God's sovereignty?

Jason Hesiak said...

oh. well that actually adds up. i suddenly get your point all the more.

SO...then i think you have a wierd idea of who God is, lol. and yes i do remember that conversation.

and a "but"...and not to diss apophatic theology b/c i'm a fan of it..."but"...i mean i see all the more how what you're saying adds up...but...i don't see how it adds up. what of existence itself? if God were to suddenly decide to be "absent", then everything would be gone see 'ya bye bye. but then another "but"...that doesn't seem to be the kind of "absence" you're talking about. i mean when God withdrew his "presence" from Job, or from Jesus on the Cross (sorta kinda supposedly I guess), the whole cosmos didn't suddenly close the shutters and go to sleep on itself. instead, Job and Jesus and whoever else (me, sometimes/oftentimes) just percieved a distance from or "absence" of God. and i can/could totally see how God would be "soverign" over THAT.

but i don't necessarily think that that idea of God's sovereignty over my perception of my closeness to Him (Her, whatever?, why suddenly be all over that one, Erdmanian...you in the past weren't all about that one?...i foresee anotehr post, lol, that will probably at some point turn to a conversation on Gnosticism, lol!!) necessarily means that he's a fickle God who isn't all consumed with a fiery love for me....like..."essentially". i mean...just because i choose to do something stupid that makes me feel guilty doesn't mean that i don't want to have my cake and eat it too and be in God's "presence", which i would think exclude guilt.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Interesting point, Jason, about God being "essentially" love.....perhaps.....regardless, the point of the Gospel is that God extends grace unconditionally as a free gift to all. Period. So, regardless of what God's "essence" is (if she has an essence), there is the open and eternal invitation to simply relax, exhale, and receive the free gift of God's grace, which ushers us into a participation in his divine nature.

Jason Hesiak said...

well there IS this dude named John who hung out with Jesus personally for 3 years or so and said "God is love" (and that's not a paraphrase).

daniel hutchinson said...

Can one be led by the spirit in the spirit's absence?

Would that perhaps be a form of leading: "hide and go seek"?

Does God (dad) play hide and go seek with us?

I think he does. I've got some scriptures to back it up too.

chris van allsburg said...

Jon,
Good question about God's sovereignty and choosing to be absent.

From a reformed people think of God not only as sovereign, but also as covenantal: God sovereignly chooses to enter into relationship with people. The covenant is "I will be your God and you will be my people." This phrase is found in Genesis 17:7-8; 2 Cor 6:16; Rev 21:3, and elsewhere. The covenant involves God's presense, among other things. He is present with his people--this is a covenant God we love and serve.

Now his absense in the covenant would be a result of a rejection of him. The covenant has conditions: blessings for obedience, and curses for disobedience. His presence is removed from those who break covenant. We break covenant with God when we have an unbelieving heart, per Hebrews, and elsewhere.

good question.