Lesson 12: God’s Presence in the Christian Story

a family shares the story of faithThe Bible’s core tradition proclaims God is a divine person who encounters chosen people in history. This engagement is described with great care and imagination. God comes as angels, a burning bush, volcanic fire, inspired prophets. Always the emphasis is on the message, not the messenger. God is painstakingly identified with the Word of the Lord. The people selected to receive the messages are to pass on these words until the whole world is blessed.

The message always calls for a different kind of community. Abraham is told to go to another place, Moses is given laws for an alternative society, the prophets call for change in lifestyle, Paul describes a new life in Christ. Jesus who is proclaimed as the embodiment of God is found in a manger or on a cross, denied hospitality, or executed as an enemy of his society. His followers are to enter a way of life that begins with repentance, denial of self, and taking up their own crosses. All this means that the Word is essentially countercultural, turning everything upside down.

If suffering and evil are the greatest challenges to religion, then one positive of this tradition is how it confronts these head on. Faith in the Christian God must begin with seeing his presence in the Crucifixion. More than that, it must see this presence as an act of love, sharing the suffering of humankind and overcoming the evil of this world. Christ’s followers intrinsically care for those suffering as they join God in overwhelming evil with love.

One negative of the tradition is how much the chosen ones fail their mission. If God’s presence is primarily known in the story told by a particular people about themselves, then the best witness is how these folk live. There might be something splendid in the Bible’s honesty when most of its pages record the chosen people’s failure to hold up their end of the covenant. However, in a time when the most distasteful human qualities are touted as virtues, it would go a long way if more who claim the name Christian were to live in Christ’s love.

A second problem is how to open up this particular tradition to include all people in our global society. The Jewish people and the Christian Church are chosen to carry God’s blessing to all people. However, in our time this has too often become a claim for the privilege and hubris of Western European civilization. The next lesson will suggest ways this parochial message might speak to the nations.

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