Lesson 10: Two Theories of God’s Presence

the lilies of the field In some sense, understanding how God is present among us is more important than believing God exists. There is little or no significance in affirming a deity unless you can identify how this impacts your life.

The Old Testament acknowledges this with many complaints about God being absent and not answering the cries of his people. What good is a God far away? In response, a great deal of the scriptures involves explaining either why God is absent or how he is really present.

The issue is obviously still with us. This series began questioning how God can be present with all the evil and suffering in our world. Many of our theologians asked where God was in the Holocaust when God’s chosen people were massacred. They have since lengthened the list with other modern abominations sanctioned by leaders who sadly resemble the biblical monarchies denounced by the prophets.

Making sense of how God is present among us is also complicated by the differing explanations offered in the Bible. There is no one and only answer but a variety of attempts. Again, present day theologians pretty much build their work on one or more of these ancient explanations.

Perhaps the best summary of the issue is found in the first two chapters of John’s gospel. The Evangelist boils the explanations down to two. The first maintains God is present everywhere and in everything but that this is not discerned even by his own people. The second maintains God’s presence is found in the very particular life of the man Jesus of Nazareth that John immediately characterizes as the Lamb of God.

I intend to examine the implications of these two explanations for our time in the coming weeks. The story of a particular person and people claims we should look for God to be present in a manger, on a cross, or in a deeply flawed Church. A proper response would be to deny ourselves, take up our own crosses, and follow him in a very counter-cultural lifestyle.

That, of course, creates problems in a global society in which everyone does not profess the same story. The question becomes whether Jesus sharing his Spirit opens our eyes to see God caring for us in all creation in spite of appearances around us. The response then would be to consider the lilies of the field and the birds of the air. Do not be anxious; God knows your needs before you ask. He sends rain and sun on the good and the evil.

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2 Enlightened Replies

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  1. Derek says:

    Perhaps relevant to the discussion is a question I’ve had for some time.

    Is it clear, perhapse through pronouns in the original language, when a statement applies to a specific group of people at a specific time as opposed to a statement for everyone?

    • Fritz Foltz says:

      This is a very good question, especially in a time when Christianity shares the stage with other world religions. I am not really qualified ti answer it. However, my reading of those who are leads me to think they rely on the context more than the language to make the distinction. For instance, those I read will write about the scriptures centering on the Israelites or the Christians., but then examine the implications for humankind. We constantly need to make that transition in a global society.

      It is interesting that I have received a number of emails asking similar questions. I think it indicates that it is a significant issue. I used to feel pretty certain people abandoned the church because they were not satisfied with her answers about suffering. Nowadays I think more might leave over our claims to be exclusive.

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