During the rapture hoopla last year, I heard a commentator say, “Making fun of born again Christians is like hunting dairy cows with a high-powered rifle and scope.” I assume it’s because he thinks ridiculing such believers is not very challenging, and after a while it’s not very fun.
But this insult contains a nugget of truth.
Christians hold in their hands the most profound sets of insights into the human condition ever constructed, and yet despite their numbers and resources, they consistently produce and champion the most lackluster art, literature and academic thought available in popular circles. I find the “Christian living” section of the local bookstore—with a few exceptions—a disheartening place where good brains go to die. More tragic still, this set of texts is apparently the best our culture can do when displaying Jesus Christ and His plan for the world.
This is significant to me, for I would argue the primary obstacle to devotion to Christ for skeptics, seekers and Christians alike is no longer the problem of evil. The primary obstacle to holistic faith in our technologically advanced era is the problem of God’s hiddenness.
Is God hidden?
Many of us simply do not experience God. We do not know if God is real, and we find it deeply troubling that some of the friends we respect and the thinkers we admire so easily place God in the sphere of fairy tale creatures. It’s clear that such friends and notables are not uninformed, lazy or wicked, and when they speak of disbelieving in God, they sound quite reasonable.
This problem goes further, for many of us find it difficult to see Jesus when He is wed to messy political agendas or cultures and thinking we despise. We find it difficult to understand the Holy Spirit when the only ones talking about the Holy Spirit are clearly nuts. We find it difficult to encounter the divine on Sundays in converted Wal-Marts or during painfully ill-conceived church gatherings—and so we clinch inside and want to just acknowledge boldly, “This faith is not for me.”
Maybe we contribute to the problem, too
And of course, many of us fail to see God because we fail to pause, to unplug, to make space, to engage God with zeal, to give up our cherished addictions, to seek out real friendships, to remind ourselves of the identity the New Testament communicates over us—that we are children of God, co-heirs with Christ, indwelt by the Spirit, being transformed with others into a holy temple—and persistently live in that reality.
Hours of playing on a smartphone can be just as effective at hiding God as bad Christian filmmaking, and it’s time to rebel against all of it. Many of us need to rip aside the curtains that both we and our culture put forth that shield us from seeing the God that is real, all-pervasive and exceedingly interested in making us more alive.
I work at a state university in Colorado. I gave up Christian belief during grad school when I decided the Christian community at large was failing to point to God in a genuinely compelling way. But of course, I was culpable as well. Somewhere during that time, I stopped seeking God in healthy, personally transformative ways. Perhaps we can begin by simply acknowledging that experiencing God is difficult, given the obstacles often put forth by both “Christian” culture and our own sloth-filled tendencies.
Let’s dig into this together
I will be exploring a handful of thoughts on where I experience God in tangible ways in the coming weeks, but I would like to begin with your thoughts and your experiences.
Where do you see God? What is it about your community that displays God in a tangible way? Whose artwork, whose writings, whose music reveal God for you in a way that you reflexively say, “This God is real”? Who is speaking about Christ in a way that you find intellectually compelling? What practices have been most helpful in creating space for God to speak?
There is a hopeful side to my story. I was deeply fortunate that even though I stepped away from Christian belief 10 years ago, I began to listen to lectures by a bishop in Durham, England, and a pastor in Grand Rapids. I found that these men were entering the mindset of the good-hearted skeptic. They were embracing my confusion and theological difficulties as their own, and they began to speak over that chaos fresh words.
That was the push I needed. That was the tool the Spirit used, and I would guess your stories of encountering God are different but worth sharing for the sake of us all.
C.S. Lewis wrote, “Every soul, seeing God in her own way, doubtless communicates that unique vision to all the rest … The very multitudes of the blessed increase the enjoyment which each has of God.”
Jeff Cook teaches philosophy at the University of Northern Colorado. He is the author of Everything New: One PhilosopherÕs Search for a God Worth Believing In (check out the book trailer here). Connect with him at Everything New.