We all know that God is always here; that his “presence” is really just our awareness that he’s here. We’re no longer taking his ubiquity for granted; we really do know that he’s right here, in the room with us. In some cases we’ve psyched ourselves into feeling his presence, but in most cases—whether we’ve psyched ourselves or not—he actually does something to indicate his presence. Messages are given. Healing takes place. Miracles happen. God moves, and we see it.
But a lot of Christians haven’t had this experience. And they want to know why not. Both earnest Christians, and open-minded skeptics, really want to see some evidence of God’s presence, yet for whatever reason, they don’t. So what’s the deal? Why is God so seemingly selective?
Well first of all, psyching yourself counts more than we think.
A lot of my fellow Pentecostals hate when I say this, because we prefer to think that the presence of God is an experience that’s entirely achieved by God. And in many cases it is. We can’t say, fr’instance, that the revelation of Jesus to Paul of Tarsus was a result of Paul’s openness to hearing from Jesus. He wasn’t open to hearing from Jesus. He thought Jesus was an antichrist and his followers were heretics. Jesus’s appearance to Paul flipped him 180 degrees, not 90.
But let’s be honest: We Christians are already less than 90 degrees away from Jesus. Well, we’re trying to be. Well, some of us are trying to be. Well… Still, you see my point: We’re already trying to face God’s direction. When he does something, we’re already in a pretty good position to view it.
This is not at all to say that Pentecostals, charismatics, Roman Catholics, and other churches with a tradition of experiencing God’s presence, are 0 degrees away from God whereas other Christians aren’t. You could stand exactly in front of something, yet not see it because you’re looking beyond it, or in front of it, or below it, expecting to see something entirely different. Mindset counts for a lot. We could face the same direction; I could say, “Look how oddly dressed that fellow is,” and because you and I have different senses of what “odd” means, you could look right past the fellow I indicate, and notice another fellow whose suit is more rumpled than you’d prefer. Mindset determines experience.
My mindset is that God shows up all the time. Hence I see him show up all the time. If your mindset is that he doesn’t, you don’t see him. And won’t. Even if, to my mind, he’s ridiculously obvious, to your mind he’s not, and you can’t see what all those Pentecostals are getting so excited about. Must be mass hysteria. Or self-delusion.
Some folks, particularly preachers I’ve heard, describe this as a lack of faith. And non-charismatics hate when it’s called this, because they feel, rightly, that they do so believe in God. They just don’t believe he does what we claim he does. Their experience tells them otherwise.
Each of our separate experiences puts a certain filter, a certain bias, over all our future experiences. You say God never (or rarely) appears to people? That, for you, will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. I say God regularly appears? That, for me, will become a self-fulfiling prophecy. I see him all the time. I see him lots of places.
I know: For a lot of people, this explanation is simply not good enough. “You mean all I have to do is believe that God will appear, and then he will?” Sounds ludicrous. You can’t just believe things, and then suddenly they become true. Reality doesn’t work that way.
And they’re right: It doesn’t. I’m not talking about believing God into existence. I’m talking about believing that reality is not what you think. I’m talking about believing that the scriptures are correct when they say the Kingdom of God is near, that God is close, and that he interacts with his kids. I’m rejecting the prevalent human philosophy that none of these things are true; that the best religion is therapeutic but not supernatural; that you can believe God performs miracles but only if they look exactly like non-miracles, or only if all those miracles are locked away in the past, never to appear in the present, and maybe to re-appear in the End Times. I believe this philosophy puts a blindfold on Christians, and creates a small and impotent faith, where 80 percent of us claim to be Christian but the only difference between Christians and pagans is the Christianese.
I’m talking about the Pharisees who saw Jesus do miracles, and explained it away by saying he worked with Beelzebul. Or the Sadducees who couldn’t accept Jesus because he believed in resurrection. I’m talking about having a mind so closed that you can’t take in the reality as it is; you’re limited only to the reality you can imagine. You do lack faith.
When I talk about “psyching ourselves,” it means we’ve embraced a mindset that lets us accept whatever God wants to do. We’ve submitted our will to his. We’re humble; in this area, at least. Which God appreciates, and prefers to work with, so he does. And we see him working. And so can you.