I bike the same roads nearly every day, but I am always fascinated by how different each ride can be. Some days it is easy, other days it is hard; usually that has to do with how well I slept the night before! Some days I am floored by how courteous the drivers are and others, well, you can guess where I am going with that! Interestingly, each time I ride I tend to notice one thing new, something I had not seen before or a realization of something that I had never thought of; sometimes I even get that thought that seems to bring understanding to things that I have been struggling with.
For me, this tends to be true of being active. Many years ago when I was swimming every day, the guy who I always ended up sharing my lane with would often comment: “so you were working on your sermon again?” He told me he could tell by the way I was swimming that my mind was elsewhere. And we would laugh, and I would let him know that when I am moving, thoughts seem to come to me. He said, “that makes sense; when you exercise you are keeping all of the things that distract you busy so your mind can relax and work.” I later found out he was a psychiatrist!
I cannot tell you the number of times people have come to me asking for help clarifying who God is. My comment back is usually a pastoralized version of, if you’re searching for God, you’re never going to find him. I know it sounds like dating advice. But think about it, outside of “spiritual conferences” and things like that, when we try and go out of our way to find God, we often get frustrated because the signs we are looking for often are not there. Even at the Spiritual Conference, the “awakening” that happens over time often becomes fleeting.
A friend of mine once called these conferences “the Christian version of Drugs” they give you a high, so high you pursue it over and over, often not achieving that high again. Granted, there was not negativity or moral disapproval to that analogy, but there was the danger that when we pursue God, often the God we are chasing is the God we like, not necessarily the God we do not. Therein lies the problem. God is bigger than anything, and often when we look for God in myopic ways or in ways which are comfortable for only ourselves, we are blinded from seeing God because mostly we are seeing ourselves.
The Bible is very interesting when it comes to God. And when we read the Bible, we tend to pick up on God based on our own constructs. If you want to refute God, you could read into him that he is a mean, even evil, being out for vengeance. You could also equally read the Pollyannaish version that God is Love. Both versions do not hold up to either the biblical witness or the contemporary witness of God. God may show us love, but God is much more than just love. God can be vengeful, but often that is because of things we have done to ourselves.
The thing is that anytime we try and categorize or limit God into something that works for us, often it gets harder to see God. I know that is hard to believe, but think of it like a lost set of keys. When you are searching for them, the more intensely you search, often the harder they are to find. This is often why when people come to me seeking God I often recommend to stop seeking and let yourself just be one with the world around you.
It reminds me of when I went to seminary. After the first semester there were a handful of students who dropped out; by the end of the first year, my class dropped almost in half. When I inquired to my adviser why that happened his response was, “no one ever found God in seminary!”
The thing is, is that God is all around us and ever-present through the Holy Spirit. If we are seeking, we are often working too hard and need to take a step back so that we can see things a bit clearer. We need to occupy ourselves in different ways in order to witness and open our hearts to new realities and understandings.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen