Imagine The Kingdom (Friday)
Today's devotional comes from "Falling Into Goodness," a book of Lenten reflections by Chuck DeGroat. You can purchase the entire book on Amazon in paperback or for Kindle.
For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed 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 own poets have said,
‘For we too are his offspring.
One of the reasons I call myself a follower of Jesus is because I believe, deep down in my soul, that he is the very center of the story of the world. All our hopes and aspirations are tied up in Jesus, who reveals who God really is.
And people hunger for life he offers. You do. I do. We see the hunger in insatiable appetites for instant intimacy, constant connection, lasting love. St. Paul says that people are searching, hoping they might “grope for him and find him.” In spiritual practices of every tradition, people are groping. In fad diets and body makeovers, people are reaching for him. And St. Paul even uses a pagan poet to show the hunger.
In him we live and move and have our being. We are his offspring.
Even the pagan poets intuited a fundamental union with the divine. And if they do, perhaps your neighbor does. Or your co-worker. Or your yoga teacher. Or your son who has left Christian faith to ‘explore’. Perhaps God is more near to all of us than we think. Could we exercise that kind of imagination?
I’ve heard dozens of stories from missionaries who ventured into tribal territories to evangelize a pagan people only to discover that when they told the Story and named Jesus, the response was, “Oh yes, we know this story well.” St. Paul says it himself in Romans 1. God has revealed enough for everyone to grope for it, albeit frustratingly at times. At a deep down, intuitive level, each and every one of us knows. But we seem to be adept at settling and sabotaging, choosing substitutes that satisfy for a moment but don’t last. Even those who claim Christian faith go about living and moving and being in other places.
Of course, if you follow Paul in Romans, he’s not terribly optimistic about a life that doesn’t find its center in Jesus. In fact, you might just say that it will becoming a “living hell.” We all know the life – the one the prodigal son chose, fun as it was for a time, which eventually ended in a pig pen. I’ve taken the turn a hundred times, and still do, as I give way to distracting and hopeless substitutes for the real life Jesus offers. But St. Paul is also pretty quick to caution all of us, especially those who think they’ve found it and own the territory, to withhold judgment of others. In fact, have you experienced what I’ve experienced? Have you noticed that some who don’t claim Christian faith seem more deeply connected to the Divine than many of us “Christians” are? As a lifelong Christian ‘insider’ this makes me a bit squeamish.
The great Jewish theologian Abraham Heschel once said that we fail to understand God “not because we aren't able to extend our concepts far enough but because we don't know how to begin close enough.”[i] Faith becomes a head trip. Christianity is a series of box checks - you’re in or out based on your right answers. And yet, having received theological degrees and having served as an ordained minister, I spent many years living out of union, speaking the name of Jesus but not at all at “home” in him. I didn’t start close enough. I began in my head, not in my deepest being.
Perhaps, instead of determining insiders and outsiders, we ought to leave the details up to God and simply abide. Perhaps, instead of condemning those who don’t agree, we ought to wade gently into the waters of curious conversations, sharing our longings, our desires, our intuitions of a life of deep and divine connection. Some of my favorite conversations are with those who don’t (yet) claim Jesus but intuit a profound divine connection.
With seemingly lavish grace St. Paul says, “to those who by patiently doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life.” And so, my imagination grows into patient exploration, hopeful that the God in whom each and every human being lives and moves and has their being will reveal the central character of the Story in vivid color, Jesus, who satisfies every desire.
Ever-present God, give me the eyes to see and the ears to hear of your goodness in everything you’ve made. Give me the capacity to see a hunger for you in each and every person I meet. And may Jesus satisfy every desire of ours. Amen
[i] Abraham Heschel, Man Is Not Alone (New York, NY: Harper, 1966), p. 127.