A few days ago, I sat down and read half of Stephen King’s book On Writing. It is not the first time I have read it; I return to it often. More than the advice, I love the writing. His prose is sharp and beautiful.
Well into the book, King turns to the work of storytelling. He says, “Stories are found things; story-telling is a kin to uncovering a relic or pulling a fossil from the earth.” Tools, experience, and imagination help the author uncover the sacred piece, but story is not one’s possession. I think King is onto something. Just as he would say the short novella or the multiple part narratives are waiting to uncovered, I think ours is also a process of uncovering.
It is easy to see God as the church’s possession. In this sense, the work of ministry and Christian life is as simple as taking our message to the world. A sort of goods and services with a Holy promise. It almost seems as if we have God hidden in our sacred spaces. Tucked away for those invited or those who stumble in on Sunday.
The reality is God is all over the place. As Rob Bell once said, “We live in a world draped in God.” Logic does little to ease this mystery yet it is a promise that stretches throughout Scripture. “If I make my bed in the depth or settle on the far sides of the seas, there you will find me. Your right hand holds me fast.”
Big words like omnipresent do little to make sense of God’s present, ongoing work in the world.
I have heard it said, “God is as close as your very breath, but beyond your ability to possess.”
God is not present in some abstract mysterious way, the crucified Messiah is present in the concrete situations of our lives, from the ordinary and mundane to euphoric moments and even to the dreadful sufferings of life. Douglas John Hall in his book The Cross in Our Context says,
“the cross of the Christ marks, in a decisive and irrevocable way, the unconditional participation in the life of the world, the concretization of God’s love for the world, the commitment of God to the fulfillment of the creation’s promise.”
This way of speaking about God is the work of faith because it stands against the natural laws of the world. One way of looking at the world assumes the physical is the end of the story.
But the Psalmists insist on a different narrative. They sing of the ongoing creation of the world. The creator God did not create, rest, and sit back and watch. That deity is a different god, but it surely is not the God of Israel. The personal God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is engaged in the unfolding drama of creation and covenant.
The same God who spoke in the beginning, continues to speak life and breath and everything into existence. Luke Timothy Johnson goes so far as to say, “God creates out of nothing every day; each day we are renewed by the ongoing creativity of the living and active God.
God is on the move in our world. The beautiful reality is our God, through the Son and in the power of the Spirit, is out front of us working.
This means we need to re-imagine how we engage in God’s mission. The Church finds its calling in the mission of God. You see the Church does not have a mission, God’s mission has a Church. The task of the Church is less to get people to come in, but to get out to uncover God like Stephen King has uncovered the many novels that bear his name.
Tools, experience, and imagination can help us with the task, but God is to be uncovered all over the place. This means we must be available and attentive. David Fitch, in Prodigal Christianity, says, “If we truly believe God is at work in the world, we must take the time to pay attention, listen, and discern what God is doing in the lives of those around us.”
This means we need to spend less time giving people the instrumental speech of apologetics and argument, and train people in the art of description and imagination. These skills are the skills of discovery.
The imagination grounded in the mystery of the Triune God has a way of opening people to God’s new world. This new world is as close as our very breath, yet beyond our control.