Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Burning Questions: Why doesn't God make his existence more blatant and obvious?

My church is doing a sermon series based on feedback we received to the question "If you could ask God anything, what would it be?" We don't think its novel or original, but it is meaningful for the next couple weeks to respond specifically to the questions people have.

Tonight at Roots, our alternative service I am giving a message and hosting a discussion to the same question. Check out this link before reading. I know its long, and I know I may be re-hashing dusty material for some. But maybe not. Either way, here is what I have to say:

Tonight and for the next couple weeks we’re going to be looking at “Burning Questions”. We surveyed our congregation and asked them: “If you could ask God anything, what would it be?” Tonight’s topic is one of those questions: “God, why don’t you reveal yourself to us in more blatant and obvious ways?”

Before we really jump in, I want to say that this we should not feel dirty or guilty for asking and investigating this question. I think as people, especially as modern people, we really love the security of “facts”. We’ve been raised with science class, which has shown us that hypothesis can be tested and proved. We have calculators on our cell phones that have exponentially more computing power than the devices that guided the first manned missions to the moon. We have GPS devices to guide us on our route, even tracking our speed and predicting our arrival time. Have you ever encountered road construction while being guided by a GPS? Did you freak out? Has one of these devices ever lead you the wrong way? Watch this…

Michael Scott robotically followed the GPS into the lake. He then decries technology altogether, no longer putting his trust in the cold hard calculations of machines. I think in addressing this question, we’ll have to do a bit of the same with some of the things we’re so used to guiding us. One of the things we need to do is recognize our dependence on “proof”.

Belief in God necessitates a suspension in empiricism; empiricism meaning that which is demonstrable, or “provable”. We cannot prove God’s existence by some formula or miracle equation. This frustrates many faithful people and also gives others plenty of reason to be dismissive of God altogether. However, if there is no God, if there is no higher order in the universe, why should anything make sense? So whereas we must suspend our requiring of facts to “prove” the existence of God, perhaps our inner desire for order and our ability to reason in and of themselves make a case for the existence of God. I offer this quote from C.S. Lewis: “Atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning.”

We must then adjust our concepts of how God would make himself “blatant and obvious”. Let us consider the words of Paul in his letter to the church in Rome:

“For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”

What inside us even causes us to wonder if God exists? Could this urge inside be God revealing himself “blatantly and obviously”? Often people will say things like; if God is so good, why does he allow even in the world? My response is, how do you decide what is evil? Let me again offer the words of my boy, C.S. Lewis: “My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?”

God’s eternal power and his divine nature, being clearly seen and understand from what has been made. Hhhmmm. Well, that would include us, if we are part of God’s creation- what has been made. But what would we know of God’s eternal power and his divine nature? Some feel it between their toes on a beach when the tide is coming in. Others might find it in a sunset, especially one seen from a mountain summit. Some might feel moved through art or music. If you’re a parent, I’ve bet you’ve felt it when you first held your child. Can’t we as people experience love and beauty? Perhaps our innate knowledge of love and what is beautiful is God making himself “blatant and obvious”.

Perhaps it’s the pit in your stomach when you see someone begging on the street. Do you feel a wave of sadness and compassion when you see reports of violence and famine overseas? Do you get angry when you hear about corporate greed that abuses and takes advantage of people? On a more personal level, what about that feeling you have when you know your loved ones are making poor choices. Or that pesky little thing we refer to as our conscience. I believe inside we do have “an idea of a straight line” as Lewis puts it. Our inherent sense of right and wrong, of empathy, of justice. I believe these are just a few of the invisible qualities that Paul speaks of, and what he says is true. They are clearly seen by what has been made, us. Another way to say clearly seen, is “made blatant and obvious”.

We can like Michael Scott following his GPS. We can try to prove God in a scientific sense, a “blatant and obvious” sense to a culture obsessed with data and proof. His intuition should have told him not to go straight into a lake. My intuition tells me that the most important things in life are not provable. Here’s a pen, paper, and a calculator. Who can prove to me that they love their husband, wife, children, or friends? Who can make it “blatant and obvious”?

We should not expect God to conform to our enlightenment-shaped, modern, scientific sense of what is “blatant and obvious”. Nor should we think that we can “prove” God’s existence to someone who is skeptical through mere argumentation. To me, these invisible qualities of God are made visible through relation rather than simply information. In other words, the way God is seen on this planet is through his creation. I don’t think its just a pretty sunrise, I think its through his people. Jesus told his disciples that all men would know they were his disciples if they loved one another. Does Jesus say: “they will know you are my disciple when you have all the answers to combat the theory of evolution”? No. What about “they will know you are my disciples when you hand then a small business card with an acronym on it”? No. What about “they will know you are my disciples when you browbeat them into submission with your clever hypothetical arguments”? No. So I can give this little sermon, walk out the door and be a huge jerk. What good does that do? Jesus’ followers are charged with making God’s invisible qualities known. That is the Christian response to the question of the existence of God- making God’s invisible qualities known; in word and action.

I believe if you truly survey your life that you can find God in ways that will calm the storms of doubt. Maybe you’re sitting here thinking that you don’t see a lot of love, beauty, or justice in your life. You still desire them, and God desires those for his people. Michael Scott was allowing the wrong things to guide him, in the same way, we can be asking the wrong questions. So tonight perhaps our appeal to God should not be: “Why don’t you show yourself in more blatant and obvious ways” but rather, “God, will you help me see your eternal power and divine nature? God, will you help me to make your invisible qualities seen clearly in this hazy world?”



Professor RJ Gumby said...

Bertrand Russell, to me the smartest of the atheists, was asked if he died, and found out that God was real, what would he say to him. His answer: "Sir, why didn't you give me more evidence?"

However, the problem I see with the atheist POV is they are so busy defying God, they cannot see him or open themselves to Him with a sense of wonder. Many of the new ilk (Hitchens, Dawkins, Dennent et al) seem to me to be throwing a spiritual tantrum at God because he presumes to tell THEM what to do about sex, and and other areas they want it their way.

They also struggle in that they also fail to show God does not exist. Interesting that neither side in the debate can really prove absolutely that their position using pure reason.

Maybe that is why God commands us to love him with our heart and our soul, as well as our mind.

Adam Caldwell said...

Mustoe...don't know if this is pertinent to your discussion, but something that has been very helpful for me when speaking of evil is the reminder that evil literally is 'nothing'. Classically, evil is defined by Augustine and others as the 'absence of good'. We know evil only through its non-existence. Just as darkness is the absence of light, evil is the absence of good. In the same vein, evil is only defeated by the action of Good, i.e., the Incarnation (Jesus coming into this 'dark' and 'evil' world.) Just thought I would throw that out there.

Anonymous said...

I agree that we need to ask to see the blatant and obvious evidence because it is there. When my wife asks me to grab the kids coat and I say I can't find it she points out that I am not looking in the obvious places. Then she unfortunately points out it was right where she said it was. I am always too procupied to realize it is in front of me.
I have been working on spending more time in God's word on a daily basis and since then I notice God more often throughout my day when I may have missed before. Just my 2cents.