Last night at a small group in our church we watched a youtube video featuring a youth minister in Germany interviewing several teens to twenties in a park. He asked them questions like, Do you believe in God? Why or Why not? What do you believe in? Do you go to Church? What do you think of Christians?
No one believed in God. One believed in Odin. Several were atheists or at least agnostics. One believed in science and most of them thought believing in God was too much of a stretch of logic. God did not make sense, Miracles cannot happen, they said. Yet when asked what the world needs most right now and if they had the power what would they do. They said things like peace and end all wars, justice for all, accepting others no matter how different they are.
I was struck by their reactions to the question of belief in God. Stone, cold stares with not even a flickering awareness of God's reality. That's it, God was not real to them, at all.
Some with their facial piercings, tattoos, and Gothic dress made clear that they thought there was nothing out there with them or for them. They were on their own in a pretty dark and cold world.
It's not just youth culture. I read in the NY Times a weekly piece that follows artists like poets, writers, tv producers, Broadway actors and playwrights and others as they go about their Sunday routine. I don't think I have ever read where one of them included church although a college basketball coach did once. Youth may be more verbal about their struggles to find truth than older adults who demonstrate their agnosticism by their lives. God is not a real thing for them. They have coping skills honed over the years to deal with the dark and cold world.
I thought of a section of Karl Barth's dogmatics where he discusses the hiddenness of God. He quotes many of the early church thinkers like Iranaeus, Anselm, Augustine, and others. Anselm wrote, "How far removed are you from my vision, yet I am near to you. Everywhere you are present and I see you not. In you I move and have my being yet I cannot come to you. You are within me and about me yet I feel you not. You are hidden from my in your light and blessedness while I walk in darkness and misery...the sinful senses of my soul have grown rigid and dull, and have been obstructed by their long listlessness."
Barth says there was agreement in the early church that to know God was to conceive God in his incomprehensibility. Yet, that is not a bad thing. Confessing God's hiddenness ( and our inability to know God on our own) is the first step to faith in God's revelation in the Scriptures and in Christ. By ourselves we can know very little (Barth and Augustine would say nothing) truly about God
This reality that was so acute in the early church has largely been eclipsed in the modern church today. Listen to the music we sing, the prayers that are prayed and the sermons that focus on us as much or more than God. The mystery, the majesty of God, the sense of the difference between us and God is mostly gone.
Chrysostom who was known for his preaching in the early church said this:" We call God the inexpressible, the inconceivable, the invisible, the incomprehensible, the one who is superior to human speech, who surpasses human reason, who is inscrutable to the angels.....invisible to the human rulers, and who is known simply to his creation by his only Son and Holy Spirit."
Don't know if it would preach today but we could use a dose of it.
In our recent week of inaugural activities we heard from clergy and politicians who promised God's protection for us now that we are on the right track. One famous clergyman from a famous clergy family professed his belief that the election of this new president was a sign of God's intervention in our history. A good solid dose of the thinking of our early church leaders might make us stop and think before we speak, might serve to make us humble before God.