There are two ways to live: you can live as if nothing is a miracle,
or you can live as if everything is.
My colleague, Jonathan Thomas, preached a provocative sermon yesterday. He challenged our basic assumptions about God—where God is and isn’t; what God gets involved in; the occasions, moments, places where God is to be found.
Almost from the beginning, human beings have conceived of God as transcendent—and therefore “up there.” Beyond. God is somewhere up in the heavens, sometimes deigning to intervene in earthly, human affairs, but mostly distant. Remember that affecting Bette Midler song of a few years ago—“From a Distance”? The refrain was “God is watching us…from a distance.” That’s a pretty good, popular notion of where this God is. Way up there with a great view of us down here.
That’s true, but it’s only half true. (And the most pernicious “truths” are the half kind.) The full truth is that God is both transcendent and immanent. When Moses asks this newly revealed God to identify itself, the answer comes back, “I am who I am.” Or, I am Being itself (Ex. 3:14). This is what caused Paul Tillich to define God as the “ground of our being.” Which is very different than the “Watcher from a distance.” And for Christians, God gets even more grounded in our being. God-in-Christ is Immanuel, “God with us.” God in our flesh. God suffusing the whole creation. That’s a long, long ways from the heavenly Watcher.
This is the God we need to know, the one who says, “I am who I am.” The one who is bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh. We all know the up-in-the-sky God. We meet “Him” in our childhood. But unless we come to know this ground-of-our-being God, we get spiritually “stuck.” We keep sending our prayers “up,” we keep waiting for the deus ex machina, the god who—in the ancient Greek dramas—would be cranked down onto the stage to suddenly and neatly solve the intractable problems of human life. We’re not able to see the divine presence in the world right here, in the life we actually live, in the beauty and—yes, even—the suffering that are somehow woven together in human life.
If we know only the distant deity, we can only find God in the “gaps” between what science can explain and what it can’t. “God” is what we invoke to explain the mysterious, the numinous, the other-worldly. But not the plain and ordinary and quotidian.
Yesterday Jonathan shared this quote from Albert Einstein. “There are two ways to live: you can live as if nothing is a miracle, or you can live as if everything is.” I grabbed a pen and scribbled those words on my service bulletin. Once I see that everything is surging with God’s presence, that my very being is an expression of God, that the people closest to me are God-bearers, that the grass and gravel in my back yard are shot through with the divine, I don’t have to look for miracles out there anymore. It’s all right here.
Susie Middleton says
thank you for this today
Ginny Lovas says
Yes, I am a true believer of miracles all around us. Ginny
You’ve got it–thanks for reminding me and all of us today.
dear david, thanks for thoughtful piece on incarnation (as I interpret it) and thanks to Jonathan for the incentive. Regarding “gravel shot through with God”, the great VTS professor Cliff Stanley, student of Tillich and Niehbur, started his first theology lectures with the wish that he were a dog (living in an additional dimention, sensing which dogs passed yesterday) followed by his beilef that God was as real in stone as in flesh. Need I say the most of started out thinking he was a nut? best, leslie
David Anderson says
Yes but they thought Jesus was nuts too. Thanks, Leslie.
Cathy H. says
“Grounded in my being” – I really like that…words to describe what my spirit already knows. It’s all right here indeed. Now, the trick is to remember this when on shaky ground instead of reverting back to a “God up there.”
David Anderson says
“what my spirit already knows”–can’t be said better than that.