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!