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Why is it So Hard to See God...
When we are Told to Seek His Face???
F. Earle Fox
St Luke's REC, Santa Ana, CA
Sermons -- Audio Version
Trinity XVI - 09/19/10
Ex. 3:1-15; Psalm 50:1-15; Eph. 3:1-21; Lk. 7:11-17
Jesus answered that question in part when He said to the disciples, "If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father." That suggests that perhaps that we do not see the Father except through the Son. We also do not see, in a literal sense, the Holy Spirit. In their supernatural state, they are, so far as we know, bodiless, pure spirit.
Nevertheless, we read, "When thou saidst, Seek ye my face; my heart said unto thee, Thy face, LORD, will I seek." Ps. 27:8. We are told to seek the face of God.
Moses, in today's lesson, hears God speaking to him out of the burning bush, and giving His name, I AM, but does not seem to see God. Yet most amazingly, Moses later on sees God directly up on a mountain, where God shows Moses His back side, but not His face (Ex. 33:12 ff.).
What are we to make of such extraordinary occasions of the presence of God among human beings? What we must make of them is to cry out to God to make us the kinds of followers that we can likewise have such experiences of His presence.
Paul prays for us to be "strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man... being rooted and grounded in the inner man..., according to the power that worketh in us...." Whether the early Christians "saw" God in a direct sense, they saw God at work in them, giving them strength and stability.
Then Jesus raises the dead son of a widow in the city of Nain. They still did not know that they were watching God Himself working among them, although that is one of the major reasons why Jesus performed miracles -- so that they would know that the Kingdom was among them, and if the Kingdom was among them, so was the King. They were watching the King at work.
The God of the Bible is not like the Allah of Islam, who is distant and forbids the seeking of any close relationship. God commands the closest of all possible relationships -- that we love Him with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and our neighbors like ourselves, and then shows that He is already loving us in that deepest of all ways, ready to give up His earthly life for our sakes. He is willing to put up with whatever He must to redeem our souls from self-destruction.
So, how do we see such a God? He is no longer incarnate, and His date of return remains unknown.
It all has to do with the nature of spirit and body, and their relationship to one another. The body is meant to be the revealer, the sacrament, of the soul, the individuator of the soul, that which identifies a soul in a community, and distinguishes souls from one another. We must identify and distinguish God in a similar manner, from other persons and from the rest of the cosmos. God is not the same as the creation.
One of the major reasons for Westerners having so much trouble imagining that God might be real is our secularized assumption that physical matter is the prime reality, that all things, including life, emerge from a primeval physical stuff, some kind of matter, out of which all things that we know here and now have evolved. If you have been raised in the West, you will have soaked up some of this assumption because it has been taught openly &/or subversively in our public schools for nearly a century. Secularized science, which is a pseudo-science, has been the reigning belief system most of that time. Even believers in God are affected by it.
If the primary substance is physical, then Christians and Jews are believing a false religion. No wonder we have trouble imagining the presence of God.
The Bible says, with good reason, that the primal entities of existence are persons, spiritual beings, not physical things, that God is the originator of all things, and that His primary creations are also persons with whom He desires to have communion. The Bible implies that the whole rest of the cosmic creation is meant to be the stage upon which this community is meant to happen. If that is the case, then we creatures ought not to have a great deal of trouble finding God, our creator, and living in His presence.
Only something like a Fall can explain the persistent difficulty with which the people of God are hindered in staying in close relationship to Him who holds us in the palm of His Hand.
If we are resting, as it were, in the Hand of God, if the Hand of God is that from which our power of being flows into us, then we are not merely "resting" there. There is power flowing from Him to us, our very ability to exist comes continually from God. God did not long ago construct us like that battery rabbit, and then set us to wander off on our own way. The wandering off was our idea, not His.
But even so, our existence must still come from Him. So, in that sense, we cannot step off the Hand of God. There is no other place onto which to step - except into death. We can wander from Him only in our mistaken imaginations, only in our mistaken perception of reality, not in reality itself. But in doing so, we can diminish the flow of power to support our being.
God, in other words, did not disappear at the Fall. He is there, still graciously holding us in existence. But now He has the task of communicating with us who, for whatever reasons, have become nearly incapable of sensing His presence. We are alive but do not know how (His Hand) or why (His Voice) .
It does not feel as though we are standing on the Hand of God or hearing His Voice. We just feel like WE EXIST. We ourselves are "I AM". WE ARE. So we have little or no sense of from where we come, our Source.
St. Paul says, in his first visit to Athens, addressing the Athenians at the Areopagus, their community open forum, "And God made from one every nation of men to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their habitation, that they should seek God in the hope that they might feel after Him and find Him. Yet He is not far from each one of us, for, 'In Him we live and move and have our being'; as even some of your poets have said..."
The mystery is how we could ever successfully get so far and distant from God, not that God is so far and distant from us -- as we generally assume. Islam is wrong, God does not live far from us, we live far from Him. But how do we accomplish such an unlikely thing? And how, from that distance, can we seek His face?
The whole mess becomes more understandable if we see that our distance from God is an illusion. That is, we live in unreality. Our fall from relationship to God did nothing at all to get rid of God, it only put blinders on our eyes so that we can only with great difficulty even imagine God. In the flood story, we read that God was disgusted with the human race.
"The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually."
Man could not imagine who God really was or what He was like. They had a warped, false image of Him, when they thought about Him at all.
The subject of knowing God closely and intimately is central to the whole of Biblical history, but it seems that we pseudo-scientific Westerners have lost much of what the Bible teaches on the matter.
We can compile a list of items which lead us to our
separation from God.
1. subverting the truth, being less than a truth-seeker or truth-speaker;
2. a desire to be independent from God, to run our own lives;
3. valuing good feelings as more important than good relationships, we see it as more important to feel good rather than to relate well. Relating well, after all, can be costly and painful. Ask Jesus.
These first three lead to #4, the inability to see the persons in life, seeing only things -- just as 9 of the 10 lepers in the Gospel recently saw only a healing, only one saw a person behind the healing, and so returned to give thanks. The other nine did not see anyone to whom to give thanks. They saw an event which made them feel good, but no person to thank.
That is a description of totally self-centered persons. If I see no other persons among all the bodies around me, then I AM the only person, and they are just things for me to manipulate. I will never see the Kingdom of God so long as I cannot, or will not, see persons behind the bodies.
In the story of the Last Judgement in Matthew 25, Jesus makes it very clear that seeing the person "in" or "behind" a body is central to our entering the Kingdom of heaven. Those being judged had never met Jesus before. That parable is about the judgement of those who never met Him in this life, at least not knowingly.
Every Jew or Christian should recognize why Jesus welcomed those who, even unknowingly, ministered to Him into His Kingdom. Every human being is made in the Image of God. So Jesus was saying to them, if you reached out to some other human being because you saw a person there, you reached out to Me. You are the kind of person I want in My Kingdom.
That puts a whole new light on our seeking the face of God. God may be peering out to us daily as we go about our business. None of these human beings is God, but Jesus is saying that if we are not interested in these persons, then we will not be interested in Him either. Every other person is made in His Image.
And it puts a whole new light on our human relationships, that they are a primary way in which Jesus will judge our relationship to Himself, and judge how we seek and see Him.
C. S. Lewis, that incredible fountain of wisdom, remarked in Mere Christianity: "The instrument through which you see God is your whole self. And if a man's self is not kept clean and bright, his glimpse of God will be blurred -- like the Moon seen through a dirty telescope. That is why horrible nations have horrible religions: they have been looking at God through a dirty lens."
The lens of ourselves is not blurred only by our own dirtiness, it is blurred by the image of Satan which Satan was able to interpose between ourselves and God at the Fall. We peer through a lens darkly, often warped and twisted by the figure of Satan himself.
Cleaning the lens of ourselves requires that not very feel-good process of repentance, confessing our sins, asking forgiveness. The more we confess our sins with God and each other, the less Satan is able to keep his position between ourselves and God, the more his power slips, and we become free to be our whole selves in the presence of God.
This power of sin has two effects.
First, our guilt separates us from God. We have alienated ourselves from close relationship. God can no longer trust us, and, like Adam and Eve, we lose our trust in Him. We come to think of Him as our enemy, out to get us, with malice writing down our sins in His book.
Secondly, our sin causes damage to our souls, and sometimes to our bodies. We not only do not want to obey God, we become unable to obey Him even if we did want to. So repentance becomes doubly difficult. I may want to stop lusting, being greedy, or power hungry, but my deep inner needs force me down those paths because they seem to be the only way I can survive. They become compulsive.
So, sin has two effects, but God has two remedies -- those two stabilities, personal and moral.
First, His remedy for our guilt. Being sovereign over all things, He can and does graciously offer forgiveness for repentant sinners. He is interested in honest repentance, not punishment. He does not carry grudges, He does not desire the death of a sinner, but rather that he turn from his wickedness and live.
God thus offers a renewed moral stability, a renewed sense of right and wrong, and a clear direction on which way to go, a desire to go there, and a clean and refreshed spirit. We become more and more fathered by God to heal the moral confusion passed on by our inadequate or even destructive human fathering, and to point us in the right direction.
And secondly, being the Creator of all things, God offers healing for the wounds passed on by inadequate or destructive mothering, freeing our paralyzed souls to be able obey the laws given by the Father.
We become more and more mothered and fathered by God Himself, in which we receive the moral knowledge and the personal inner ability and freedom to joyfully obey His commandments.
We perceive God, as Lewis says, through our own being. That means we perceive God through our sense of moral obligation. We hear, however faintly, the Voice of God calling us to higher things.
And we perceive God through our own personal dependency on the ground of our being, our need for stability of our personhood, we perceive God through the meeting of those needs and the enjoyment of that stability of soul -- even in the presence of conflict and suffering.
We perceive God the more clearly as our trust and obedience matures through those two basic stabilities, personal and moral, which can come only through God Himself. So, if we are wise truth-seekers, we will be driven by our own needs right into the arms of a waiting God.
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