Monday, October 11, 2004

From a Distance Comments

From a Distance comments

Mike (ok, FrostyPastor), you commented,
"I remember the first time I heard this song. When it got really popular I had someone ask me about having it sung by someone in church. I declined - as much as most everyone seemed to like it, I reject the "theology" of the lyrics:

God is not watching us "from a distance" but from an unbelievably intimate presence in and with us. He doesn't have to "back off" far enough so as not to see our differences and love us all together. He knows us each and all as we really are - and loves us "warts and all." The people who wanted it done in church couldn't get a handle on my argument - I guess it was over their heads, but I still decided against it being "church music."

What do you think?
Here's part of my email response and some additional thoughts:

Yes, I mostly agree; of course our God is immanent, and likely you know how I'm in total accord with Luther's theology of the ubiquity of the risen and ascended Christ. But just as much as we need to look to the manger and to the cross to *see* the fullness of God's power, sovereignty and glory, we also need to affirm His transcendence as the One whose presence in glory, sovereignty and power fills all of creation as well as the heavens and spreads out far beyond the finite limits of the humanly knowable cosmos.

I posted both "From a Distance" and "Save the Country" (styled "Glory River" in my title, since Glory River so fittingly describes the waters of baptism) in response to the current war (no surprise...well...duh?). And I absolutely agree the theology is far too complex to visit it upon that prototypical parishioner, so further to answer "What do you think," because of your pointing out some people "couldn't get a handle" on your theological argument and my observation about "complex"—or maybe "complicated" would be more accurate—theology, I'd definitely not program "From a Distance" for worship or at any other church-related event, either. A whole lot of what I call pre-catechism folks are hangin' out there in the world and hangin' out here in church, too, and I need to rejoice in the fact they acknowledge God, talk about God's acting in their lives and want to know God better and trust God more, while saving the fancy God-talk for people who can do it. That's a perspective I'm slowly learning. Really!

Then again from FrostyPastor:

Leah,
No question.
I had a great class session with a Thursday morning study group yesterday over issues of doubt and faith and knowing and believing and mystery and transcendence. Even as I experience God's immanent presence I have to realize that this One is far more than I can ever hope to explain or understand. … A point I really liked was "we have to set aside what we believe we know about God to open ourselves to what God really is." Something like not trying to restrict God to the box we have used to define God. J. B. Phillips — Your God is Too Small: A Guide for Believers and Skeptics Alike.
More of my observations:

Yes, Martin Luther talked about the *domesticated God*—a God at humanity's beck and call, actually a God very much like those others gods of the Ancient Near East, the ones in competition (not!) with Yahweh, those pathetic, petty twerp-tyrant gods who demanded and required tribute, propitiation and even human sacrifice but still remained far-off, at "a distance." And sad to say, though while trekking through the Exodus desert Israel learned to live in covenant with the free and elusive God Who cannot and refuses to be contained; just like us they wanted a tame domesticated God rather than the wild, completely untamable and totally undomesticated God of their Exodus into freedom, and that old, old story of that oh, so very human desire played out in their begging for, building and finally in the fall of the Jerusalem Temple. The God of the Bible chooses not a temple made of brick or stone, but in mercy and love elects us as living temples. And for all concerned parties, that's scary and risky.

"Your (our?) God is too small?" Luther spoke about the God Who became small for us in Christ—small enough to die: for us! But that's not the*smallness* we humans often crave; rather we're looking for a littleness we can manipulate and control, we tend to look for maneuverability and manageability rather than the very opposite. Evidently we don't want or expect surprises, despite our histories with the God of the prophets, the God of Jesus the Christ?! "God is watching us from a distance?" Yes, watching us and caring for us from a distance, while just as much God remains with us and shepherds us closely and nearby. Humans might be ok with a far-off god or a nearby god, but One Who is both at the same time and Who has other attributes humanity only can remotely imagine, is far too much for comfort, though more than plenty enough for everlasting sanctuary.

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