My devotional reading today began with this provocative line from Thomas Merton:

God reveals Himself in the middle of conflict and contradiction–and we want to find Him outside all contradiction (A Year with Thomas Merton, January 14).

He recalled the frustration I felt when Judy and I moved to Indianapolis seven years ago and tried to find a new church home. At churches of various denominations, large and small, we were graciously welcomed and invited to come back; but we didn’t go back because they portrayed God as a coolly logical being who would always act in certain prescribed ways. In other words, they believed…

  • After Creation, God left us in charge of the world. He no longer takes the initiative to do anything here.
  • Therefore, the grievous things that routinely happen in our world are not God’s fault. We and our human ancestors have screwed things up.
  • But we can expect God to behave according to self-imposed rules of divine conduct, clearly described in the Bible (which preachers often call our “instruction manual” or worse, our “operating manual”). So if we want, He will fix things for us.
  • Therefore, we study the Bible to learn how to manipulate God for our benefit. Worship, service, and mission are primarily laboratories where we test our proficiency at manipulating God. (A familiar bit of homiletic argument: “Do this and see if God doesn’t bless you.”)

“God in a box” is a popular form of American religion, but it’s not the religion of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Not the religion of Paul and Silas. “God in a box” is a religion of shamans, totems, and household idols. It tries to make sense of a contradictory world and impose some sort of order upon it.

But the true God cannot be manipulated. The true God is a Person, not a totem. The true God does not stand apart from the contradictions of the world, but reveals himself in them: in a bush that burns without being consumed and a “still, small voice” that is heard above the tumult of volcanoes and earthquakes.

Judy and I kept searching for a church where that kind of God was worshiped.