we talk about God too much (what with the internet and our iPhones and all)

we talk about God too much (what with the internet and our iPhones and all) February 8, 2015

I’m not sure where this came from.

Maybe when I was buttoning my shirt this morning, on the way to teach an adult class at a local church–another among countless other classes where I am, once again, going to talk about God.

God must be bored out of his mind.

We have a lot of free time here in the modern west, a lot of access to information, and many means for communicating that information.

And we religious types have the luxury of time to turn God over and over in our heads. Over and over. Again and again.

Nothing wrong with thinking, of course, but it can become habit-forming–especially thinking about God.

In my experience, the more we think about anything, the more we become viscerally committed to our ideas and the false security we gain for our fragile life-narratives from holding tightly to those ideas.

We actually do become addicted to our thoughts, those beautiful thoughts. We love them so much.

And the more personally meaningful the thoughts, the tighter our grasp, the greater our addiction–and the more we fight to hold on.

I am coming to the conclusion more and more that the most interesting people to listen to when talking about God are those who have suffered enough to know that their thoughts are never meant to be confused with the real thing.

I find it more interesting to listen to a “uneducated” Nigerian father talk about his faith in God after his daughter was kidnapped by Boco Haram than a western educated white male who is genuinely skillful and adept at explaining biblical texts.

The latter is fine, of course. Maybe even quite interesting. But I don’t think I will come face to face with God in the same way as when this Nigeran father opens his mouth to speak, a man with less free time on his hands and a spotty internet connection.

I don’t wish suffering on anyone, and most of us here on this side of the Atlantic don’t suffer the same atrocities as other world citizens.

And that’s O.K.

If we could tap into our own pain, to those places where we suffer (and we all do), we might find ourselves reducing the background noise of our wordy thought-worlds.

Perhaps we would find ourselves talking less, fighting less, embarrassing ourselves less, alienating others less, and finding more peace.

Perhaps. Let me think about it.

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  • Charles Bauserman

    Answers are kind of addicting like that, Pete. We need to be collecting the questions, not the answers. Answers are rigid, unyielding, and they can’t stand the test of time. The questions, however, will stand through time despite however many answers they generate. The answer is a point at the end of a line segment, but a question is a ray, beginning at a point, but continually resounding through all time…

    • peteenns

      An answer, when seen as a sign post, can also function as a ray, i think, but I definitely see your meaning.

      • Charles Bauserman

        I also like the overarching narrative thread you’ve been taking up, this idea of descending out of the intellectual world, the world of abstract theology, and meeting people in the real world, in real life, doing theology as an extension of living.

  • Lise

    Brilliant. Enough said.

  • Bev Mitchell

    I think you are right on in this – but that’s just me thinking. How can we hear more from the kind of practicioners you mention? Could we even properly understand them if we don’t in some sense live among them to share some of their suffering? Of course, many in the west also suffer much and may have some worthy critique of our free-time thinking.

    • peteenns

      We bear the burden of each other’s sufferings not simply for their benefit but for ours.

      • LorenHaas

        My wife and I lead a divorce recovery group at our church. My divorce was exquisitely painful for me. I found healing in my divorce from listening to the experience of others. Now I am able listen to and participate in the healing of others going through the same experience, We have done this with 16 different groups. People ask me how I can stand to do this over and over again, To me it is like experiencing a resurrection each time. I am grateful.

  • I’m not sure where this came from.

    Nietzsche and “God is dead”? According to Dallas Willard in A Place for Truth, he meant something more like “The word ‘God’ does not refer to anything or anyone supernatural, and perhaps nothing at all.” This is reinforced by Gregory W. Dawes’ Theism and Explanation:

        Sometime in the nineteenth century, God disappeared. He did not, of course, disappear from the wider culture, where belief in God remains influential, in some contexts more than ever. But he did disappear from the professional writings of those who were coming to be known as scientists.[1] It is not that all scientists ceased to be believers. They did not. And for those who remained believers, even a world without miracles, a world of “fixed and invariable laws,”[2] could be seen as bearing witness to a Creator.[3] But no matter how religious scientists may have been as individuals, God was banished form their scientific discourse, as the sciences came to be exclusively concerned with natural rather than supernatural causes. (1)

    As you note, it’s dangerous when we stop referring to anyone (or even thing!) outside of our heads when we say ‘God’; Augustine’s Incurvatus in se applies. We become turned/curved inward on ourselves, instead of open to what others have to say. I’m pretty sure God wants to speak to all of us, from all of us. When this fails, we get what Emil Brunner describes in The Misunderstanding of the Church:

    In any event we ought to face the New Testament witness with sufficient candour to admit that in this “pneuma”, which the Ecclesia was conscious of possessing, there lie forces of an extra-rational kind which are mostly lacking among us Christians of to-day.[1] (48)

  • I am coming to the conclusion more and more that the most interesting people to listen to when talking about God are those who have suffered enough to know that their thoughts are never meant to be confused with the real thing.

    Ceci n’est pas une pipe., eh? Have you read Simone Weil’s Gravity and Grace? She’s a mystic so sometimes you have to do a lot of interpretation, but I love stuff like:

        Grace fills empty spaces but it can only enter where there is a void to receive it, and it is grace itself which makes this void. (10)

    The imagination is continually at work filling up all the fissures through which grace might pass. (16)

    Every void (not accepted) produces hatred, sourness, bitterness, spite. The evil we wish for that which we hate, and which we imagine, restores the balance. (16)

    All sins are attempts to fill voids. (21)

    Suffering has a way of revealing that the “crack sealant” you used, to render the world comfortably intelligible to you and demand less of you, isn’t a long-term solution. If we are curved in on ourselves, we only have our own resources for filling in voids. If, on the other hand, we’re open to God, whether directly or through the body (and not just the head!) of Jesus Christ, then we can learn the easy way, at least once in a while.

  • GPFR

    Can we think too much about God? I don’t think so. If, as the command says, we are to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength, we have to think about Him. But our thinking must be informed by Scripture, and not just a few of our favorite verses–the whole Bible, from Genesis to Revelation and everything in between. If we set our minds to do this, and also observe God in His creation, all of his creation, we will have enough new material to meditate on that it could take us over 1000 lifetimes to cover it.

  • bteservantleader@gmail.com

    Suffering is always contextualized. Bonhoeffer never wanted to claim the experience of suffering in comparison to the many Jews who lost their lives at the hands of the Germans. I am learning afresh that forgiveness is a suffering act. Forgiveness isn’t what we “westerners” make out as a path to personal freedom – its actually a sacrificial act (bteservantleader.com). It accepts pain. I am also learning that people who have forgiven much, our brothers and sisters in Rwanda and other places of suffering, are also the most interesting to listen to….they have suffered much and therefore understand the depth of grace.

  • ckahrl

    I think that if I were Peter Enns, saying the things I was saying to the people I am saying it to, I might start to think that this isn’t getting anywhere. But the thing, is this: Peter, the things you are saying are useful and while we don’t know the total effectiveness of your work down the road, you are not engaged in intellectual trivia–even if it seems so now and then. Check out: Sunstein, Why Societies Need Dissent.

  • JL Schafer

    Thanks for this fine article.
    In the Beatitudes, Jesus seems to be saying that we (the Church) shouldn’t be relating to the poor, those who suffer and mourn, etc. as people who merely need our care and attention. We should be seeking them out to learn from them, because their experiences have fostered an an intimacy with God and immediacy of kingdom that we desperately need.
    I don’t believe the problem comes from thinking too much. It comes from a lifestyle that isolates and disconnects us from large segments of the Body of Christ and the human family, especially those who would challenge our pet ideas.

    • charlesburchfield

      it is just staring me in the face: suffering is what drove me to the door of the kingdom. but even then the layers and patterns of addiction to control delayed the blessing of connection for more than 40+ years. the time is growing short as i am elderly. now i seek more of the blessing of a clean heart and clear conscience in knowing i am powerless and turning my will over to god on a daily basis. i learned this from being in a.a.

  • Guest

    This hit me like cold water on a sleepy face; like a wrecking ball crashing into my crowded heart. So thankful.

    • peteenns

      Thanks, Miley. Love your work.

  • R Vogel

    the most interesting people to listen to when talking about God are those who have suffered enough to know that their thoughts are never meant to be confused with the real thing.

    A-effing-men, brother!