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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

postheadericon A Theology of Active Presence

In the book, Rural Ministry: The Shape of the Renewal to Come, the authors seek to develop a theology of rural life. Part of their theology focuses on God as actively present in rural life. They write, "At their best, rural Christians have had a deep certainty that God is present and active in the world" (133).
This, of course, leads to the question of how do rural Christians see God as present and active in their lives? Perhaps it is easiest to reflect here on God as Creator, as the One who creates and sustains life through the creation. God is present and active in the land, the sky, the clouds, the sun, the wind, the warmth, and the cold. God is present in the growing crops and the livestock. God is present in the harvest as we celebrate the gifts that come from the land. The praise psalms such as Psalm 147 and 148 give voice to praise of God in God's creation.
Additionally, God as Redeemer can be seen as the restorer of relationships, restorer of what has been broken; the One who brings beauty again out of what has been made ugly, and the One who brings fullness out of what had been barren. We may think here of God at work in the patient attending to the well being of the land through planting of crops not for production but for the healing of the land. We may think here of the important work of crop rotation and of farming in ways that resist erosion and the depletion of the soil.
Finally, God as Sanctifier may be seen in the enlivening power that sustains us through the hardships and toil of life. God here is the quiet strength of love over fear and hatred, the ongoing mystery of the victory of life over death. We are empowered to live faithfully to God's call in all areas of our lives through the power of God's Spirit in our lives.
In all of these ways, and more, God is present and active in our lives. Perhaps a daily practice for each of us is to seek to be open to this active presence of God in our lives.


Sam Porter said...

Thanks for your post. Here's a a few quick and dirty, incoherent reflections in response:

1) If God is in these natural processes in the positive ways you cite, then is God not also in the floods wrecking havoc now in Thailand and the earthquake in Turkey and in the shrinking ice caps on the north and south poles and other apparent consequences of human-caused global warming? The floods & shrinking polar ice caps may be forms of divine judgment in response to our unwillingness to accept limits with regard to greenhouse gases - and the consumerist and materlialist way of life that produces such gases. If God is in these natural processes with their horrific and destructive consequences - and with the potential extinction of human beings in the long if not the short term - what does that say theologically? Yesterday, a two-week old baby was, seemingly miraculously, rescued from the rubble of Turkey's earthquake. But what of those who died? Do we praise God for the rescue and curse God for those who were not? I find such questions perplexing and humbling. Sometimes God appears to be clearly actively present; and in other cases God's apparently passive absence evokes a kind of silence in the face of mystery.

2) As James Gustafson says, God sustains us but God also bears down and limits us as well. The problem is that often human beings don't accept limits. Interestingly enough, as I recall, Jonathan Edwards defined sin as the unwillingness to accept limits. Are the Texas dust storms a result of the unwillingness?

Pete Gathje said...

Hi Sam, At long last getting back to you in response to your thoughtful post. In some ways you are asking about the problem of evil: how can there be evil in the world if God is all good and all powerful? Is God also the source of that evil? I'm thinking God is present but always as the force for life and well being. I'm not a fan of the insurance industry's phrase, "an act of God" to describe disasters. I can accept that there are consequences built into God's creation for the violation of that creation. So, yes, there is something of God's judgment in any "natural" disaster that is in fact caused by human ecological irresponsibility. I think within Christianity at least there a clear recognition as God on the side of the forces of life and opposed to the forces of death. Human sin (not as mere individual failure but also as the organized evil we can create through institutional powers) disrupts God's creation. The Genesis story tries to address the mystery of evil as bound up with both human choice and some proclivity human choice can cooperate with that leads to evil. I think God is present wherever as humans we join together to respond with compassion to those victimized by disaster, and to respond with actions for justice to prevent such disasters in the future. And much of that prevention is to recognize our limits as human beings and live within those limits. Human modesty or humility is needed.