My buddy Jill made a profound statement on Facebook the other day. It was in response to an article about how wimpy liberal Christianity is because it offers little that can’t be found in liberal secularism. But the point is equally valid for “Bible-based” churches as well:
Unless there is something distinctly profound, ecstatic or unqualifiedly transcendent that happens in the religious space, why bother? Just go to brunch.
I had one of those moments today in church. In fact, it’s a regular part of my Sunday experience. The powerful, palpable presence of God. It warms the air, surrounds you like a comfortable quilt on a chilly morning, brings peace to your restless heart and wrestling mind, and puts all the whirling chaos of life back into proper perspective. And if you don’t have that, why bother?
And it was during one of those moments soaking in the divine presence that I was reminded of a simple truth. We were — I was — having an encounter with a very personal God. A person, not a force. Not some cosmic consciousness or the energy that permeates the universe. A person who speaks my name aloud, whose name I know. God is everywhere, in all things at all times, and no place escapes his presence. God is in all, but that does not mean that all is God. We were created in his image, and we can have his Spirit living in us, but we are not divine. We do not occupy the Throne of Eternity. As the book of Job reminds us, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?” We are the creation; he is the Creator. He is immanent in all his creation; he holds our hands in all the stages of our lives; but he remains transcendent, above and beyond creation, distinct from it because he created it and it all exists because of him.
“The heavens declare the glory of God,” scripture tells us, and “the whole earth is full of his glory.” But the universe is not God, nor is God the universe.
For the hungry soul searching for truth, dissatisfied with the drivel and hypocrisy of established religious institutions, there is sweet beauty in the simple image of the God who created us walking in Eden in the cool of the day, calling for Adam. Calling for us. God in search of man. Revelation so profound and powerful, yet simple and beautiful.
The purpose of life is not to attain spiritual enlightenment. Neither is it to achieve prosperity or personal success. Inner peace, clarity of mind, even human unity and universal harmony are not the highest pursuits of our existence. The goal is relationship. The Living God and us. The Creator of all is not just “Universal Father” but also “Abba” — a personal, intimate and tender relation — the One who walked with Adam and Eve in the Garden, calling them by name. The great “I AM”, the Eternal One, is also the personal “God of your fathers, of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob.” Not only does he call us by name, but he calls himself by OUR names! He has established an irrevocable bond with us that is so much deeper and more personal than just the sharing of energy and essence. The personal intimacy of our relationship is woven into the very fabric of the universe. If we will just listen, our very souls cry out, “I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine.”
That is the highest truth. That is the greatest revelation and personal achievement: an awareness of the Lover and being the Beloved.
At the end of our days, when our spirits unwind from our failing bodies, we will not just be reabsorbed back into the energy of the universe, or even rejoin the “higher mind”. No such impassive future awaits us. But we will be reunited with the One who loves us with an everlasting love; “I and Thou”, distinct and separate, but in an inseparable union. “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither things present nor things to come, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
And what greater existence could there be? What higher truth could we want than that?