Lesson 9: God’s Presence in Creation

beautiful sunsetWhen I came to Gettysburg, one very brilliant seminary professor made fun of those who talked of finding God in nature. He accused them of being pantheists who mistook beauty for divinity. At his worse, he suggested they engaged in touchy-freely religion that had nothing to do with the Christian story.

He was reacting to the large number of people who, at that time, claimed they had a easier time finding God on the golf course or on a hike than in a church service. However, he also attacked the summer church camp experience that many in our area reported as the highlight of their religious life.

Those who disagreed with him, I for one, felt he went too far. Usually, we first described our own personal experiences when we felt close to God hiking outdoors or observing a sunset. Some of us went on to cite Psalms that claimed the heavens declare the glory of God or pointed to Proverbs 8 that claims divine Wisdom is found in the natural processes of creation.

The theologian came back, usually in a condescending manner, with Martin Luther’s thoughts about sin preventing us from finding God. Luther believed God was always so hidden in creation that he had to reveal himself if we were ever to discern him. The professor also suggested those of us who claimed to see God in the beauty of a sunset must contend with how he is present in the ugly dog-eat-dog parts of nature. Is God present when some mothers eat their young or for that matter that some newly-birthed eat their mothers? For that matter, Genesis acknowledges God allows humans to eat animals only as a concession to their weakness.

The back and forth highlights a critical issue in our discussion of God’s presence among us. When people claim to see God in a sunset, they are making some kind of faith statement. If they are Christians, they associate what they experience with the Christian story. Even a nonbeliever’s awe is some form of religious affirmation.

The theologian irritated us in his compulsion to grade religious experiences; however he did cause some of us to examine more closely our faith statements. I certainly felt he was pretty silly when he insisted God is always hidden because Luther’s theology says so. At the same time, his challenge forces me even now to ponder what I have been saying in this series.

The most controversial claim I have been making is that finding God where he promises to be enables us to see him everywhere. I am not sure that I can explain how experiencing Christ’s presence in the Eucharist helps me see him in sharing all my meals. Obviously, not all my dining experiences are expressions of love. And I want to be clearer about how feeling him in the washing of Baptism enables me to sense his presence every time I clean myself. Again, my baths are not filled with religious thoughts.

I’d like to conclude this rambling study by asking myself what I mean about discerning God’s presence all around us. If God is truly present in our broken world, we must find him in the brokenness. The experience will always be cruciform. The suffering of the Cross remains our standard, not the beauty of a sunset or the solitude of a walk. Let me see if I can make sense of this next week.

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