God Isn’t Here

Thunder, wind, and hail woke us up about 3:00 am last night.  At the kind command of my wife, I got out of bed, stumbled downstairs, and got online to check for any tornado warnings.  Severe thunderstorms, but nothing else.

As I settled back down, my wife directed my attention to the alarm clock, which she’d noticed was flashing due to a momentary power outage.

“You need to reset the alarm,” she yawned.  Silently I concurred, and I realized then that I’d forgotten to set it before initially going to bed.  Thank the gods of lightening.

I reset the time and the set the clock to wake us in three hours.   Then I decided I needed a drink of water before attempting to sleep with hail pounding against our windows.

While sipping my drink in the kitchen, I thought about what Andrew Hackman calls “God moments,” those everyday occurrences in which people of religious faith see the hand of God ordering and directing things according to his will.  I entertained the night’s excitement in that vein: I’d forgotten to set my alarm, God wanted us to wake up at 6:00 am, and so he’d sent an electrical surge, momentarily cutting off our house’s power so as to get my attention.  That’s actually about how I would have interpreted the event back in my more pious days.

Unlike Hackman, I remain a person of religious faith, but like him, I have no use for thinking about my life in terms of “God moments.”  I’m not Bette Midler, mind you, singing God watches us from a distance, but nor am I your traditionally-minded believer who approaches the almighty chiefly in terms of power.   Darkness, emptiness, nothingness, brokenness, otherness–these are the words in which I hear the silent Word.   Unconditional love–this is where I encounter something otherwise than my own being.

I’ll leave it to others to brush for God’s fingerprints on every close call, prayerful decision, natural disaster, unspeakable crime, and foreseeable snakebite.  It’s all baseless speculation in my book.  One can never really know whether one’s prayers have been heard or answered.  God moments?  I’d call them illusions of control.  Things work out in the way we like and we assume it’s because God intervened.  Well, maybe.  I can’t prove otherwise, but then that’s hardly suggestive, is it?

To be fair, I have no more certainty that God can be found in the lowliness of existence.  I may only be deceiving myself, under my own spell, fooled by my own illusions.  You could say I have my own sort of “God moments,” but these, I hasten to say, are subversive occasions of uncertainty and unknowing that leave me dizzy and disorientated.  I mean, really: “God moments” should never be comforting and decipherable, not if God is anything approximate to what all the prophets, priests, and theologians have said God is.

We had a violent thunderstorm last night.  That’s all I know.

Kyle Cupp

Kyle Cupp is a freelance writer who blogs about culture, philosophy, politics, postmodernism, and religion. He is a contributor to the group Catholic blog Vox Nova. Kyle lives with his wife, son, and daughter in North Texas. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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26 Responses

  1. Serena says:

    That’s definitely one of the many things I struggle with in my faith as well. When I feel that God has answered an impossible prayer, I feel a tinge of Catholic guilt about “if you answered my prayer why not”….. (as the names of people I know who are also in distress run through my head). I have been thinking about this with the news of Etan Patz and the hundreds of the missing who have family waiting each day for some news. If the missing are no longer living, why couldn’t God let the family know that their kids are with him.

    • Kyle Cupp says:

      Yes. I’m curious to know the history and age of this “cosmic engineer” image of God. Divine intervention is a staple of traditional Christian theology, of course, but we moderns, with our relatively safe and comfortable lives, sure tend to look at God as a protector of that safety and comfort.

      • Serena says:

        I think one of the things that brought me back to the faith was the idea of a God who suffered and experienced abandonment by God. It doesn’t answer all my questions about suffering, nor does it address the paradox of all powerful all loving God, (if God is all loving but let’s suffering happen, then he/she is not all loving, if God is all loving but cannot stop suffering then he/she is not all powerful). But the idea of a God who experienced the worst of the human experience is something I’ve seen comfort many people.

        • Kyle Cupp says:

          Serena – You might check out a little book by Ilia Delio called “The Humility of God.” She examines the image of the crucified God as an image of God’s relationship with the world being one of weakness, humility, and shared suffering. The image of God she sketches is not one who eliminates or saves humanity from suffering, but rather one who weeps with and is most present in those who suffer.

  2. GordonHide says:

    If there was a God and considering the vastness of the universe, our whole planet would mean less to him than a mote in the eye of a mite living on a flea on the back of his dog.

    How can anyone have the arrogance to believe that the maker of the universe has any concern for an individual biological entity that happens to have evolved consciousness living on Earth.

    • I don’t think it’s arrogance. If God exists and if he is all knowing and all powerful (big “if’s,” I grant), then it really wouldn’t be a stretch to think that s/he could know and care about each individual biological entity, with or without evolved consciousness, on earth or elsewhere.

    • Kyle Cupp says:

      I don’t follow. Why should we think God’s having created a vast universe means that God must therefore be uncaring and aloof?

      • GordonHide says:

        What you mean leaving aside the fact that there is no sign that if he exists he is anything other than uncaring and aloof?

        I guess once you take the unlimited possibilities of magic seriously there is no end to what you might entertain.

        • You seem to be moving the goal posts a bit. Your original argument posited, if only for the sake of argument, the existence of a god within “the vastness of the universe.” I assumed by that you meant something to the effect of “god as he is imagined by theists, who envision a god that created and presumably has power and knowledge” and not, say, “god in the way that one of the more minor Greek gods were gods.” In other words, I–and Kyle, if I’m not mistaken–took you to mean (again, for the sake of argument) a god empowered with the very “unlimited possibilities of magic” you chide us for invoking.

          And now you are questioning those very attributes of “the unlimited possibilities of magic,” an issue worthy of consideration and discussion, but a different one from what you had started out with.

          Now, maybe I have assumed too much, and you meant another kind of god, maybe a god that inheres in nature but in a way that makes him/her more than the sum of nature, or maybe a god whose power is limited by more than an act of his/her own will, or maybe a god that we “know” only through his/her disinclination to provide clear answers, or maybe some other conception of god. If so, I’d be interested to hear what kind of god you intended when you suggested the foolishness of believing that he/she cares about any individual in the vastness of the universe.

          Otherwise, this discussion might just spin into circles with thinly veiled ad hominems and vague admonitions (“you should be careful other people don’t come to see it as a way of expressing oneself incoherently”) or trapping people in word games to express your discomfort with theism.

          • GordonHide says:

            I’m afraid I, like everyone else on the planet, know nothing about gods. The reason I impute arrogance to individuals who believe gods would be concerned about them is that it seems to me, given the lack of evidence, that arrogance is indicated. But perhaps that is unkind. Perhaps it’s just wishful thinking.

            Apart from the lack of evidence for a god’s concern, the idea is illogical. Morality, including concern for others, is a function of social animals. A god living in isolation would have no need of it. But perhaps you personally have a whole pantheon of them.

        • Kyle Cupp says:

          As Pierre rightly observes, you’re statements are inconsistent. For the sake of argument, let’s treat God solely as a fictional entity, a character in some fantasy novel, if you like. There’s no illogical character development on the part of the author if she makes God both the creator of the universe and a lover of all that has been created. You seem to think that the universe would have to mean nothing to this figure based on the vastness of the universe, but the vastness of the universe, fictional or otherwise, tells us nothing about the affection this God would have or not have for it.

          • GordonHide says:

            What militates against the creator of the universe being concerned about infinitesimal parts of his creation is the lack of any evidence for this concern and the fact that “concern” itself is a feature of social animals and completely unnecessary for a monotheistic god not to say a lot of pointless trouble given the vastness of his creation.

            The facts and the logic militate against God’s concern. So I would say that anyone who believes in it has an exaggerated idea of their own importance in relation to the universe.

  3. Beautiful post, Kyle.

    My “God moments” are odd and rare, and usually emotionally-based. Something as random as a glimpse through a lighted window along a city street can do it. They barely make sense to me, and would be pointless to try to explain to anyone else. (It is for reasons such as these that I am not evangelical about my faith, such as it is.)

    Seeing the hand of God in the blinking of a clock is magical thinking.

    • Kyle Cupp says:

      Thanks, Russell. I practice a confessional faith and find rich meaning in its liturgies and rituals, but I personally find these less describable as “God moments” than as expressions of being human. I believe it was Umberto Eco, himself not a believer, who described human beings as religious animals. I see religious faith as a way of being in the world. When I think of a “God moment,” my thoughts are drawn less to my own life experiences and more to a future not yet realized. Teilhard de Chardin put it this way: “Someday, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love, and then, for a second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.”

  4. Johnwhodoesmath says:

    I’ve been thinking about your post in relation to whether or not the universe is deterministic (a philosophical debate, which, like all philosophical debates, I have no idea what actual philosophers think about). If the universe is completely deterministic, then everything that’s ever happened is the result of the “initial conditions” that existed when the Big Bang occurred, so one has to ask why things were set up in that way instead of another.

    On the other hand, quantum physics (my knowledge of this is pretty close to zero as well) seems to suggest that if you could “reset” the universe back to its initial state, all future events might transpire in a different way. You can fire an electron at something and there’s a non-negligible probability that it’ll pass through like magic. If you fire an entire bullet at something, all those non-negligible probabilities result in a ridiculously negligible probably that the bullet will pass through. But the chance is still there, which would make for quite a miraculous “God moment” I suppose.

    Is calling every moment a “God moment” just a cop-out way for someone to believe in God without having to accept anything supernatural?

  5. I’m not sure I follow the bulk of your comment. Are you suggesting that determinism implies that everything could be “a god moment” and that therefore nothing is really “a god moment” in contradistinction to “non-god moments.” If you’re confused by my phrasing, join the club! I’m not a philosopher either. 🙂

    As for your last sentence, I would say it’s the opposite, and that the claim to have experienced a “god moment” is a claim that the supernatural exists and actually intercedes into nature.

    • Oops…that was meant as a response to Johnwhodoesmath, assuming that is his real name.

    • Johnwhodoesmath says:

      I’m not sure I follow the bulk of my argument either, Pierre! I don’t really know if I even have one, actually. Yeah, I suppose I was saying that determinism might allow someone to chalk up every moment to being a “God moment” because “God” set things up to transpire in that particular way. Mathematical models of really simple things that happen in the universe, which are astoundingly accurate in their predictions, are described by equations that, given the state of things at a particular instant in time, uniquely determine what happens for all subsequent moments in time (Interestingly though, the models that describe, say, how a single hydrogen atom “works” uses a different theory than how, say, the motion of the solar system “works”. The separate theories cannot seem to be unified!).

      Anyways, so yeah, if every moment in time is classified as a “God moment.” then I guess it’s not all that different as classifying every moment as a “non-God moment” since there’s nothing to contrast it with, if that’s what you mean by contradistinction (I’ve never heard that word, and I’m totally going to try and work it into a conversation some time).

      If a “God moment” has to be something supernatural by definition, then everything I’ve said has nothing to do with God moments. The stuff I was saying about quantum physics (which is used to describe how an atom works and is unlike anything we experience in everyday life) was to suggest that what may appear to be supernatural miracles could actually be part of the natural physical universe: a moment in which God intervenes in a probabilistic fashion.