“Where is God?” is one of the most consequential questions of our times. Some stubbornly maintain that a distant God sits on his heavenly throne watching all these things, acting as either a divine puppet master or a stern judge of human affairs, ready at a moment’s notice to throw more thunderbolts or toss the whole human race into an eternal lake of fire. But this is a vision of God whose time may be up, for such a divinity looks either increasingly absurd or suspiciously like a monster. And people know that, for a substantial number of them now say the “God is not,” thus eliminating a divine throne-sitter completely and leaving responsibility for the global mess squarely on human shoulders. Humanism, agnosticism, atheism, and posttheism are all on the rise-perfectly logical choices with which thoughtful people should at least sympathize.
Yet while some have concluded that it is indeed the case that we humans are alone, others have looked at these same events and suggested a much different spiritual possibility: God is with us. It is a wildly improbable turn of theological events to claim that God is with victims of war, terrorism, or natural disaster, with the valorous who run toward burning buildings or navigate flooding streets, and with those who mourn and doubt and even despair. As Bonhoeffer said, “Only a suffering God can help.” God is with us in and through all these terrible events.
Conventional theism is at the heart of fundamentalism and depends on the three-tiered universe. But we now live in a theologically flattened world-we have discovered that we are fully capable of creating the terrors of hell right here and no longer need a lake of fire to prove the existence of evil-and we have found that the ranks of saints and angels seem to have thinned and that no deity will be sending miracles to fix the mess we are in.
Is there another option between fundamentalism and a deceased God? I think so. If hell has moved in next door to us, perhaps heaven has as well. Bonhoeffer and Wiesel, who saw so clearly what was happening, asked the right question long ago: “Where is God?” That question-and how it is being answered-points toward a surprising spiritual revolution.
Not so long ago, believers confidently asserted that God inhabited heaven, a distant place of eternal reward for the faithful. We occupied a three-tiered universe, with heaven above, where God lived; the world below, where we lived; and the underworld, where we feared we might go after death. The church mediated the space between heaven and earth, acting as a kind of holy elevator, wherein God sent down divine directions and, if we obeyed the directives, we would go up-eventually –to live in heaven forever and avoid the terrors below. Stories and sermons taught us that God occupied the high places, looking over the world and caring for it from afar, occasionally interrupting the course of human affairs with some miraculous reminder of divine power. Those same tales emphasized the gap between worldly places and the holy mountains, between the creation and an Almighty Creator. Religious authorities mediated the gap, explaining right doctrine and holy living. If you wanted to live with God forever in heaven, then you listened to them, believed and obeyed.
During the last century, the three-tiered universe and its orderly certainty crumbled. The Great War caused it philosophical and political foundation to wobble, and the whole thing collapsed after the even greater was, World War II, when the Nazis and the Holocaust and the bomb shattered history. God, like the monks from Mount Calvary chased by the roaring inferno, fled down the mountain seeking shelter in the midst of the city.
from Grounded by Diana Butler Bass – HarperOne