You are hereMy Elusive God: Thoughts on Doubt, Faith and Espresso

My Elusive God: Thoughts on Doubt, Faith and Espresso

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By Virgil - Posted on 20 February 2012

by Virgil Vaduva

"If I am capable of grasping God objectively, I do not believe, but precisely because I cannot do this I must believe" - Søren Kierkegaard

A few days ago I was thinking about a world or time where all human beings would be certain about God, about knowledge of Him. Where we could call upon Him any time we wanted to, or perhaps go to a place where we could see Him whenever we needed to, or maybe turn to a TV channel that would somehow broadcast live images of God as evidence that He is always there for us to experience with our senses as needed. And then it occurred to me that this world would not be the place I would want to be.

There was this drink on the menu of a coffee shop I visited recently, called Americano. It sounded interesting, in a made-up sort of way, so I asked about it. It's just an espresso, but they add hot water to it. The barista said that it's for Americans that can't handle the bitterness of the European espresso so they dilute it with water. I laughed at the silly notion of diluting something as good as an espresso – the barista didn't find my humor appealing; he was an American. Maybe this is how God is for many of us (at least if we are honest about it): bitter, sometimes hard to swallow?

I never really thought of myself as one who lacked belief, but the truth is God has been elusive for me. I feel like He is either avoiding me or intentionally slipping away from me just when I think I got Him. Perhaps being inconsistent with hierophanies in my life is the reason for this. He's been inconsistent with me. And because of this perception, for a long time I've been creating this false dichotomy in my mind regarding doubt and belief. I guess we have been conditioned to think of doubt as the opposite of belief. And this is perhaps why this imaginary world of mine described above is so dangerous.

The problem with the concept of doubt starts with the definition. The word itself, doubt, is based in the Latin “dubito” and ultimately rooted in “duo,” meaning “two.” The German “zweifel” (doubt) is also rooted in “zwei” which also means “two.” The Greek “doiazo” (I doubt) communicates the same duality or uncertainty. Never does the word doubt communicate unbelief. Instead, the word "signifies primarily vacillation, perplexity, irresolution" as Eliade explains. It is a place of questioning, a willingness to acknowledge two sides, or two possibilities. So at its core, doubt appears to be not as much an expression of inadequacy as in fact it is an expression of humility.

Doubt as a philosophical methodology has been used even by Augustine. Si fallor, sum (If I doubt, I exist), said Augustine. The very act of thinking implies that doubt is inevitably connected to who we fundamentally are, connected with how and why we perceive God to be elusive, for example. To Søren Kierkegaard, faith unshaken by doubt is not authentic, rather just blind, automaton-like acknowledgment lacking intellectual and moral value. Kierkegaard saw faith as "the highest passion in a human being." And it is the vacillation that prompts passionate faith.

Many times I've tried to put myself in Abraham's shoes, wondering what I would do, how I would relate to God if I had the same encounters. I quickly realized that I would likely never do any of the things that God asked of Abraham. Attempt to kill my own son because a voice told me so? Please scratch that off the “Top Ten Ways to Prove Your Faith” list. But then something interesting occurred to me regarding Abraham. Abraham never really pursued God; it was God who approached Abraham as a result of who he was as a person, as a human being. It was a hierophany, a revealing of the sacred to a world that did not know it. This has always been the Biblical meta-narrative: in a primeval, profane world which lacks purpose, shape, light and life, an idealized model is offered by the Creator, a model that points to a sacred, perfect, purposeful living. The prototypical Adam, Abraham, David, Jesus, all surreptitiously subverting unbelief; they are offering us a model and a hope for something better. And all are seemingly using doubt as the narrative's vehicle to an encounter with the sacred; not just for themselves, but also for us, the outsiders and observers of the story.

It was their doubts, failures or even fears that propelled these faith models closer to God. Adam's fall leading him out into an unknown and dangerous world, Abraham's wife-swapping tales with Pharaoh and Abimelech, David murdering a man in order to steal his wife, Jesus asking that the cup be taken away from him. The tension created by these stories is inspiring and gives us a better understanding of faith as a journey, giving us motivation to try to understand, explore, pursue when possible, withdraw when doubting.

The story has never been about me having the right amount of faith, or the intellectual, objective understanding of God in order that I will go to a special place when I die; rather the story has always been about encountering an elusive God that more than often leaves me wanting more, asking more questions than offering answers, doubting not in order that I reject the encounter, but doubting so that another encounter is hoped for. For me, it has been this perception of God that has prompted me to explore how to become the kind of man that would perhaps motivate God to approach me, as he approached Abraham.

It is this very elusive nature of God that prompts doubt, and it is doubt that makes us talk to each other about God, write about Him, ask questions, discuss issues and seek out a better understanding of our lives and existence. Faith and doubt are inextricably linked; they cannot be set apart and they cannot exist without each other.

I would suggest that ultimately this story of my humanity is not really about quantitative faith, but rather qualitative doubt. I cannot imagine God would consider my desire to irresolutely understand Him to be offensive as modernists would claim, just as I cannot imagine that a finite human being can objectively grasp God in order to fully understand and explain Him. My wish is to want to know God just enough so I desire to learn more about Him; I want to understand Him just enough to ask more questions, to doubt and hope to be approached and experience that sacred Abrahamic encounter.

For me, God has always been elusive. From early on in life, when I remember trying to think of God and understand Him, I've tasted His elusiveness. It's bitter. It's sweet. Like an espresso. It makes you start asking questions about the type of roast, the beans, pondering how much sugar to add or leave out. It makes you want to try more, ask for a different roast, or maybe a double. And there are moments, real life moments, where you are tempted to add some hot water, make it an Americano so you can swallow it more easily. And if you are honest to yourself, to who you are, and to your faith, you would recognize that there are many Americano moments out there. And the barista without hesitation, will serve them to you, because that is what you are looking for, that is what you have been conditioned to do: pursue a life without doubt, when instead you should be looking for the sacred encounters with the people you pass on the street every day, and with the ever elusive, perplexing but consistently sacred God.

alberto's picture

Paul prayed for the saints at Ephesus in two places in his epistle. In the first chapter he prayed that God would give them "the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge (gnosis) of him, the eyes of your understanding being enlightened". It doesn't say the Paul prayed that they would have knowledge ABOUT Him, but knowledge OF Him.

Paul's second prayer was that they would comprehend, along with all the other saints, how broad and how long and how deep and how high was the love of Christ, which passes knowledge, that they might be filled with all the fulness of God.

Peter said that we have been given all things that pertain to life and godliness according to the knowledge (epignosis -- full knowledge) of Him.

It seems to me that personal, experiential knowledge of God is, or should be, the fervent desire of every Christian. Else, why was Paul inspired to pray this way? And, if God inspired Paul to pray this way, is not the same God willing to answer those prayers?

In 22 years of church attendance, I have never heard a pastor or anybody else pray like Paul prayed in Ephesians chapters 1 and 3. This might explain why so few ever experience the Lord's indwelling presence.

For me, the greatest blessing of the preterist understanding is that it takes the focus off of an imaginary future riding-a-white-horse-coming-on-a-cumulus cloud-presence of Jesus, and puts it on where He is NOW -- living in the believer. (Col. 1:27)

I ask futurists sometimes, "Which Jesus do you love more, the one that Paul said is dwelling in you, or the one that you are scanning the skies for?"

"Well", they answer, "its the same one".

"Very well. Then get to KNOW the One you have now!"

albert burke

EWMI's picture

Hello Alberto - well you have not attended the church I pastor - we pray Paul's prayers for ourselves and our friends assiduously - and I teach it a great deal. So I really enjoyed your comments. Blessings From Australia

plymouthrock's picture

God exists in us as our own wonderful human imagination - that is God! "God" will continue to elude us until we
realize this. Christ in Scripture is the personification of the human imagination.

plymouthrock!

Virgil's picture

Not bad. I'll ponder that over my next espresso... :)

plymouthrock's picture

"The mystery hid from the ages" is that "Christ in us" is our very own wonderful human Imagination. "Let us make man in our own image." It (the Imagination) in Man is either sleep or awake: "Awake O Sleeper, and rise from the dead and Christ shall give thee light." Relative to that status, man either lives in a heaven or hell of his own making: "If I ascend to heaven thou art there! If I make my bed in Sheol, thou art there!"

"Little children, be ye imitators of God." The word imitate is from the root word image. Man can only image or conceive of God through one faculty alone - the Imagination. And the Imagination is the truly the object of all men's desire and brings light to the "countenance" when it is viewed as "the Pearl of Great Price, the Way the Truth and the Life, the Kinsman Redeemer, the Strait Way, etc. But, unfortunately, depending upon our understanding and our treatment of It, we either "crucify" or "sing Hosanna" to "Him who is able to do exceedingly above all that we could ask or think," - which is truly Christ within ourselves, "the Light which Lighteth every Man that cometh into the world."

It is important for all to come to this realization because it locates where God Is within the individual most immediately. If God, or Christ is in me, I would want to know where He was and what He was doing in me, so to speak. Thus, we see that on a practical level, the Kingdom of Heaven is, as it relates to man, his own wonderful imagination: "the Kingdom of Heaven is within you" and "also he put eternity in man's mind" (Ecc. 3:11 RSV). Through It, Man may conceive and manifest any Ideal and may view the world in any manner he sees fit. In this way God does not elude us: He "never leaves nor forsakes" us, being with us "to the end of the age" and with us in all and in any other ages to come - the "I AM" "the Image of God" - He who was, and is, and is to come." The human imagination is our "heritage in the Lord, the "inheritance in the Saints", Immanuel, God with Us.

"For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given: and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called "Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end." And of course this statement is relative to the individual, as we are all going from glory to glory up or down Jacob's Ladder. Jacob sleeping is sleeping man, and the heights Jacob dreamed of are "the heavens" "my Father's house" with many mansions (dimensions). When Jacob awoke, he says "surely God was in this place and I did not know it!"

Viewed in any other manner, man objectifies God and does not see Him face to face, "for when we shall see Him we shall be like Him." By objectifying God and not seeking the Kingdom of Heaven within himself first, man creates a shadow -the valley of the shadow of death - instead.

plymouthrock!

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