If you’re a Christian as I am, then you probably would acknowledge a belief in the pervasive and all-encompassing work of God. We would agree together that God is not passive but active, constantly moving and working in the world at all times. We say it, but do we really believe it? Or is it just a mantra we’ve picked up in evangelical circles?
I’m pretty sure that though we might assent to the idea that God is active, we are in reality practicing a kind of deism rather than true Christianity. Deism has many of the same components as orthodox Christianity: a belief in a supreme being, an obligation to worship and to live ethically, a need for repentance from sins, and the promise of divine rewards after death. The key difference is in the way the deist believes God relates to the world.
The deist’s understanding of the work of God has been classically likened to that of a clockmaker. God wound up the clock of the universe at the very beginning, and then took His hands off, letting things progress in their most natural way. The world now is running without the active involvement of God in world history until the time when the clock runs out and the world ends. In such a belief system, God’s relationship to the world is reduced to being the first cause only.
“Ridiculous!” we might say. We don’t believe such things . . . do we? Maybe not on paper. But I wonder if that religious system describes the way we function practically day in and day out, at least to an extent.
Think about it in terms of the way we pray.
One of the most common phrases that makes its way into our prayers is this: “Please be with so-and-so.” I’ve said it. You’ve probably said it too. I know what we mean when we say this. Our friend or relative or whoever is going through a difficult circumstance. Maybe it’s a life-threatening illness, or perhaps a particularly challenging set of final exams. Whatever the circumstances, we pray for that person during this time, and what we are really asking is for God to let them know that they are not alone. That He is with them. That He would comfort them in their anxiety, stress, or sadness.
That’s what we mean, but that’s not what we say.
We say, “Please be with them,” implying that He isn’t.
Where has God been? Was He on a break? Vacation? Preoccupied with other stuff? But now that there is some need, we need Him here. Now. Urgently.
It might sound like mere semantics, but words matter. They’re revelatory. Perhaps we’re not as confident in the active nature of God as we think we are.
The same applies to our daily schedules. Our everyday, run-of-the-mill, schedules. During the course of our ordinary days, when are we conscious of the presence of God? When we’re eating our cold cereal? Getting our coffee from the workroom at the office? Folding laundry? Disciplining the kids? Coaching baseball practice? When? If ever?
The point is that most of us operate, at least subconsciously, under the default assumption that God is not near to us. That He has to be invited into a situation. That He’s not active unless we ask Him to be.
That is simply not true.
The question isn’t whether or not God is actively with us; the question is just how aware we are of His presence.
We don’t need to pray that God would “be with” someone; He already is.
Michael Kelley, Boring: Finding an Extraordinary God in an Ordinary Life (Nashville: B&H, 2013).
I have just completed a series of lessons based on Michael Kelly’s book, Boring. They are available on Amazon in both print and Kindle versions, as well as part of my Good Questions Have Groups Talking Subscription service. For a medium-sized church, lesson subscriptions are only $10 per teacher per year. Lessons correspond with three of Lifeway’s outlines as well as the International Standard Series.