… it is not merely the case that God calls to us, as if God were merely a being far from us, but rather Caputo and Rollins identify God as the very call itself. God is not calling us to him (for he is with us!), but the very call is God in us, insisting us toward a new reality.
THE CALL OF GOD
Have you been called? Have you heard “the call”? Is the work you are doing “your calling”?
These words may be familiar to many, for better or worse. In today’s world, the language of “calling” is often used as either a criterion or description for people who many believe are meant to do something. Due to the prevalence of such language, many people wonder how they are supposed to define what is often called “their calling.”
For some, the word seems foreign to their experience, while for others it appears to fit naturally. Many worry that if they don’t feel “called” (whatever that is) then perhaps they aren’t supposed to be where they are. This creates a mounting pressure on individuals to speak of their work as their calling even when they themselves are not convinced, for fear of judgment from others.
Yet, the situation quickly grows more complicated, for one person may say he’s called to ministry, but most around him think otherwise. Whereas for another, though she refuses the descriptor, others swear it is an apt summary of her talents.
As Christians, the language is particularly loaded. The imagery of a “calling” evokes resonances of famous biblical figures such as Moses or Jesus. Yet, in those cases, God’s call was recounted as a literal voice.
What then defines God’s calling in our lives today when his voice seems often silent? How best can we get a handle on such a subjective idea? What would it entail?
THE INSISTENCE AND EVENT OF GOD
One way to do so, in my own experience, would be to describe this call as both an “insistence” and “event.” In so choosing these words, I am borrowing language from two philosophers/theologians whom I have had the pleasure of becoming lost within during my time studying in undergraduate.
John Caputo, a philosopher at Syracuse University, writes that the question of God’s existence often misses the key to understanding the divine, for he writes: “God does not exist or subsist,” but rather, “God insists.” By this he means that
“the name of God is the name of an insistent call or solicitation that is visited upon the world, and whether God comes to exist depends upon whether we resist or assist this insistence.”
To speak of God, to invoke God, is to invite that which God’s name stands for to become a living reality. To invoke it furthermore, is to link yourself with that meaning, as the one speaking it.
Peter Rollins, another philosopher turned theologian and informal student of Caputo’s, writes that God is an “event” or “a happening,” what he calls “a miracle of faith” which “defies reduction to the realm of rational dissection.”
While he notes that “there is no doubt for the believer that God dwells with us (as an event),” yet he curiously notes that this does not mean that the believer understands God, nor does it stop their questions (even about his existence!).
How can a Christian believer who is confident in her personal encounter with God still question his existence?
Rather than seeing this as a negative, Rollins argues that although a believer can debate and doubt the call or event, in fact
“it is the certainty that something has happened, that a Word has taken root in our being and brought overabundant life, a certainty testified to in a renewed existence that gives rise to doubt regarding its source.”
In other words, one cannot doubt that which one has no experience to question. I cannot truly doubt whether a chair will hold my weight if I have never experienced a chair or can conceive it.
In short: your doubt of something is the very evidence that something real happened!
In this brilliant move, both Caputo and Rollins orient us to understand that it is not merely the case that God calls to us, as if God were merely a being far from us, but rather they identify God as the very call itself.
God is not calling us to him (for he is with us!), but the very call is God in us, insisting us toward a new reality.
SPEAKING FROM PERSONAL EXPERIENCEFor myself, I find their language true to my own experience of God and ministry.
To begin, when I was a young child, I was readily exposed to the voice of faith’s “insistence.” Having a mother who regularly preached and served various pastoral roles unofficially, I grew up as a toddler preaching in my closet to my stuffed animals.
In short, I mimicked well what I saw, as any child does. When I was eventually baptized at the age of twelve by Mark Finley (a famous minister in the Adventist church) during an evangelistic series, I remember vividly describing to the camera interviewer that when I grew up I wanted to be just like him.
Yet, as the years went by, my religious heritage lost its allure as my interests changed. Ironically, at the same time, my arrogance grew as someone who had always been told that they had “the truth.”
In short, the Bible became as dry as the wood needed to warm you on a cold winter’s night, just crisp enough to warm you up for a few hours and nothing more. While I was certainly moral and even deeply spiritual, it was an undirected spirituality in which faith was merely a ladder leading to eternal life.
Little did I realize, the “insistence” of God was soon to pull on me in ways I never could have predicted.
Near my graduation from High School, I stumbled across, of all things, a book on Textual Criticism. I felt an interest, a tug, a pull, an insistence, and through that insisting call, an event, a happening occurred: I took the book home and was never the same.
Like steps descending toward a destination, gravity continued to pull my interests from one work to another, igniting my soul in unexpected ways and showing me a God and faith that strangely was as familiar as it was new.
Standing where I am now, over eight years since that time, I have come to realize that God’s call on my life was not coerced, nor was it overt, but rather, as Caputo writes, it was a subtle alluring insistence, an insistence that was leading me one step at a time toward the direction God would have me walk in.
SO WHAT IS OUR CALLING?
This is where perhaps I find that I can nuance some people’s concerns about whether God’s call is a fate we must be stuck with or whether we have freedom to define our own calling.
To call God an insistence or to identify God as the call itself is to say that God is that which has a general will and insists on people to actualize that will in whatever ways are possible.
In this way, we escape the dichotomy, recognizing that it is the direction and sum of one’s life journey that reveals what God’s insistence has been and where it continues to lead.
Understanding a calling in this sense, one can see that while a call indeed exists, it is the call of a mythical siren, a call which allures and draws one slowly and steadily until the individual becomes aware that they have, without even knowing it, become addicted.
It is the individual’s freedom to “resist or assist” this insistent call, but in assisting it, its newborn existence through us binds us to the one who called, a chain that can never and will never break, though death’s sting strikes.
In conclusion then, the call of God is God’s insistence for us to actualize his presence in the world, a call that takes many forms for the very reason that God has many purposes.
In this way, once one listens to the mythical siren’s call and finds they are standing where they willingly and insistently were led to, there is only one way to continue to travel: further into the mystery.
 John D. Caputo, The Insistence of God: A Theology of Perhaps (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2013), p. 14.
 John D. Caputo, Hoping Against Hope: Confessions of a Postmodern Pilgrim (Minneapolis; Fortress Press, 2015), p. 128.
 Peter Rollins, The Fidelity of Betrayal: Towards a Church Beyond Belief (Massachusetts: Paraclete Press, 2008), p. 174.
 Rollins, The Fidelity of Betrayal, p. 144.
 Ibid., p. 141
 Erwin W. Lutzer, “Still Called to the Ministry,” Moody (March 1983), p. 1.
Matthew J. Korpman is a minister-in-training and published researcher in Biblical Studies and Church History. Pursuing his Masters at Yale Divinity School, he did his undergraduate work at the H.M.S. Richards Divinity School, where he completed four degrees in fields such as Religious Studies, Philosophy and Archaeology. He is an active member of the Seventh-day Adventist church whose research interests include everything from the Apocrypha to the Apocalypse.