Monday, October 29, 2007

Acknowledging a Latent God

At some point in their lives most Christians must face up to the tension between their faith and experience. No matter how much they believe that God is good and healing and gracious, no matter how vehemently they acknowledge that God is watching over them, their houses still burn down, their wallets get stolen, they lose their jobs and their loved ones die. No amount of piety will improve their luck.

There is a very notable tension between the ever-present God we learn about in church and a God who can be so painfully absent. For many people--even the most devout Christians--God's presence is hardly an active one. Since most of us don't have supernatural experiences on a regular basis, we are left to guess when and how God is involved in our lives. There is no way to say definitively whether God is involved in an experience. We can go ahead and assume (based on our theology) that God's hand is in everything, but then we are forced to deal with a God who creates disasters in addition to miracles. In my experience, even those who assume that God is actively involved in everything often end up having moments of doubt. The truth is that much of the time God can be hard to see. We are forced to deal with a latent God.

latent [leyt-nt] adj.
1. present or potential but not evident or active; existing as potential

As I was studying for the GRE, I ran across the word latent. It was one of those words that I had read many times before, but I had never looked it up in the dictionary. As soon as I read the definition, I thought, "Wow, that's a great description of God." I think it really captures the way many of us experience God. With our hearts we admit that there is a wonderful God, but our experiences suggest differently. When we utter the words "God is love" and "God is in control" we intend to praise God, but it often turns out that we are actually trying to convince ourselves of those facts. Pesky memories of times that God has failed us creep into our heads--thoughts we wish to forget--and suddenly our worship becomes equal parts rejoicing and repression.

Throughout my life I have struggled with the latency of God in a number of different ways. There has always been something in the back of my mind that made me uncomfortable with the confessions I made in church. It wasn't that I didn't believe that Jesus was the Son of God or that God graciously sent Jesus to die for me. It was that I wasn't 100% sure. What made me uncomfortable was that I felt like the confessions weren't completely honest. The words were so definitive and certain, but they didn't completely reflect my thoughts. I believed as much as I could, but I had trouble reconciling the active God of church with the silent God of life.

For a long time I felt like a heretic, but I've come to realize that the latency of God is something everyone must come to terms with. No matter what we say about God, most of the time we are left to live our lives without dramatic interference or intervention. God may show up powerfully on occasion, but most of the time God hangs in the background. The difficulty of living by faith is that much of the time our faith is blind, whether we like it or not.

The beginning of a realistic, humble theology is the acknowledgment of the latency of God. We all live in a world where we need God but where God is not immediately evident. If we are to be taken seriously by the outside world, we must admit that our experience is like theirs--God is not obvious.

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