I always find it curious that one of the goals of a seminary education is to locate and understand the work and presence of God. For many of us we subscribe totally to the omnipresence and omnipotence of God in all time and everywhere. This logic sticks God’s endorsement on every circumstance in life. For others of us, this assumption correctly falls short in that it can eventually justify evil and other tragedy. Therefore, we are careful to locate God in places where it is consistent with what we understand God’s activity to be. If God is indeed everywhere, we fear both what that endorses and also how that judges us in return.
It is difficult to locate God only in certain places. For instance, we tend to locate God in church and worship. We then locate God in certain practices of worship. For instance, we can argue God only shows up in the Eucharist or in the singing of traditional hymns or the preaching on Sunday morning. This limits God to only being present in the realm of worship.
Outside of worship we tend to locate God only in places where we see justice or where we see the piety of individuals. This is suspect because when we place God only in the practices of worship or personal piety we forget God’s place in the everyday means of life where justice and equality and love are to be the goals of all existence. On the other hand, when we locate God only in the social realm of justice and love and equality we tend to escape our accountability to be transformed into creatures that are meant to live out a life with God by means of pious and holy practices. Is this done without God? Surely not. But by God’s grace we can not rightly argue the immediacy for God’s justice and righteousness of such an immediacy is not present and practiced in our own lives. On the other hand, we can not take God out of the social realm in favor of the personal God who seeks only to “save souls” without such salvation entailing a means of living holy lives both personally AND socially.
I am becoming more and more convinced in my seminary education that seminarians, preachers, etc. are just as susceptible to the assumption that God is ONLY where WE wish God to be. In this season of Lent, the season of the Cross, we are reminded to reflect on a Savior who died for the pious and unpious, the faithful and unfaithful, and the individual and the social sects of humanity. This Savior knew no distinction for salvation and, therefore, saved all people everywhere.
It is difficult indeed to locate God. What’s more, how do we explain a God who may be present, though ignored, in the face of that which is evil and oppressive and sinful? I don’t know. But by God’s grace we are reminded that the shadow of the cross covers all and even the bleakest of circumstances. So a better question might be: is this our greatest fear or our great hope?