Who is God? Where is God? These are ancient and straightforward questions. God gives a beautiful answer as to God’s identity and location in the 38 and 39th chapters of Job. As God responds to Job’s questions, God tells us who God is by telling us what God has done. God’s answers show an intricate involvement with creation. God is indistinguishable from the command or the result of the order. Is God the lightening or the power to bring rain? Job 37 would argue that both are true. God’s breath freezes water, says Job 37:10. Can we distinguish God from the ice? It’s a good question. God exists between and within the function and form of the water, steam, and ice. Filtering out God doesn’t seem a real possibility.
Throughout Job’s final chapters, we encounter a God invested in creation. God is all around in ways we usually ignore, avoid, and take for granted. God isn’t confined to a worship space, temple, or liturgy. Instead, God is asking the reader (via Job) to think about this statement, “Surely God is great, and we do not know him.” (Job 36:26) We are missing God’s prominent presence in our presence. We don’t know what we’re missing.
In Acts 17, Paul tries to take some of the ferocity out of God’s argument. In a conversation with Greek philosophers, Paul describes God as inextricable and at arm’s length. At the moment you think you’re reaching for God, God’s already present. “God is not far from each one of us. ‘For in him we move and live and have our being.’” (Acts 17:27-28) God, in Paul’s words, seems to be everywhere.
The Psalms also have an expansive idea of God’s presence. In Psalm 139, the psalmist asks, “Is there anywhere I can go to leave God’s presence?” The answer is a surprising no.
7Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
9 If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.
Being beyond God is impossible. Scripture points in this direction: nothing is outside of God. God does not hide in plain sight. God is plain sight.
It’s easier for us to ignore and avoid the presence of God. We do not enjoy speaking of or to God in parking lots, elevators, or at the post office. God is never at the DMV. On our good days, we plan selective meetings with God. We treat God like a holiday destination. “Have you heard, this weekend, God and I are going on a vacation!”
Here’s a spoiler alert for the atheist readers: When Christians look for God, we head to the “obvious” locations. God can be found in churches, national forests, or lakes for fishing. Because it’s simpler to be oblivious to God’s potentiality; for when we do encounter a transcendent moment, we are often bewildered and bemused. God was in a church! The trees looked like a cathedral!
However, in these brief God gatherings, we must manage all expectations. God never calls the shots. We set the agenda. Did you know there are people who actually believe the Holy Spirit follows Robert’s Rules of Order? Above all else, God never comes home with you from your vacation. God stays in the wilderness, with the trees, fish, unicorns, and rainbows. You can’t have God sitting at your kitchen table with you when you pay your water bill. Or can you? Should you? Yes. Invite Jesus into your heart and your messy living room. Tear up the agenda. Expect God to show up in some unexpected places. Let God do God’s thing.
Maybe we need to realize that the everywhere God is also the God of the Mundane. God of Car Repairs, New Toilet Seats, and Co-Pays; there is nowhere I can go that you are not holding me fast. Amen.
Richard Lowell Bryant