Where is God?

A seemingly silly question. Any child could tell you that God is in Heaven just as many pagans could have told you that Zeus is on Mt. Olympus. Actually, it’s not clear that either the child or the pagan would have a well-formed idea or image corresponding to those words, but they would have their standard answers. All children and most adults will have a view of physical reality tied to naive perceptions of space and time and matter.

To understand is to accept reality and to have a way of viewing it as a coherent whole. Modern physics, especially the cosmological models derived from Einstein’s general theory of relativity, and modern mathematics, including geometries and logics and theories of randomness, have cast doubts upon the absoluteness or transcendental nature of any of our scientific or logical or mathematical truths. Time and space are not necessary, though they are necessary for the existence of life as we know it. Our greatest mathematical truths might well be contingent truths of Creation, that is, truths created by God as the underlying stuff of this world. See The Christian in the Universe of Einstein: 2.1. God as the Creator of Truths for a preliminary discussion of this difficult issue.

But, we all tend to think as if the necessary truths of our sort of existence are necessary truths in an absolute sense. If we wish to talk to God, we literalize that action in our imagination, thinking ourselves to be facing God and talking to Him as if He were a human companion. Of course, Christians believe it’s possible to speak with the Son of God in this way and we believe that Jesus Christ is true God as well as true man, but we quickly get ourselves into trouble this way because the Son of God is not only facing us in His human body but also inside of us, bringing us into being and energizing us each instant that we exist.

The God of Jesus Christ is present in this world of time and space. In fact, He’s deeper inside of us than we ourselves can reach, as St. Augustine of Hippo pointed out. Going back into the Hebrew Testament, He is the God who declared His own name to be I-am, a name hard to understand because we are tempted to interpret it in terms of an unbalanced existentialist theology that disdains creaturely substance, but we are equally tempted to think that Moses was merely told that God has necessary being and is the only entity which is truly immortal. The Father of the Gods in the higher forms of paganism could have also claimed such as he sat on his throne.

Elijah learned that God is more a whisper than a clap of thunder, more a whisper than a wind or earthquake which can shatter rocks or mountains. He is most certainly far beyond a rock or mountain, except for the most limited of metaphoric statements. I can conjecture that God is quiet as a whisper because He is pure existence and isn’t a pagan god of divine substance who yells out thunder and treads earthquakes. Thunder and earthquakes are His creatures. As is a whisper but the comparison of God to a whisper should make us stop and think. What sort of Being is the Creator if He can be compared to a whisper?

It was St. Thomas Aquinas who forged the language for speaking of God as His own Act-of-being and also the source of the acts-of-being of all the things or bits of space and time or even many (all?) of the truths of Creation. I’ve claimed elsewhere that ultimately there are only two sorts of knowledge: knowledge of God in His Triune Self and knowledge of Creation. The second sort of knowledge, of Creation, is really knowledge of God as Creator, knowledge of God in His contingent, free-will decisions. In a sense, we creatures in our pride or humility disappear except in our true natures as being objects of God’s love.

So why does this all matter? And where is God? Elijah gave us as good a hint as he could given the language and the metaphors and the level of scientific knowledge and metaphysical speculation which was his cultural inheritance: God is a lot like a whisper. The Almighty is like a whisper. He’s like a whisper because He underlies all that is. He is His own cause of being and also the cause of being of all that is not Him.

God’s being is a totally different order of being than created being which is substance. We assume all being is substantial and have no good ways to talk about God or even about the acts-of-being, the divine acts of love, which are us before we come to be.

God is pure existence. God is His own Act-of-being, the Supreme Act-of-being. And He is the agent in the acts-of-being for all else that exists besides Him.

We can’t deal with the concept of an order of being that is pure existence, an explosion of being which didn’t begin and won’t end. And so we tend to think of God as something of a Super-creature who occupies a particular point in time and space.

So, where is God? It’s safest to say that God is everywhere because no thing and no region of time or space could exist but for God continually creating it by acts-of-being. And, yet, it’s often hard for us to see God in ourselves, in our neighbor, in a poisonous snake, or in the humblest of weeds.

God is like a whisper. I have a little card printed by an outfit called Hermitage Designs which shows pine trees in the foreground, rugged mountains in the misty distance, and also has a printed message: Nothing in all Creation is so like God as silence.

But we know God is also present in words of praise or songs of praise we offer up to Him. He’s present in Mozart’s Requiem Mass and also in a dirge from the mountain folk of Appalachians. Can He possibly be present even at concerts of rap music? Was He with those numerous jazz and rock musicians who destroyed their bodies with heroin or alcohol? Was He in their music?

I fear too many, even too many devout believers, ignore our difficulty in thinking properly of God. This isn’t just an academic exercise. This is primarily a spiritual question: Where is God? It’s a question to ask when you’re at the bedside of a child dying of leukemia and a question to ask when you have to start taking your mother for walks because she’ll get lost no more than a few blocks from home. It’s a question to ask when you remember your own mortality and your own dependence upon other human beings, a dependence so strong and yet so much less than your absolute dependence upon God.

It’s too easy to say, “God is with that child and also with the parents and grandparents. He suffers along with them.” It’s too easy to say and that allows us to avoid the effort that would shift our attitudes and our ways of thought so that we can truly think of God, speak of God, act towards God, as He who truly is with that child in her suffering, with the parents in their suffering.

We should praise the God who’s here with us at this very instant. We should pray to Him. We should sit quietly and let Him teach us how to think and pray along with Him. We should contemplate the mystery of God’s Presence so that it becomes part of our very being, so that the pathways in our brain, the flows of hormones in our bodies, respond constantly to the presence God who is always with us and always in regions of our own beings that we can’t even reach ourselves. We can fool ourselves but so long as we can catch ourselves occasionally speaking along with our skeptical age, so long as we catch ourselves thinking in ways that are inconsistent with God’s all-powerfulness or His love for us and all that He has created, we can remember that our conversion is incomplete.

That’s the trick to much of this business of serving God, of centering our attention upon our Lord. We have to put in the time and effort to reshape our very bodies, our human beings, to His ways, to His truths, some of those truths being the more complete versions of the truths of this universe and some being truths which lie beyond beyond the reach of any creature.

It takes an effort, not necessarily a strenuous effort, to re-shape our pagan minds so that we stop thinking of God in terms of a super-Zeus in a Heaven much like the top of Mt. Olympus. It takes an effort to learn how to speak in terms of a God who is beyond our comprehension, a God who remains free of the chains of human systems of thought. It takes an effort to think always of God being present even when we think our most evil thoughts. When that effort is no longer necessary, we’ll have reached a higher state of blessedness.

Explore posts in the same categories: Christian spirituality, Christianity, Peace of Christ, philosophy, Religion

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