Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Encountering a Silent God

John Maus Album Cover:
We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves
Jason Upton once observed that we often walk away from God and then blame him for the distance. Whenever I make negative claims about God's role in my life (or, at times, his existence), I am usually reminded of this sentiment.

Earlier this week, I decided to let go of my faith in Christianity. I won't go into all of the reasons, but essentially I was sick and tired of trying to explain the dissonance between what I believed (that God is active in my life) and what I experienced (a silent and absent, or all-together non-existent God).

While my thoughts and feelings are quite genuine, I am not uncritical of them. Am I just blaming God for the distance that I have created? Am I just taking my frustration with life out on God? While these notions are quite possible (even probable), I still don't know what to do. How do I resist distancing myself from God? How do I pursue him so that I come to experience him as an active part of my daily life? How do I make it so that God does not remain unheard? What do I do when I encounter what seems like God's silence or absence?

Oddly enough, I found help from Friedrich Nietzsche. He said that forgetfulness does not just happen upon a passive person. Forgetfulness, he said, is an active "power responsible for the fact that what we have lived, experienced, taken into ourselves, no more enters into consciousness."(1)

Likewise, memory, to Nietzsche, is also active. With its help, "forgetfulness is . . . kept in check." Memory "is by no means a mere passive inability to get rid of a once indented impression, not merely the indigestion occasioned by a once pledged word, which one cannot dispose of, but an active refusal to get rid of it, a continuing and a wish to continue what has once been willed, an actual memory of the will."(2)

With this understanding of forgetfulness and memory, he can say, "how thoroughly must man have first become calculable, disciplined, necessitated even for himself and his own conception of himself, that, like a man entering a promise, he could guarantee himself a future."(3)

The Israelites understood this, which is why they again and again relived their Heilsgeschichte, their salvation history, with Yahweh. It would be a terribly huge task to count all the times in the Old Testament in which the Exodus is recalled. The entire Old Testament is the product of reliving the past to serve the purpose of the present. As Eugene Peterson says, "present gladness has a past and future."(4)

I thought about all of this, and then I thought about Jeremiah, whom I have critiqued for so often failing to appreciate his solidarity with Yahweh. His entire experience was one with the experience of Yahweh, and yet he frequently criticized Yahweh for abandoning him.

He had forgotten what Yahweh had promised. He had forgotten the central characteristic of Yahweh's nature, steadfast love and faithfulness. I don't want to do that to God. But I also don't know what to do in the face of a seemingly silent and absent God. It is easy to make an enemy out of a silent God (or, maybe better, an unheard God).

Maybe the best that can be said is that the wrestling is okay, the lamenting is okay, but if one is to be honest and faithful, one will ultimately return to the affirmation of God's steadfast love and faithfulness, with the help of memory. Through memory, we can, with intellectual integrity, refuse to get rid of faith in God's steadfast love and faithfulness. Through memory, we can continue the faith in God that was once our wholehearted will. When memory becomes "calculable, disciplined, necessitated" in us, then we can grasp the promise of God, from which a future with him can spring forth.

For me, to doubt God's presence, to doubt his fidelity, is to forget. For me to deny God because he isn't presently experienced is to embrace amnesia.

These are the thoughts I have so far. We'll see where the journey takes me from here.

If I say, "I will not remember him, or speak anymore in his name," then in my heart it becomes like a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.
Jeremiah 20:9

Notes:
(1) Freidrich Nietzsche, The Genealogy of Morals (Mineola: Dover Publications, 2003), 34.
(2) Ibid., 35.
(3) Ibid.
(4) Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, 2nd ed. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 97.

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