Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Theophany Project: God's Revelation in Creation--Pt. 1: Beginnings

Scripture: Genesis 1:1-2

I’d like us to spend some time for a while thinking together about God. In particular, I want us to consider the ways in which we encounter God. Another way to say that is to say that I’d like us to consider the ways in which God reveals God’s self to us since we can only encounter God if God wants us to do so.

It’s difficult to decide where to start our examination of this very important subject. It is tempting to start with our own personal experience; it is, after all, when you get right down to it, our own experience with God that matters. Given, though, that experiences vary from person to person, let’s start with our common text, the Bible, to see if we find there some clues as to our common experience with God. And let’s begin at the beginning.

At the beginning of the Bible and at the beginning of the story that the Bible tells us, we find God. When we open the book and begin at the beginning, we find God there. At the beginning of creation, we find God. And, even though we don’t realize it in our newborn state, at the beginning of our lives, at the moment we draw our first breath, we find God there.

In the beginning…God.

Here is a call for us to see and to understand that God is the beginning of all that is, that God is the foundation of all that is, that God is the cause of all that is, and that God is the meaning of all that is.

That’s what the opening of the Bible tells us.

But it appears that there is something inside us that tells us the same thing—something in our own makeup, something in our wiring, something in our DNA. Barbara Bradley Hagerty in her intriguing book Fingerprints of God: the Search for the Science of Spirituality (New York: Riverhead, 2009) has suggested as much. Her research, writing, and experience led her to conclude, “It seems to me that one way to define God is as a master craftsman who organizes our genetic code so human beings have a capacity and yearning to know Him” (p. 13). That’s right. God made us with the capacity to know him and with a longing for him. St. Augustine, with no knowledge of modern scientific research, said a similar thing: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”

But we don’t need to quote such learned and helpful people to realize the truth of such statements. Who among us does not usually, when we get threatening or devastating news, find ourselves exclaiming “Oh my God!” or the like? Who in this place does not usually, when we get confirming or exhilarating news, find ourselves exclaiming, “Thank you God!” or the like? Maybe in some cases it’s just habit or conditioning, but the commonness of the pattern seems to reveal that something is in us that wants to know God and that compels us to reach out for God. We want to thank God, to praise God, to appeal to God, to complain to God—but in any circumstances we want to relate to God.

The old saying has it that “There are no atheists in foxholes.” But here’s the thing: we all start out in a foxhole. From the time we are born we are confronted with the chaos, with the unknowing, with the uncertainty, with the tumult. Something in us tells us that it makes sense to reach out to God in such circumstances because no one but God can help in such circumstances.

The beginning words of the Bible tell us that always God has worked to overcome the chaos; from the beginning God has worked to bring order to the tumult. So we are asked by Genesis 1 to imagine the earth as a “formless void” on which “darkness covered the face of the deep” (v. 2) but then God began to speak things into existence and God began to separate one thing from another. In other words, God began to bring order out of the chaos and ever since God has been working at that.

So we encounter God in the fact of creation, in the fact that God is the beginning and foundation of all there is. We also encounter God in the fact of our lives, because God is the beginning and foundation of our lives. In addition, we encounter God in the fact of chaos, because only God can do what needs to be done to bring some order to that chaos.

We encounter God in God’s fullness in creation; it is God as Holy Trinity—God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—that brought and that brings creation about. The Gospel of John tells us, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being” (1:1-3a). John goes on to tell us, “The Word became flesh and lived among us…” (1:14a).

So God the Son, who was active in creation, became flesh and lived among us, thereby bringing that creating, chaos-overcoming power into our world—and into our lives.

But are we experiencing it? Barbara Bradley Hagerty said that she discovered something else that I find very interesting. After affirming that God seems to have put it in our DNA to want to know him, she also said, “Knowing God is also a muscle that one can develop” (p. 13). Are you developing that muscle? How can you do that?

First, start every day with the expectation of encountering God.

Second, spend significant time every day in prayer which is direct encounter with God.

Third, look for God in all the beginnings that you experience.

Fourth, look for God to be with you in the midst of and to overcome your chaos.

I’m sure that to some degree we are all encountering God but the story of God and us may be like the story of waterfalls and me. I have had encounters with waterfalls; I have, for example, walked up to Anna Ruby Falls near Helen, GA a couple of times. I was impressed with my encounters with that waterfall; it was a moving experience. But I have never seen Niagara Falls or Victoria Falls. If I did, I would still appreciate my encounters with Anna Ruby Falls but I would surely be glad I did not miss the other falls that were available to me. Of course, it takes a lot more effort to get to Niagara or Victoria Falls; I’d have to get to New York or to Southern Africa. I’d be glad I made the effort, though.

Be grateful for your encounters with God. But make the effort to have even greater ones!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Where to Begin?

As I embark on the Theophany Project, I am faced with the question of where to begin.

The purpose of the project is to examine ways in which God has revealed God’s self so that we can grow in our own experience of God. I want to look at encounters that people have had with God as God has revealed God’s self so that we can learn better how to be on the lookout for such manifestations; I want us to know how to look for God.

This is important because I believe that the majority of Christian people, not to mention the majority of people in general, miss out on the encounters with God that they could have because they are not looking to encounter God. There are, of course, people who think they experience God in a face in a plate of spaghetti, but that’s another story and it’s not the kind of experience in which I’m interested.

Perhaps the best place to begin is with the human experience; after all, were there no one here for God to reveal God’s self to, could we really say that revelation has occurred? And, given that I believe that I have had and continue to have my own experiences with God, maybe I should start with my own human experience of God. Integrity compels me to admit that I can, for my part, start nowhere else, because I can only experience anything, including God, as me; I can only know God from who I am and from where I stand—as can you.

But I don’t want to be entirely subjective in my approach; I don’t this project to be just about my encounters with God.

Perhaps another good place to begin is with Jesus. After all, as a Christian, I believe that Jesus is God incarnate, that in Jesus “the Word became flesh and dwelled among us,” that in Jesus “the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” I believe that if we human beings want to have the best shot we can have at knowing who God is, we best look at Jesus. And I will get there, especially since I believe that the most appropriate lens through which we can read the Bible is Jesus Christ.

Which brings to me to where I am going to begin: I am going to begin with the Bible. Among the many things we could truthfully say about the Bible is this: the Bible contains a record of the revelation of God to people and of their experience of and response to that revelation. Besides, I’m a Christian preacher working in the Baptist tradition; where else would you expect me to start?

Let me be clear, though: while I believe that it is vitally important that we closely examine the Bible for what we can learn from its words about the ways in which God reveals God’s self to people and the ways in which people experience and respond to such revelations, it is even more important that we have our own personal encounters with God—and we can have and even should have them a lot more often than we do.

So I will begin with the Bible.

I will moreover begin with the beginning of the Bible…

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Welcome to the Theophany Project

When one reaches my point in life (I'm in my early 50s) one begins to think seriously about what really matters and about that to which one's time, efforts, and energy should be devoted.

I have concluded that as a human being, as a Christian, and as a minister of the Gospel, that which really matters to me and that to which I am willing to devote my time, efforts, and energy in living, in thinking, and in preaching/teaching is my--our--encounter with God.

God is and God matters.

To that end, I am starting this new blog called "The Theophany Project." Over the coming years--really, for the rest of my life--I want to pray about, think about, read about, talk about, and write about the human enounter with God and the divine encounter with humanity.

A theophany is an appearance or revelation of God. This project is all about experiencing God's appearances and revelations.

I hope you'll join me...