Musings, Nits, and Praises: "Encountering" God

Musings, Nits, and Praises

A farrago of all things deemed blog-worthy by a music-loving, poetry-writing, humor-seeking English teacher


"Encountering" God

There's a lot of talk these days among mainstream Christian traditions of "encountering" or "experiencing" God. Now, encountering/experiencing God would seem a worthy aim, but as it's often defined, it leans toward an emotionally-based concept--getting warm, fuzzy feelings about God. As I see it the focus on emotion poses several problems.

First, some folks simply aren't warm, fuzzy-feeling people. Some people are geared to intellectual, pensive worship. Most of the time I am one of those people. So does that mean I can't experience whatever it means to "experience" God? As I mentioned in the last thread, there are times that worship overwhelms me emotionally, but that doesn't happen frequently. Besides the fact that getting emotional in worship may have little to do with what it means to experience God (I think we sometimes get infatuated with our view of God rather than searching fervently to find who He actually is), many churches seem geared to evoking one emotion: happiness. Personally, I'd like to see worship services that encompass a fuller range of emotions. I mean, look at the Psalms. Sure, there are songs of praise, but there are plenty songs of lament, pleading, confession, and frustration, too. I'd find it impossible to sing songs like "I Was Made for This" if I were grieving the illness or death of a loved one.

Another problem with an emotionally-defined experience of God is that sometimes God seems nowhere to be found. Going back to Mother Teresa, she struggled through forty years of painful doubting, unable to "sense" His presence and at times even questioning His existence. Yet she exhibited more abandon to Christ's cause than most of us would ever hope to--or, to be honest, ever want to.

The last problem I have with the notion of experiencing God is that we typically speak of it in context of corporate worship. I'm all for having meaningful worship services (although I don't think dynamic is tantamount to meaningful), but participating in an incredibly stirring worship service once a week would do about as much to deepen my faith as spending only an hour with my wife once a week would deepen my relationship with her.

I'd contend that we "encounter" God when we're in community with other Christians--and that entails much more than sharing the same room with them once or twice a week--and when we're serving others. Returning one last time to Mother Teresa, although she had little if any emotional contentment, based on Christ's teaching in Matthew 25, she experienced Christ in the most profound way possible.

7 Responses to “"Encountering" God”

  1. # Blogger Todd

    Excelent thoughts! Why do people insist on being so unbalanced in their religion? We either hold to the idea that emotion has no place in our relationship with God, or we say that if we aren't "feeling" it then we aren't in it. And as you said we usually mean feeling great. Emotions are to fickle a thing to base my whole relationship with anyone on, especially God.  

  2. # Blogger Jason

    A post on Run to Win (http://runtowin.blogspot.com) that addresses some of the same concerns as my post caught my attention today.

    The entire post is a compelling read, but here's an excerpt in which I think the writer makes his most salient points:

    "I think there's a lot to be said about how the consumerist mentality has distorted the message of the gospel over the last century and a half. We've followed the American method of trying to convince people that our "product" is the solution to their need for happiness. Thus, you've gotten all kinds of "marketing distortions" added to the gospel to try to "sell" the gospel as this happiness tonic - things like charismata, health-and-wellness, prosperity, the moral majority/politicization of fundamentalism, etc. are all the results, in part, of trying to "find" something in Christianity that will "sell" to the needs of the "consumer".

    Most Christians tend to evangelize based on the idea that God and church will make people happy and meet their needs. But the underlying flaws are at least twofold.

    One: it isn't true. While there are certain studies that indicate having faith makes one happier, this isn't limited to Christianity - nor is the happiness solution limited to faith (or even dominated by it).

    Two: it sets up an immediately defeatable position. Are we then claiming that folks can't be happy without God or the church? If so, we're going to have a hard time with the message because there's just an abundance of evidence to suggest the contrary.

    The message of the church should be living a Christian life - serving others in humility - not because it will win converts, but because it's the right way to live. If this effects people to consider Jesus, all the better - but that's not our problem."  

  3. # Anonymous mona

    I'm not sure what the churches are emphasizing these days in terms of "encountering" God, but I have to say, I encounter Him continually. I kind of have to--He lives in me. Sometimes I ignore Him, or I get self-focussed. Sometimes there are periods of silence. But lately, the encounters are increasing. The most emotional times are when deep in prayer with others, and--trust me--the emotion is not happiness. It's deep, cutting, heart-wrenching pain. Lots of tears and wailing. But then God speaks. And we don't just go home, watch some tv, and do it all again next Sunday. There is fruit--real, tangible change in people's lives. It's not just an emotional high, but it's not just an intellectual understanding of who He is, either. God is real, and He is moving.  

  4. # Blogger Jason

    Mona, you nailed it when you said, "There is fruit--real, tangible change in people's lives."

    I don't know that I was precise enough in my post. Emotion is certainly a component of who we are as humans and it naturally plays a role in our faith. But it certainly can't be the only thing that drives our faith, and an increasing number of churches seem to make a "God buzz" tantamount to genuine discipleship.  

  5. # Blogger Jason

    I have no idea why I used "certainly" in consecutive sentences.  

  6. # Anonymous mona

    this conversation would be much better over coffee...  

  7. # Blogger Jason

    You're right. I'll book a ticket fly over there now:)

    Or maybe we could coordinate a time when we could both be online and drinking coffee. Yes, that's a poor substitute for face-to-face conversation, but it does involve a hot cup of coffee.  

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