Is faith always a long reach out of hand? I wonder when I see people searching, struggling to find God if the thought is the more distant the revelation, the greater the conversion? One of the underlying practices in certain parts of the Christian Church is to praise those who have had the most dramatic conversions. The further away one is from where they started the better. There is a kind of categorical rejection of who you are embedded within this kind of theology.
In talking to a friend recently, one who is looking for a way forward in their own spiritual life, I learned that they were reading a book about Christianity that presented ideas I found to be quite a stretch for them to believe. I couldn’t help but think – there is no way this person is ever going to buy into what this book is saying. It just is too far of a stretch, and yet, this person’s Christian friends keep sending these kinds of books.
“If only you read this one, then you’ll get it!”
“This one will finally convince any doubts you have left!”
I found myself in this conversation, saying, “if you have to work that hard to connect with God, it just isn’t going to happen. It is much closer than you think.” I saw in my friend someone who is searching and interested, who has a growing spiritual curiosity and is willing to explore. Unfortunately, that was being met with a set of arguments and books that did not speak to where they were at and instead said if you’re going to find God that discovery will involve you fundamentally re-writing who you are. In other words, what I see this view saying that God is absent from this person’s life until that person rejects themselves and crosses a great chasm to become someone else.
In the classic four spiritual laws tracts you used to find regularly laying around diners and parks, it portray a human on one side, God on the other, and in between a great chasm. It looked something like this.
This is a standard way of reading the human relationship with God that is rooted in a theology of God as ultimately angry and violent because if one does not traverse that great chasm, is not finally convinced by “all the evidence,” they will be punished for eternity to appease God’s justice. As you can probably tell, this doesn’t make much sense to me. I am not just questioning this, I think it is a pretty harmful way of trying to understand God’s relationship with humanity.
What if instead of this image of God as represented by distance and anger, an angry judge who can never be satisfied, we considered the life and ministry of Jesus. Jesus represents a theology of God as one who comes near, is already at hand, is showing up and surprising people with God’s presence, being revealed in people who have been marginalized, written off, and often rejected. In fact, much of what Jesus was about, it seems to me, was revealing the closeness and welcome of God in all creation. He showed all of the places and groups of people who were determined to be at a great distance from God by the religious elite, as being the very ones who God was among. Jesus not only taught this, he also demonstrated it with his life.
In other words, what I am saying here is that Jesus’ work was about saying that you are already a part of the story of God, you are already wrapped up in this story, but you need to wake up to it and notice it, welcome its presence among and within you. If there is a distance, it is not an external distance that one must traverse through evidence and facts but an inward distance that comes by way of waking up to that which is already there.
This second metaphor points to a fundamentally different theological vision of God, God as one who is through and through, Love. One searching like a parent, welcoming, constantly returning, forever sending up signs and trying to make connection and impact. One for whom no violence, hate or anger can be found. One who reveals that the distance is not between us and God but within ourselves and between other people.
If you have to work so hard to see and make sense of God’s work in your life than it is quite possible that you are being sent to look for someone other than the God revealed in Jesus, the one who draws near and is already among us.
It is closer than you think.