Finding the Missing God

I was a 5th grader at McDonald Elementary School in Moscow, Idaho.  I was in the middle of my awkward stage – a stage my mother assured me every child went through.  My stage just happened to be a little more problematic, a little more prolonged and a little more pronounced than everyone else’s.

The homework from music class was fairly straightforward on that fateful day.  Bring a cassette with your favorite song to share with the class.  I eagerly anticipated Thursday afternoon’s music class, sure my musical selection would dispel any hints of my being abnormal, a nerd, an outcast.  I should have known better.

Their music selections included the ever popular, chart-topping Michael Jackson, Men at Work and Def Leppard.  Mine?  John Denver.

It became abundantly obvious that day.  I was different from the rest of the crowd.

And honestly, despite the embarrassment which I can still clearly recall thirty some years later, I learned an important lesson.  I was different – unique – and didn’t have to fit in with the rest of the crowd.  And that was ok.

I have repeatedly been reminded of that lesson over the past several days.  Video clips of Mike Huckabee speaking on Fox have been excitedly posted by many whom I might consider “my tribe”.  In the video which has been shared over 300,000 times, Huckabee stated, “for fifty years we’ve systematically attempted to have God removed from our schools, our public activities…..We’ve escorted him right out of our culture and marched him off our public square.”  While admitting that God showed up in the heroic acts of protective teachers, selfless first responders, the hugs and (even!) the White House, Huckabee seemed to be backing off his comments on Friday when he declared, “We ask why there is violence in our schools, but we have systematically removed God from our schools.”

Of course Huckabee’s comments pale in comparison to those of Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association who said God did not protect the victims of the Connecticut shooting because prayer has been prohibited from the public school system.

While these may be the popular conservative Christian response, analogous to my classmates bringing “Michael Jackson” and “Men at Work” to music class, I have to stand aside and resolutely disagree.

The horrific massacre on Friday was not God’s retributive action against our public school system and our secular society.  God was not absent from that school on Friday.  Nor can we so casually and causally blame what happened in Connecticut on the fact that the school day didn’t begin with prayer, and the hallway didn’t contain a copy of the Ten Commandments.  (And, if that were the case, was the shopping mall shooting spree in Portland earlier in the week because God has been excused from our blatant consumerism?)

The God I discern in the Bible, the God I worship and the God I love is not so little and so inconsequential so as to simply be discarded and marched off by a few laws and court cases – even laws and court cases of the United States.

The God I discern in the Bible declares, “I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”  (Joshua 1:9 NRSV)

The God I worship promises, “I will never leave you or forsake you.”  (Hebrews 13:5b NRSV)

The God I love asks, “Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb?  Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.  See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me.  Your builders outdo your destroyers, and those who laid you waste go away from you.”  (Isaiah 49:15-17 NRSV)

The man after God’s own heart, David, wrote of God:

Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.

Psalm 139:7-12 (NRSV)


In this Christmas season we celebrate the very truth and reality of God’s presence in the midst of the darkness.  We sing songs of a babe in a manger and wonder what sort of God places himself in strips of cloth in a feeding trough.  We marvel at our Savior who willingly left his heavenly throne for a meager, suffering- and poverty-filled life.  We reflect on the reality of God-with-us as a refugee in a foreign land born to a persecuted, conquered people.

God knew something about a secular world dominated by attempts to sideline and distinguish his presence.  And – it was precisely then that Jesus was born.  It was precisely there that God entered and made his presence tangible.

While we long for simple solutions in the wake of such devastation and despair, we cannot surrender the biblical God to political, feel-good, blame-oriented diatribes that depict a small, powerless god.  More than ever before people need and desire a God who cannot be removed from schools with the passing of a state law.  A God who cannot be extinguished when a manger scene is not displayed on a public square.  A God who doesn’t disappear when “Happy Holidays” is joyfully wished instead of “Merry Christmas”.

I know these statements aren’t popular and even borderline heretical to many in my tribe.  But that’s ok.  My favorite music in 5th grade was John Denver – not Michael Jackson or Def Leppard.  I would rather be faithful to the God of the Bible than to the political sentiment of the day.  My hope and joy is based upon the God who declared to an exiled Israel (exiled by God himself for their faithlessness):

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.

Isaiah 43:1b-3 (NRSV)