I happened to be in the local Christian bookstore shopping for a CD this morning when I stumbled onto a conversation. An adult woman, I would guess in her late forties or early fifties, was having a conversation with one of the employees at the store and I heard her say something like, “Yes, I used to think like that too, but now I see things much more clearly since I…well, it’s just much nicer being where I am now, seeing how wrong I was and now knowing that I am right.” My sense was that the turing point that she couldn’t quite describe was some sort of a conversion experience, and judging by the books she was carrying and her overall smug presentation it was pretty safe to guess that she had made a shift to the right in her spirituality. Let me say that there’s nothing wrong with being a conservative Christian or even a fundamentalist. Plenty of good people have been fundamentalists, and they have contributed admirably to society while living good and holy lives. Of course, in my opinion you could substitute an infinite number of other spiritual perspectives for “fundamentalists” in the above sentence and still have a true statement. I want to take care in not appearing to be bashing conservatives in general and fundamentalists in particular, for while I don’t share all of their perspectives I am connected to all people of good will. Where I part company with such folk is when they knock at my door and ask me where I’ll go if I die tonight. I have, on occasion, been tempted to suggest to such intruders that if they don’t leave me alone I will help them find the answer to that question for themselves!
I believe this woman in the bookstore reflected a basic, very human reason that many people are attracted to conservative expressions of Christianity. The reason is that they crave certainty. Certainty can bring a fair amount of stability to a rather volatile world, and in times of stress like our current economic crisis it’s only natural to look for some certainty to grab hold of with all our might. It’s all very human, it’s all very natural, but when it comes to God, it’s the wrong place to look. I believe that God dwells in all places at all times, but that the place where God is most easily discerned is, perhaps counter intuitively, in uncertainty.
The problem with certainty is that it limits our field of experience. If we know that God is present in ABC, it becomes pretty easy to decide God is not present in XYZ or in the people that dwell there – except, of course, that an infinite God has to be everywhere, including in XYZ and the people who dwell there. Perhaps more importantly, if I decide that God dwells in ABC and become accustomed to looking for God only there, what happens when circumstances change and I can’t get to ABC anymore, or they build a new freeway right through the middle of ABC? What happens is that I am cast adrift and can’t find God at the very time I need God most. In our current context, ABC could be prosperity, my church, my job, my suburban existence, my home with my 2.5 children and a dog, or the gated community in which I lived until they forclosed on my zero down mortgage.
It would be better for all of us, regardless of our particular religious perspective, to begin looking for God in the least likely places. We should strive to find God in all places, and in all people, and in all circumstances. That will assure that we never find ourselves unable to locate God. The challenge will doubtless be that we will learn that God dwells as much, if not more, in the people and circumstances that we struggle to tolerate. It is in those places and at those times that true spiritual growth begins.
It may not be very sexy to admit that there are times when you aren’t sure where to find God, but it sure is a lot more honest. Honesty – with ourselves, with others, and yes, with God – is a pretty good place to start a journey of spiritual discovery.