God Is With Us
Recently, I saw a wonderful interview with Diana Butler-Bass, one of the prominent public theologians of our time.
Butler-Bass was asked to identify the most important question we should ask about God and faith today, and she cited the work of the 18th-century preacher and theologian Jonathan Edwards.
Edwards is most famous for a sermon that he preached during what was commonly known as The Great Awakening in American history. The sermon was "Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God."
It was said that Edwards preached in a monotone speaking style that lacked the bombast of revivalists like his contemporary George Whitfield, who could enthrall large crowds with his oratorical skills.
But when Edwards read "Sinners" in public, people would faint at his imagery of the human soul dangling over the precipice of Hell like a spider hanging by a thread over a fire.
Hey, it was a different time, to be sure. When you don't have Netflix, I guess it doesn't take much to make you faint with fear.
So why would a progressive theologian like Butler-Bass cite the work of an 18th-century preacher with theology grounded in Dante's Inferno?
You see, "Sinners" wasn't the only thing that Edwards wrote; much of his work centered around a far different image of a God---a God who was present in the world and loved Creation deeply.
Butler had this to say about Edwards and also shared what she believed was the most important question we can ask about God:
Jonathan Edwards essential vision was an ever-creating God who held all of the universe together by animating it's actions in every single second of the day. That was Edwards' primary answer to the question, "Where is God?" To St. Francis back through the Mystics to the early church fathers like Gregory of Nyssa. And so when it comes to lines of tradition, I am more than happy to stand in a line of tradition that says that "Where is God?" is the most important question. And the answer is phenomenally, crystal clear, "God is here, with us."
I think I watched that video more than a dozen times as I sought to grasp the full meaning of what Butler-Bass was saying. It's something that we all need to hear, in my opinion.
There's so much turmoil in this world, isn't there? We face some great uncertainty when it comes to the big problems that are before us.
Centuries of despoiling the planet have come home to roost. Issues like bigotry, racism, and systemic greed that we have long believed would be resolved by this day and age are still rearing their ugly heads.
And while we continue to make great strides in technology and scientific discoveries, it doesn't take long to see the unintended results of governments, corporations, and the like using them for their own gain, for war, and to collect more power.
Sometimes, it seems like God has left the building.
But God hasn't left the building. God is still with us, working to create, make new, and restore what has been lost. God never leaves or forsakes because that's not something God can or will ever do.
When we ask the question "Where is God," and can answer it with an emphatic "Right here," we enter into the mindset that accompanied much of Jesus' teaching about God's kingdom here on earth.
You and I hold the kingdom within us. We can also see it breaking through all around us. It cannot and will not be denied, despite all the efforts to wrest control away from the God who holds all things together.
And all we must do to turn back the tide of resistance to God's kingdom is to let the Spirit of God's kingdom flow through us to a world longing for renewal. We can show love. We can act with justice. We can give grace. We can stand in the gaps, defending the weak and the powerless.
This is what Jesus came to teach and to tell. Jesus demonstrated this when he went to the Cross to take on the world's worst and rise again, no matter what it threw at him.
So rejoice. Lift up your head. God is with us. There will be a new day coming. Do not fear. God is with us.
May the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.