Faith Meets Life: Reconsidering the absent God
What will happen when an asteroid hits our planet? It's happened in the past, and it could happen again. Questions like this can make us feel that God is absent, or non-existent; a feeling that the cosmos is a cold, hard place, and all we can do is make the best of things while we wait for a collision with an asteroid, or some other extreme event, maybe one we cause ourselves, to wipe out the planet.
Christmas is about the birth of Jesus Christ 2000 years ago. It is also about the absence of God. And it isn't too far away. The current MacDonald's coffee cup is a sure harbinger that it is near. On it, the word “joy.”
To understand Christmas, it could help to see the world first through the eyes of Jewish biblical writings. Jesus was born into the Jewish community. The first Christians were almost all Jewish.
Jewish people at that time understood the sense of God being absent. The Jewish writings (now Jewish and Christian) contain the story of the expulsion of the first humans from the Garden of Eden, from the presence of God. Why the expulsion? Answer: the first people made an alliance with evil.
The narrative is symbolic, yet helps us understand our feeling of the absence of God.
It doesn't take reflection on solar system mechanics to feel God's absence. We can feel God's absence in times of personal despair, or cultural confusion. Jewish folks before, and during the time of Jesus, were victims of ethnic cleansing, many hate crimes, and political marginalization. Most lived kilometres below the poverty line and life-expectancy was low.
Writer Anne Lamott thinks about the things in her own life that have not worked out: raising a son without a father; seeing a close friend die of cancer; looking at the urn of her mother's ashes and realizing that she didn't really like her mother; seeing her country, the United States, go to war in Iraq, a war Lamott hates. In other words, Lamott gives insight into how many people today experience the absence of God.
So, what does one do when there are so many suggestions that God is absent? Lamott helps. You check into a church you are comfortable with. You light a candle. You pray. You read the accounts of Jesus' birth. You connect with others who are exploring the Christian faith and all its implications. You affirm your family and friends.
And you remember something about Jesus. In the Christian Bible, it is said that one of Jesus' names is Immanuel, meaning, “God with us.”
God must surely be absent. Or is he? Christmas is good time to reconsider.