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by Cary Branscum

    Life continues on, even as we face national hardships and trying times. We are no strangers to struggle. Humans are created to survive and thrive. We are created to look beyond ourselves for deeper meaning. Even science has given our species a name full of potential and hope — anthropos, “the one who looks up.” Never has the phrase Single... Not Alone been more timely and significant.

    Certainly, we are not alone. We are blessed with national allies, close friends, and real loved ones who are deeply concerned about our current situation. Yet we seek more than the presence and support of other people; we yearn for a deeper sense of divine presence. Underneath this yearning, there is a very legitimate and crucial questions: “Where is God in all this?”

    To answer that question, we need to realize that there are at least four identifiable levels of “faith impact” as people struggle to find God in light of the current situation.

Level 1.
    Some feel very little faith impact. These folks show great love and compassion for those who suffer, but their faith in God remains strong. They find solid answers for themselves and others. Perhaps they can walk among their communities of faith and share their love and encouragment with those who can’t put it all together.

Level 2.
    Some feel their faith impacted, but not mortally. Many in the United States, and indeed throughout the world, face a daily struggle for survival even in the best of times. Their faith has been forged in the struggles of daily life. Folks in level 2 all ask the “why” questions without necessarily receiving firm answers. At the same time, they continue to receive comfort and encouragment from the Scriptures, prayer, and fellowship with other believers. They clearly see God’s Hand in the blessings that come from tragedy throughout human history. They see God’s Hand in the unity of our nation, in the many narrow escapes, and in the heroic, selfless rescue efforts that have meant so much to our national morale. They see God’s Hand in the partial failure of the terrorists plans. When asking “why,” they confidently point to the reality of evil, the power and freedom of human choice, our own limited abilities to ascertain all that God is doing, and the necessity of reliance on God. These folks will enfold the tragedies of our era into their faith journey. By God’s Love and Grace, they may perhaps be better for it, since God uses all things to work together for good, according to Romans 8:28, no matter how badly the evil one intended them only for evil and destructive purposes.

Level 3.
    Some find their faith marginalized, and find themselves unable to sustain the longings of head and heart. Their faith seemed adequate when culture kept America between the ditches. As America prospered with little hindrance, many put their faith in a “feel good” god, a god that blessed our pursuits with very few demands. God became a beautiful building to visit, a diety to placate before public sporting events, someone to think about at Christmas and Easter. God became a loving permissive grandfather in the clouds, with long white hair, a long white beard, and a long white robe. We knew god wasn’t really in the clouds, but somewhere up there, we don’t know where. But who cared? The “me-decade” of the 80s gave way to the “we-decade” of the 90s, and then we experienced this strange wonderful time of national technological “dot.com” prosperity. Wouldn’t God always bless America with more good stuff? God had already given us the four dollar lofat, decaf, acid-free, double latte cappucino extra hot, extra foam, and room for cream and sugar cup of coffee. God had already blessed us with the forty thousand dollar all leather. fully-loaded, mahogany dash, extra jump seat, sunroof, all-power SUV urban assault vehicle. God blessed our children with headphones, and techno-toys for both big and small boys, and games, and fun, and our own techno virtual reality. He blessed multimillion dollar homes with ethnic peasant furniture synthetically aged and worn, to simulate roots and a past for people who seemed to have neither. God let us reverse aging and cheat death through plastic surgery, exercise, creams, and magic emollients. We planned to live fast, grow old, look young, and get rid of all that old religious baggage our parents and grandparents needed for a tougher world. But what now? What do we do now? Is there a way home and can we find it now that the trappings we worshiped revealed that our god wasn’t God, but what we expected from him?

Level 4.
    These folks have lost almost all faith in any God who can make a difference. They’re spiritually tired, have run out of answers and hope. God seems absent, silent, and their prayers seem to fall on deaf ears. They seem to come to one or more of the following conclusions: 1) There is no God out there or anywhere; 2) There is a God, but not a God who loves us; 3) There is a God who loves us, but cannot stop tragedy and innocent suffering; 4) There is a God who loves us, who can stop tragedy and innocent suffering, but doesn’t seem to be doing anything that in any way gives strength and hope to our faith or interfere with our right to choose our own destiny.

    I write to the folks on leve 3 and 4. I love you and want to share a message of encouragment, solace, and hope. I will not give easy answers. I respect you too much to do that. I want you to know that I’ve spent some time in a similar place. It is my personal hope you will find something here useful for your faith journey.

Insight from Israel’s Exile

“In the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth day, while I was among the exiles by the Kebar River, the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God.” (Ezekiel 1:1)

    The children of Isreal were in exile; they were cut off from the familiar landmarks of home. Their old ways, their sense of direction, their very rhythm of life was disrupted. All of life was in disequilibrium.

Will we encounter God in fresh new ways?
    Today, many believers find themselves removed from their former life of faith by the events of the last two months and feel set down in a bewildering and unfamiliar spiritual place. For some, faith was weak to begin with. For others, the supports seem to have suddenly given way. The question for all who live in this place, “Like Ezekiel, will we encounter God in fresh new ways?” Or will we be stuck with “A Too Little God”?

    We are reminded that it really does matter how we think about and experience God. Our beliefs greatly determine our relationship with God, with others with whom we share planet earth! Please accept the follwoing three suggestions for finding faith in troubled times. I call them the “Three Lessons of Exile”.

  1. Realize that all beliefs and images of God are partial. Some are right, some are wrong, some more accurate than others, none are perfect. This is no one’s fault, it’s simply our finite human nature. God is Perfect. His Word is Perfect. Yet we are imperfect. God’s Nature, Reality, and Presence are greater than any image or belief you or I can have of God. We experience reality directly — we “learn” from our experiences by interpreting them in meaningful ways. We develop beliefs, perceptions, ideas, and responses to all the phenomena we experience. Many of these beliefs group together in systems. In order for our faith to live and grow, we must sometimes examine our personal belief systems. This can be traumatic. Some of our beliefs about God are wrong, inadequate, or too small. We can trust God and His Perfect Word, and nowhere are we given personal infallibility. We are human. We can change some of our beliefs and not give up on our faith! God is still good and faith is still good! Some of our beliefs will have to go. This is one lesson we learn in exile. Our old beliefs no longer speak to our new reality. When the boundaries and landmarks of home are gone, what are we to do?

  2. Jettison all the idols from our life because they cannot save you. When the Hebrews entered the land of Canaan, they prospered and followed the feel-good idols of Canaan. When they suffered hardship, they returned to their true God. The problem with the feel-good idols? They could not save! Only the True God saves! Idols of fame, money, and status are hollow. Materialism and sophistication all belong, at least temporarily, to a past era. We need to jettison an idol of a god who will always keep tragedy and suffering far from us, a god who jumps through our hoops, who blesses all we do, who answers us when we want, how we want, with the answer we want. This god is too small and cannot save.

    We need a God big enough to encircle the lives and hearts snuffed out by terrorist attacks. We need a God big enough to trust even in the naked face of innocent suffering. We need a God big enough to sustain us when through stock market crashes, endless floods of tears, and when civilization seems to teeter on the brink. We need a God big enough to encircle a physical universe ever expanding at the speed of light. We need a God big enough to encircle all human beings, of all races, all walks of life, all ages, within Mighty Arms of Love. We need a big enough God.

  3. Seek “encounter” in addition to “answers.” We all want answers for the jagged puzzle of life. As you seek answers, I want to encourage you to seek an encounter with One who is the Answer. If our interpretations and answers are inadequate, let’s go back to the level of experience. Martin Buber, the Jewish philosopher can help us here. In his little book “I and Thou”, Buber tells us we can experience other beings in one of two ways: either as object (an “it”), or as a “being to encounter”( a “thou” or “you”). We know God as an object of study, but have we encountered God? Is God an “it”, or a “thou”?

    Read the Scriptures with the new eyes of exile. Hear the words of God with the new ears of exile. Pray with the heart of aone in exile. The Bible is filled with wells of living water waiting to be discovered by us thirsty seekers. God is not only Spirit, but in him we “live, move, and have our being.” He is “not far from each one of us”. Take a fresh look at the many ways the “big enough God” is described in His Word. God is variously experienced as King, Lord, gardener, shepherd, potter, intimate father, eagle, lion, mother hen, fire, cloud, wind, rock, fortress, shield, and a still small voice. God is all around us, the Light that Breaks Through. This is the third lesson of the exile.

    I pray New Life for you. I pray for for renewal, fresh faith, fresh new hope. As A Too Little God goes aways, seek to encounter God.

      Title: ""
      Author: Cary Branscum
      Publication Date: October 25, 2001

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