I have given little hints here and there to the fact that my experience with God is largely characterized by divine absence, the “real absence of Christ” (to subvert a well-known theological formula). In short, the “every hair of your head” and “not a sparrow falls” passages resonated very little with me, if at all, while the one about his giving sunrise and rainfall indiscriminately to all made more sense.
Shit happens, is what I’m saying. And it’s all pretty random, so don’t try to interpret Providence or expect God to be overly doting or attentive.
I read something the other night in Peter Rollins’s book Insurrection that made a little bit of sense out of all this:
In the Incarnation, then, we find a fundamental transformation in the way that we are to approach God, a shift that takes us away from the religious understanding, which treats God as an object worthy of love, to a religionless understanding in which God is found in the very act of love itself. Loving God in a direct way is thus closed off in Christianity. Instead, in the very act of loving, God is (indirectly) loved. In the very mode of seeing that raises the suffering, broken, and excluded to the level of the beautiful, sublime, and absolute, God is present. Not dwelling behind or above, but dwelling in the very midst. The mystery of God is a mystery that is found in the very heart of life itself.
In the Incarnation, Crucifixion, and Resurrection we discover that God is not something we encounter directly and thus is not some “thing” that we experience. Rather, God is that which transforms how we experience everything, i.e., love. God is the name we give to the way of living in which we experience the world as worthy of living for, fighting for, and dying for.
Traditionally we are brought to love the world because we love God and God loved the world. But once we fully embrace the understanding of God testified to in Christ, the middle reference that stands between us and the world dissolves entirely; we no longer love the world because God loves it, but rather we simply love the world and, in so doing, express our love for God.
Why is this helpful for me? Well, to the degree that God is some thing that I am supposed to love more than all the other things in my life, to that degree I consider myself an utter failure at this whole Christianity thing I have been pursuing pretty seriously for the last 26 years. Virtually all of my attempts at direct devotion to God are completely hollow.
But with that said, I do find myself profoundly moved by other things: people I love, art and music and films that tug at this or that facet of my soul, physical locations that have become sacred spaces for me, etc.
Perhaps it is precisely by embracing humanity with wholehearted affirmation that divinity is indirectly affirmed? Maybe it is by an unequivocal, gut-level “Yes” to earth that heaven is experienced? Perhaps (to borrow Bonhoeffer’s suggestion) it is by living as though God doesn’t exist that we finally begin to give him his due? Could it be that we “love God” by “loving our neighbor,” and that the way to the divine Father is through the flesh of the human Christ?
I sure hope so, because if not I am screwed. . . .