“…And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you…On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me, and I am in you.”
-John 14: 16 & 20
Where is God?
What a familiar question this is, one we’ve all asked with words or otherwise. We ask it in times of transition, of struggle, of grief but it is also a question we come back to everyday, each moment. Where is God?
In Genesis humans built a tower to heaven hoping God would be there, but he was not. Elijah looked for him in the wind and fire but God was neither in the wind nor the fire. Moses looked for him and actually found him in the fire. The Israelite refugees looked for God and when they could not find him they built a god they could see. Mary and Joseph search high and low for their pubescent son, Jesus, and they found him in maybe the most cliched and yet simply profound of places, his Father’s house.
We look for Jesus in all sorts of places and we often miss him because we look over the shoulders of the places he said he would be – the homeless, the imprisoned, the hungry, the weak, both outside and inside us because, no matter how much we read Matthew 25 we believe Jesus is only marginally with the least of these.
I’ve always struggled with John’s gospel because of passages like the one above. Maybe it’s the choppy writing style that makes Jesus sounds like a robot or a functional talker. I read these passages and this is what I hear:
“The Father is in me and I am in you and you are in me and the Spirit is in you, who will remind you everything I said that the Father told me to say to you…And the world will come to know me by the love you have for one another that the Father and I have together that the Spirit will lead you into…”
Pretty soon I feel like I’m at a magic show and Jesus is doing the trick where you shuffle three cups around and one cup has a white ball concealed underneath, you know the one? I ask, where is God and the response feels like he’s hiding under one of the three (or 27) cups.
You see, we have the need and tendency to locate God and maybe we think if we can locate him we can contain him and when we are ready to encounter him we will know where to find him. We want so badly to know where to find God, where it is he may be hiding.
We hope we will find him in the new book we bought or the new friend we made. We hope we’ll find him in a worship service or a upcoming retreat, or we hope to find him once our circumstances change, once we have enough money, a more suitable job or dream vocation. In our most noble moments we look for God in the least-of-these – the naked, the refugee, the imprisoned – and we may even find him there. We think, surely this is where God was all along, in this person, in this community, among these people.
God is surely in all these and yet is never contained in them. He is the God of the still small voice, the God of the burning bush, the whisper which comes only from whatever we’ve categorized and segregated as least of these in our world. The chaos I feel reading Johns words is good for me to experience. It shakes up my false belief that I have somehow located God, contained him and control him. It teaches me that God is found exactly in the places I don’t expect him, not because he’s hiding but because I am.
The disciples didn’t want Jesus to leave, maybe because they believed God was contained in Jesus, but Jesus is God not God’s container, he is God and when we weren’t satisfied with that reality we located him for good with nails onto a tree.
We desperately want to locate Jesus and probably, for better or worse, it has something to do with our fear and belief that he hasn’t located us, that he doesn’t see us, or know us. As much as we close our eyes and repeat Jeremiah’s words we don’t believe he has a plan for us for our family, for our community.
As we approach Good Friday and the death of Jesus maybe what needs to die is our belief that God is everywhere but near, that he is anyone except Emmanuel, God with us.
Jesus, we don’t always know where you are, where we are or where we stand with you. In a few days we will nail you to a cross in hopes that we will be more certain. Help us as we discover these tendencies and show us how we give them to you. Keep walking with us and open our eyes to see you in all the people and places we look past.