July 13, 2020

Another Look: The Life God Is In

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Note from CM: Today, I was at a place I hadn’t expected to be, in a situation I hadn’t anticipated and would not have sought for myself or anyone else. After my time there was over, I took a walk to clear my head, and some words came to my mind.

I’m not a big one for slogans but a few years ago I came to appreciate a phrase that, for me, effectively counters the triumphalist, prosperity teaching that pervades so much religious teaching today. I wrote the following post about it several years ago.

• • •

“…he is not far from any one of us.” 

(Acts 17.27, NLT)

As I have talked with friends throughout this year, I’ve noted that we’ve been using a phrase regularly: “This is the life God is in.” OK, it could be better grammatically, but it’s punchy and makes a clear point.

So many of us think our life and circumstances must change in order for God to inhabit them. We think we must purge out all sin to make a place for God to dwell in our midst. And we certainly can’t imagine God being there when we have to deal with people who deny him, habitually act in ways that transgress his laws, and generally make a mess of their lives.

Or when we make a mess of our lives. Especially then.

A friend recently told me he had been struggling with what was truly happening when he was having a rough time of things. Somehow, he could not get past interpreting trials and difficulties in terms of something being wrong in his life, causing God to turn his back on him. That led my friend to think he must do something to work himself out of the mess into which he had gotten himself so that God and his blessing would return to his life. Thankfully, he said he was beginning to realize that God might actually be present, right there in the middle of the mess and the pain, and that his calling is to trust in the God who is there rather than to do cartwheels to attract God back to him.

God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.

• Ps 46.1, NRSV

This is the life God is in. There is no other.

Christians have a real advantage here — or we should. We confess a Savior who became incarnate, took on our flesh and blood, and walked among us. Born in humble circumstances to an unwed mother, persecuted by the powerful and forced to flee from his land, his family returned and settled in a place not known for its piety. He received his certification for ministry at the hands of a kooky prophet standing in the middle of the Jordan River, and began calling ordinary working-class people to travel with him as disciples. He made a special effort to go to the sick, the demon-possessed, the poor, and those with tarnished moral and religious reputations. He was mocked as a “friend of sinners.” When he did get opportunities to dine with the elite, he usually offended them and got in trouble because he pulled back the curtain on the messes in their lives and exposed them for being sinners just like everyone else. He just couldn’t get away from the mess. He spent nearly all his time smack dab in the midst of it.

That is Jesus — the God/Man in the midst of sinners.

He has always been in the midst of sinners. He remains in the midst of sinners. If he is present in this world, where else would he be?

So, maybe you are beset by problems and troubles right now. God has not abandoned you. He is there. This is the life he is in.

Perhaps you are having conflicts in your marriage that seem unresolvable, or children who are breaking your heart. You don’t need to straighten it all out first in order to find God. He’s right there, available to you in the midst of it all.

You don’t need to create a spotless space for Jesus to inhabit. You don’t need to dust and sweep the room before he will walk through the door. He’s not put out because you’re so angry you can’t think straight. He won’t slam down the phone if you yell and scream and curse. He’s not waiting for you to make your heart pure, to stop worrying, or to start jumping through the right religious hoops.

Jesus is there — in the midst of your messy, sinful, out of control life. This is the life he’s in. You don’t have to leave that life to find him. You don’t have clean it up or dress it up for him to be attracted to you.

The ultimate evidence of this is the Cross. Luther called Jesus, “The Crucified God.” There he hung, between two guilty, convicted thieves, in the midst of all the ugliness, corruption, injustice, and hatred the world, flesh, and devil could muster. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” was what he said.

This is the life God is in. Right here, in the midst of the mess, and right now, at what may seem like the most hopeless moment, you can be sure he is here, for “he is not far from any one of us.”

Comments

  1. But it feels like he’s very far away.

    clouds start to recede
    stars appear in their places —
    but where is the moon?

  2. Thank you for this post – it is beautiful.

  3. ” . . . right now, at what may seem like the most hopeless moment ”

    ” . . . Behold I see four men loose, and walking in the midst of the fire, and there is no hurt in them, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.” (from Daniel 3:25)

  4. One of the hardest things for me to understand, is that God accepts me as I am today. He’s not waiting for me to become a better me. He has equipped me for today. I just have to let go and let him use me.

  5. Gospel.

  6. If there was ever a thing, person, or institution that reinforced my insecure idea that I am not worthy, it is the church.

    My weak mind, my untrue heart, my besotted life, this is me. And Jesus is there!

    This IS Good News!

  7. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    “God lives in the real world.”
    — Rich Buhler

  8. Blessings

  9. –> “Jesus is there — in the midst of your messy, sinful, out of control life. This is the life he’s in. You don’t have to leave that life to find him. You don’t have clean it up or dress it up for him to be attracted to you.”

    All of your post is good, CM, but I really like that bit.

  10. And guess what? He’s not mad at, or exasperated at, or disappointed with you for “blowing it” either. He also didn’t kill Jesus as an anger-management exercise so that He wouldn’t rip you apart.

    Even though His caresses may at times seem like punches, the only way to avoid them is to push Him away.

    • –> “He also didn’t kill Jesus as an anger-management exercise so that He wouldn’t rip you apart.”

      Nicely said! My analogy is: who, if they’re truly loving and merciful, goes and kicks the dog because the kids are misbehaving?! “Well, SOMEBODY has to pay the price!”

      Um…no.

  11. David Cornwell says

    “This is the life God is in. Right here, in the midst of the mess, and right now, at what may seem like the most hopeless moment, you can be sure he is here, for “he is not far from any one of us.”

    Sometimes recently I get discouraged, very tired, lack sleep, depressed, and wonder how I’m to cope. I argue with God. Say things I should not sometimes. I can’t pray in ways that seem proper and right. I’d rather escape into fiction than read scripture. I can’t make it to church often.

    It’s not always like this. Because suddenly there is a word of encouragement. Something works right. My wife tells me she loves me and thanks me for the care I give her. One of my grandchildren calls. A new great granddaughter comes to visit and I hold her in my arms. And little older great grandson stares at me, and wonders who I am. My daughter brings some food that’s prepared and frozen and will last a few meals. I take the dog out at midnight and hear the loud chirping of frogs, the hoots of an owl, and the howls of coyote.

    So one way or the other, I take courage, and know that God is right here in the mess.

    • >> Say things I should not sometimes.

      According to who? Certainly not according to God. David, I’m so sorry you’re having such a hard time, but please don’t add to it by beating yourself up. I would think the only thing God would like from you is honesty, and if that involves some yelling and screaming I would expect God to say go for it. Take a break from proper. I expect Jesus felt like punching a pillow from time to time, and he did at least try to take breaks. God bless you, I hope you can find some peace from your situation and from yourself. Treat yourself like a neighbor needing some tender loving care..

  12. Nice.

  13. Perhaps this a minor point, but Mary was not an unwed mother. She was betrothed to Joseph, married but not yet living together. He did not leave her high and dry, but was her spouse, protected her and Jesus, and was His father.

  14. “He has always been in the midst of sinners.”