‘We know where God is, we do not know where he is not.’ What a liberating and informing statement about God’s nature and activity in the world. And yet, so many have interpreted this presence in abstract ways, detaching God from his creation and defining him in ways that do not correspond to the story of scripture – his story.
It would seem that we need to recapture the essence of the God-story as the One who is intimately involved in all aspects of creation. God is more than everywhere present, a definition based in abstraction, but is One who is present to everyone and everything. When we think and speak about God using categories that place him outside of the human story we end up de-storifying God and disconnect him from life. As Eugene Peterson put it, our language in relation to God is often “disconnected from our ordinary lives,” and becomes “language that gets flattened into ideas or advice or rules – unstoried god talk” (Eugene Peterson, The Pastor, 240).
God is present to all, at all times. There is no where where God is not. Creation has always kept God at its center, not as an outside force, but as one who is accessible and involved in every aspect of its story. Not as an abstract theological and philosophical category, but as the one who is guiding the story along towards redemptive ends.
Creation tells God’s story. We then flesh out God’s story in the daily ordinariness of our lives. Christ is the center and ultimate completion of God’s story. Jesus, as the incarnate God, keeps the story alive and real, removing the abstract in favor of the personal. As a result, ideas that focus on God as one who intervenes into creation from time to time need to be replaced with stories of God’s abiding presence.
We need to recapture the power of story because it is story that God uses to communicate. We place ourselves within his story, find our role and play it out before the world. The distant, wholly other-than God is replaced with a deeply personal, intimately involved story-God who has come as one amongst us. The incarnation of Jesus is more than the basis for a doctrine of the divine becoming human, and more about God entering the ordinariness of life and forever embracing it through his son. We in turn identify with his story and find our place.
De-storified God-talk is then replaced with language of connection, intimacy and personal omnipresence. Why? Because “life always occurs in place. It is never an abstraction, never a generality” (Eugene Peterson, The Pastor, 76).
My theological orientation tended to focus on the former – abstraction – at the expense of the latter -realness. Theological ideas rarely made an appearance into my story and usually remained as categories of thought based in abstraction, unrelated to life. However, this distance between what I believed and the life I lived created a deep separation. I lost the story dynamic, and in the end, lost the connection with the Master Storyteller
These days I’m finding that by locating my life within God’s story, I’m beginning to understand my life in the way it was meant to be understood. It reflects what Daniel Kirk refers to as storied theology. When theology is taught as story, our role centers primarily on locating our place within the ongoing drama (see N.T. Wright’s book, Scripture and the Authority of God for a full treatment of this idea).
Church becomes a place of stories and story telling, and truth is conveyed not as general ideas, but living realities. Here God-talk shifts from discussing abstract theories related to the Divine and into real-life drama that sees God as the One who is intimately involved in the story. God’s story becomes our story and our role is to tell our story within God’s story. Meaningless, unstoried God-talk is replaced with meaningful, storied God-talk and life is finally fused into the drama where God is the Master storyteller and we as actors in the play of the ages.
Find your place. Take a seat. Tell your story.