Where is God and what does that mean for me, for us?

I really cannot believe how long it’s been since I posted on here…  It’s the end of the quarter, and I’ve been ridiculously busy enjoying my first two weeks dating Jeremiah Bailey (fb / blog) and stressing over finals papers, projects, and, of course, exams, which are going on currently.  Next week I’m looking forward to some time to 1) sleep, 2) clean my apartment, and 3) read for fun.  I literally have like a dozen partially begun books that I’d love to make progress in—I am normally good at reading a couple things at a time and finishing them before moving on, so this feels awful.  If I can finish at least a couple of them over the break, I will be happy.  Among them are things about the liturgical calendar, culture, tithing, apostasy, Romans, Jesus, and divorce, and I will try to review at least some of them in brief form on here.  (I know you eagerly await such posts.)

For now, a quick few thoughts from my Hebrew Prophets class (with which I am completely finished as of 1 pm yesterday!):

One of the themes of the post-exilic prophets, which I hadn’t ever studied with such particular attention to their being post-exilic, is that of God’s presence.  After Cyrus sends the Jews home from Babylon to rebuild the temple, there are lots of questions about where God is and where he has been.

The people thought he was present in Jerusalem, and especially present in the temple, prior to the exile.  But then God let Jerusalem be destoyed—what’s up with that?  Prophets like Jeremiah talked about their needing to pray for the welfare of their colonizer Babylon, and the people tried to trust that God actually had a plan and was there with them in exile.  Then they get sent home exile and now prophets like Haggai are telling them that actually God will be with them when they build the temple and that their slacking off and diverting temple-building funds to their house-building projects is the reason for the weak economy… and the people are thinking to themselves, “Wtf?  Why do we need the temple so bad?  We had God with us in Babylon when Jerusalem was far away and the temple itself was destroyed anyway.  Why is Haggai making such a big deal out of this?  Where is God anyway?  And what does it mean for God to be ‘with’ us if it doesn’t guarantee God’s blessing?”

I can relate a lot to the post-exilic Jewish community in their questions about God’s presence.  It’s been a significant quarter for me spiritually, and I still have a lot of questions to be answered.  These kinds of questions have helped to play with my own thoughts and tease them out a bit, but real answers, heck, I don’t know that I’ll ever have them.

This week last year I was making a final decision about InterVarsity staff, and I decided I couldn’t feel right doing it knowing that I had some significant questions from Bart Ehrman’s New Testament class, especially given that I really didn’t know how big my questions were or how quickly they could be addressed.  And the last thing I wanted was to be on staff, discipling students, and then suddenly I realize that wait, my questions are actually really, really huge and keep me from doing my ministry or feeling honest with donors.

It wasn’t until a couple weeks ago when I was retelling my spiritual journey from that past year that I realized how much pressure this staff decision put on me and how much it probably actually intensified my doubts and fears with Ehrman.  What could have been merely an intellectually stimulating and challenging experience became one that required instantaneous answers and security.  That was tough for little college senior me to handle.  It’d be tough for anyone to handle.  I knew that decision would change my entire life, at least for the next couple years.

Then last summer, to put it bluntly, lots of shit went down.  My parents’ divorce became official but it seemed to take forever for money to get settled.  There were a few lies and a lot of inconsideration that poisoned what I’d thought was a possibly-developing-at-last relationship with my dad.  And there was massive instability regarding my decision to come to seminary.  It was where I felt led 100%, but my dad wasn’t willing to commit to support me financially until the very last minute–literally less than a month before I moved to California.  It was extremely difficult to feel like he just didn’t care, not only based on his lack of enthusiasm about supporting my education (at seminary with the purpose of bolstering my own faith, no less–you’d think that would seem relevant to a Christian parent!) but based on his handling of finances in the divorce, generally.  He seemed to pit my mom and I against each other, making us out to be two greedy golddiggers after his physician’s salary when there simply wasn’t enough to go around… even though I’d seen the numbers crunched and knew that we could all be ok.  The hurt reached a new level after I moved out here and found out through my brother than my dad had a new girlfriend already that he’d intentionally not told me about—and then a month later when I found out she’d already been living with him for a month, along with her 11-year-old daughter.

Suffice it to say, it’s been a hellish year.  And somewhere along there it became very difficult to interact with God because of all this hurt, coupled with my questions.  To wrap things up way too quickly, I’ll say that things between me and God have been improving very slowly since things hit their lowest point in October or so and things have been improving more significantly since I have started pursuing reconciliation with God more intentionally.  That’s not to say things are perfect, but they’re much, much better.

Now a question I have, though, both academically and personally, is what is the presence of God?  How do we sense it?  Is it something we’re supposed to feel or only believe in?  Haggai says God’s presence guarantees not only blessing but judgment, depending on our obedience, which seems fair.  But our experiences don’t even always give with that more deuteronomistic view of things, which can be irritating enough in and of itself (since we don’t usually like God when he’s angry).

Perhaps most importantly, I ask, if we often feel God is with us when things are going well, what do we do with the fact that we know God is with us during the bad times as well?  Are our earlier perceptions of God’s presence merely our own happiness?  Since God’s presence and our happiness aren’t the same thing, how do we understand either of them more properly?  Especially, if we experience God’s presence largely through a community that supports us and teaches us and allows us to care for them, too, how do we experience God’s presence when that kind of community doesn’t seem available?  And does this mean that when we feel God’s working in and around us through community, we shouldn’t take that as any more than our enjoying people?  I think that’s one of the biggest mysteries to me as an extrovert.  In what ways do I understand God’s love through other people vs. apart from them?  I feel like either extreme can get you into trouble…  so it’s an interesting question for me.

I should go write some stuff for school or go to sleep… but there’s some of the stuff I’ve been pondering the last few weeks…  ;o)

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Where is God and what does that mean for me, for us?

  1. i eagerly await such posts :)

    thanks for sharing this stuff, ash.

  2. ashrebg

    And thanks for visiting, Whit! :-D

    I enjoy hearing your thoughts as well. It is a happy thing to have blog buddies!

  3. Ray

    An I right in assuming you have questions about the validity of free will? Your thoughts.

  4. Ashleigh Greene

    Ray, I’m sorry, I don’t understand your comment. I don’t know what this conversation has to do with free will. Explain?

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