God in the Pews
Posted by Margaret Manning, on July 19, 2018
Topic: A Slice of Infinity
Why isn’t God more obvious? This question is often asked in many ways and in many contexts, by people of all levels of faith. When prayers go unanswered, why is God silent? When suffering or tragedy strikes, why would God allow this to happen? Why wouldn’t God want more people to know God’s good news? When all the “evidence” seems to counter the biblical narrative, why doesn’t God just give the world a sign? If God was revealed through many wondrous signs and miracles throughout the Bible, why doesn’t God act that way today? All of these examples get at the same issue: the seeming “hiddenness” of God.
Atheist Bertrand Russell was once asked what he would say if after death he met God. Russell replied that he would say: “God, you gave us insufficient evidence.”(1) While many who have found God quite evident would balk at Russell’s audacity, a similar struggle ensued between the psalmist and his hidden God. “Why do you stand afar off, O Lord? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” Indeed, the psalmist accuses God of being asleep in these plaintive cries: “Arouse, yourself, why do you sleep, O Lord? Awake, and do not reject us forever. Why do you hide your face, and forget our affliction and our oppression?”(2)
In fact, belief in a God who can be easily found, a God who has acted in time and space, makes the hiddenness of God all the more poignant and perplexing. Theologians have offered many explanations for God’s hiddenness: because God seeks to grow our faith, because our sins and disobedience hide us from God and keep us from seeing God properly, or because God loves us and knows how much and how often we need to “find” God. If we are honest, we are just as likely to hide ourselves from God just as the first humans did in the Garden when God sought after them. Even so we cry out just like Job did and wonder why God stays hidden away in unanswered prayers and difficult circumstances: “Why do you hide your face, and consider me the enemy?”
The hiddenness of God is problematic for theists and atheists alike. And Christians often take for granted the narrative of Scripture which gives witness to God’s revelation. We have the benefit of a book full of God’s speech. God speaks in the wonder and mystery of creation; God speaks through the history of the nation of Israel; God speaks through the very Word of God incarnate, Jesus Christ. His life reveals the exact nature of God, and places God’s glory on full display.
But still we may wonder if we must always and only look to the past to hear God’s voice, while we wonder why God isn’t more “talkative” today? Is there any other source for God’s presence and activity in the world today?
In fact, God is often found in one of the last places many might guess: the church. At its best, the church re-tells the story of God speaking across the ages and definitively in Jesus Christ through the preaching of the gospel. But the church can also create community where God may be encountered in the faces of others as a result of the empowering Holy Spirit. Such a community is to be the symbol of God’s presence among us and with us as “God-found,” not “God-hidden.” It is to be the arms of God around us when we are hurting, or the voice of God speaking when we feel we haven’t heard from God in years. Such a community can be God’s voice, God’s hands and feet going towards the broken places of the world to bring healing, help, and comfort. Through worship and liturgy, prayer and communion, service and sacrifice the church can reveal the God who spoke and is still speaking.
God is not often revealed in the roar of the hurricane or the loud-clap of thunder, but in a “still, small voice”—a voice that is barely audible except to the most patient and still. But when the Church, broken and human as it is, seeks through the power of the Spirit to be who it is, we see God and hear God, and find God beautifully obvious.
For those who long to see God, who long to find God in the darkest hour, we may not find God in the dramatic or the victorious, the miraculous or the stupendous. Instead, we may yet hope to find him in the pew, at the table of the Lord’s Supper, in a simple hymn, or in the gift of fellow seekers longing to find God too.
Margaret Manning Shull is a member of the speaking and writing team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Bellingham, Washington.
(1) Cited in Dr. Paul K. Moser’s booklet, Why Isn’t God More Obvious: Finding the God who Hides and Seeks (Norcross, GA: RZIM, 2000), 1.
(2) Psalm 10:1, Psalm 44:23-24.