Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Absence of God

I took some much needed respite this weekend from my ordinary life. I set out with some lofty goals of figuring out why I've been so troubled by my job lately and what all this theology/discernment means for me. Though I won't claim to have caught sight of any burning bushes, I was confronted with some real truth.

This weekend I heard a lot about the theological/conceptual idea of the death of God. I haven't read much about this, although I have followed some of the debate over time. Still, this concept of the absence of God sparked something in me that I can't fully articulate. (Although apparently here I am, trying).

Peter Rollins talks a lot about doubt - and the almost sacred nature of doubt. When Peter talked about the crucifixion as an experience of Jesus being abandoned by God, it shook me up. And it resonated somewhere deep within me.

I have struggled in the past months with my own past, and that part of my past I have kept hidden - from God, from others. I have struggled with the abuse I see on a daily basis with the kids I work with. By and large, I have kept my sadness and anger at their situations hidden - from God, from others. I have struggled to remain silent and objective lately in the face of the suffering of these kids. It bothers me. And I can't seem to get control of myself and my feelings. I vacillate from being mad as hell and crying out for some mercy. It is a strange out of control kind of space, and I'm not particularly comfortable occupying it.

The idea of the absence of God is a terrifying thing for me. Peter Rollins is right when he says for some of us belief is easy, but doubt is terribly hard. Suddenly, sitting there listening to the concept that God could or would abandon Jesus/me/anyone else struck me with some force. This, of course, is what I have believed for some time. But, I don't say that out loud to anyone, not even to myself. After all I'm a believer, and have been my whole life. What would it sound like/look like/feel like to admit that I have felt, in the moments I needed God most, that I was left behind by God. That He turned and walked away from me without so much as a backward glance.

And therein the connection to what has made working in juvenile court so hard for me lately. Part of me believes God has also abandoned the kids I work with. Why else or how else would these things happen to them? And so my wound, the wound I've carried all these years becomes more painful, like someone is picking at a scab on my soul.

Now if I were feeling particularly evangelical today I would write that obviously Jesus is and was with me in the most painful moments of my life. Unfortunately I can't say that I believe that. Not today, and if I am to be painfully honest, I have never believed that. Not really. Not completely.

Part of me is bothered by this revelation and part of me feels startlingly free to write the words. As I chatted with God on my drive home today, I explained my anger, my sadness in the best way I knew. Haltingly, but finally truthfully. I asked God in some sort of strange, Jacob-like wrestling match to give me faith. I want to be convinced that God never abandons us - his/her beloved. I want to understand a God of compassion above all else. Or as John Caputo would say hope against hope that such a God is possible even if the face of the impossibility of faith. It is only in the absence of faith that authentic faith is realized fully.

The irony I suppose is that the presence of God is only truly known after the absence of God is truly felt. I cannot have one without the other. I have lived for a very long time with the absence of God as a reality. I have refused to admit it, but I have lived it. It has been somewhat of a schizophrenic life really. To on one hand see and believe in the grace and love of God in my life and those around me, and on the other hand feel as if God could not permeate the worst part of my life and the worst parts of the lives of others. I cannot help but feel hopeful in this moment. My doubts are opening up my heart again, anew to the possibility of the divine. The hope of it all is enough for today. A new day.

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