the god who isn’t there

[not sure if this makes sense yet, but i don’t want to lose the thought]

on the way back from Port Phillip prison on thursday night i was wondering again about the ethics of leaving verses out of psalms that we’d read together before we wrote our own. a lot of the psalms are pretty self righteous and smug: all that talk of god smiting the wicked requires a fair bit of unpacking when you’re using them in the company of those who have been convicted as the wicked… I’d edited out the verses that asked god to destroy our enemies, verses which thanked god that we were not as evil as all those other people, and verses which requested that all those wicked people out there go languish in prison forever.

i went straight from the prison to have dinner with some people from st michaels in the city, who want to explore alternative worship. during the conversation [the first half of which seemed to be a test of my theology to make sure it was ok… all in the nicest way, of course], Adam asked whether i thought that praying for rain helped [we had downpours of rain across the state on thursday, after 12 months of the lowest rainfall on record].

i don’t think god can make it rain. i don’t think god can smite our enemies, either. personally, i think the theology within prayers for rain and psalms of revenge is really dubious. i do think, though, that the theology that lies in the writing of them is profound and quite wonderful: knowing that there is no expression of anger too shocking to fit within a framework of faith, no loneliness to uncomfortable to be expressed within a community of faith, no desperation that will go unheard.

there are times when we need to pray for rain, even if we know that praying will do nothing – because it is all we can do. there are times we need to pray that god will smite our enemies, even if we know god can’t. there are times we need to ask god to raise someone from the dead, even if we know it’s not going to happen. because to not pray those things is too devastating – it leaves a chasm that’s unbearable at a moment of greatest fear… and because there are moments where we need to be able to want a god who will do those things, even if deep down we know god can’t…

i had a conversation last week with someone who is wandering around the edges of this project, wondering whether he’ll find a place to belong here. he said that when he goes to churches he is either promised a god who has the power to do all those things but has chosen not to, or he’s offered another version of god – who doesn’t have the power or choice, but who acts with love within everything that happens [a theology that he resonates really strongly with]. what he needs at the moment, though, is a place where he can be [irrationally, as he admits] angry that there isn’t a god who can simply make the world right, right here, right now.

i know he’s not the only one. in fact, i suspect that half the world is missing that place too.


  1. That’s quite a clever title Cheryl 🙂 To sum up, the god who isn’t there is the mythical interventionalist god (thanks Nick Cave). I imagine that theology is an evolutionary process of understanding, dependent upon a person’s context. So when I read vitriolic, offensive outbursts in the psalms, I understand this to come from the author’s construct of God and life, his understanding of ‘the way things are’. I don’t think that gives us license to make the same kind of outbursts, and I have no problem with judging the author’s intention as out of touch with the nature of God as I understand it. I haven’t read the Bible in a while, as it can be difficult to read disturbing passages without the assumption that this is the Word of God, infallible, inspired, and so whatever seems to be a bit whacky I must simply accept.

    In short, my faith does not require the content of much of the OT. I would say that most of it is uninspiring, with a few gems here and there. But that is just me and my present context.

  2. Cheryl

    i think we’d disagree only on the point that i think there’s still a place for vitriolic offensive outbursts, as long as we realise that those moments aren’t a faithful reality of who god is.

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