I recently tried an experiment. I asked everyone at church to point in the direction of God. Some people pointed upwards. Others pointed at their chests. Still others waved their arms in all directions like drunken airport ground controllers.
In a world broken by war and natural disaster; in a church beset by challenges; in lives defined by constant ups and downs; there can be no more important question. We need God more than ever. So where can we find him?
Over the course of this blog series, I’m going to offer three possible answers. In each case, in my illustrations God will be represented by… chocolate. For anyone concerned as to the appropriateness of this imagery, I refer you to Psalm 34:8. It’ll also be helpful to consider three different locations: The Church, The God People, and The Other. I’ll elaborate on these further in due course.
So, where is God? The first answer can be understood by imagining a large box of chocolates sat inside The Church. Each Sunday morning, The God People file into The Church and take a handful of chocolates from the box and begin tucking in. When the service ends, they usually have some left over they can take back into the week. The really good God People even have some spare chocolates they’re able to throw in the direction of The Other – everyone else who for whatever reason isn’t one of The God People.
This is the thinking that says that God is to be found in The Church. It’s a line of thinking with an evolution we can trace back to ancient times. It began with thinking that God is upwards in the heavens. When all that is good in your world – the sun and the rain that cause your crops to grow – seems to come from above, this makes sense.
This in turn must mean the higher you get, the closer you get to God. The highest possible places are mountaintops, so these are the holiest of places where the divine is encountered. We see this at various points of the Old Testament: think for example Moses climbing Mount Sinai to receive the Law.
In time, God’s people build a temple as the place of worship, the place on earth where God’s presence could be encountered in the greatest measure. They built it on a high point of the city of Jerusalem, and when King Solomon dedicated the temple the glory of God filled it. The geography of God may have changed slightly, but seeking God remained mainly a geographical question.
In the church we often still refer to passages like Solomon’s dedication of the temple as inspiration for our times of meeting. We gather together to seek God’s presence, particularly through times of worship, prayer and silent reflection. We strive to create times when we see ‘heaven touching earth’. We come back week after week with a yearning to ‘get some God’.
Our times of meeting give us the strength, inspiration, and encouragement which – like the chocolates – we can then take with us into the rest of the week. As we strive to run the race as the apostle Paul urges us to, The Church is the place we find God and get the pit stop we need. It is also the way in which we are then able to bless The Other. Like Moses with his radiant face when he came down from Mount Sinai, the glory of God that has rubbed off on us can’t help but rub off on those around us.
God is found in The Church. It’s the truth. But is it the whole truth? In Part 2 I will explore an alternative perspective.