Where is God, and what is he up to? Spend any significant time in the life of faith and you will soon realize that these two questions set the rhythmic beat of the hearts of those not interested in God as an idea, or faith as a hobby or insurance; but rather, understand that God is the most fundamental reality of our living. These questions assume that God is always present, somewhere and in some way; and that he is active, always active.
So, what is God up to? Where is he today?
The apostle Paul gives us a rather reality-shifting answer in the first chapter to the saints at Colossae. He answers the question of what God is up to first with a poem about Jesus. In Colossians 1:15-20, Paul describes Jesus as the author of creation, giving life to all that is, even now. He also describes Jesus as re-creating, taking what is dying and bringing it out of death and into new life; in the present, continuous tense, “making peace by the blood of his cross.”
This is what God is doing, through Jesus, creating and re-creating, always and today, establishing new life and bringing about resurrected life. Saving and sustaining, sustaining and saving until the wholeness of his intents and purposes are fully experienced; this is what God is up to…But where?
Paul answers that for us as well, but in a place that we might miss if we are not paying attention. This grand reality of God’s activity, “the riches of the glory of this mystery,” of God for us in Jesus, is this: “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” The presence of God himself, in you through Jesus. Paul would expound on his answer a couple of chapters later, proclaiming, “Christ is all, and in all.”
Those in which we interact (or overlook) at home, in the office, along the side of the road, across the street, are “defined by Christ…included in Christ.” There is no human that we meet who cannot impress upon us something of the character and nature of Jesus, or to which we cannot make explicit their relation to Jesus who is acting for and in them.
Apparently, we do not have to look too far to see and participate in God’s active presence. Recognizing Christ is all, and in all—the mystery and majesty of the author of creation re-creating in his image—is simply a matter of seeing those we pass by each day for what they are: an intrusion of grace.
But here is the thing, I am neither naturally inclined to perceive such intrusions as grace, nor do these passing moments catch me at my best, as you will discover in the story below.
As a little background, I drive for Uber a few days a week as a side-gig, a job that invariably has me passing through the lives of multiple people each day. My attitude towards this work varies with the circumstances of the day, but even with my unevenness, the assumptions behind those two pulsating questions always finds a way to bleed out.
Five foot nothing Tanya grunted as she drew herself up into my pick-up truck, releasing an exasperated puff as she slouched across the back seats. Appearing as if she had slunk out the door without ever having looked in the mirror and smelling of stale bread smothered in cigarette spread, she was rough, and from a rough part of town.
On top of that, I too was having a rough morning. I’d been driving for almost six hours. Most the morning’s fares had been congenial enough but none had been good tippers, and their trips were too short to be of much profit. I was tired, hungry, a bit cranky at the total earnings and certain that this, yet another, short trip was going to net me nothing worth having.
Strictly out of habit, I engaged in the standard greeting, asking Tanya how her morning was going. She replied in an unenthusiastic timber exactly how I felt of the morning, “It’s going.” Such a response gives me permission to stop talking and just drive, which I did. But then Tanya asked me a question. Her tone suggested that this too was a habitual address. “What else do you do besides drive?” she asked staring uninterested out the window.
Oh no! I don’t want to talk. I’d rather do anything but talk. I glance at the trip navigation on my phone. It tells me we have just over 5 minutes to our arrival. Surely I can say something that will quash this conversation, and we can both enjoy the silence we clearly want. So I answer, “I lead a small faith community here in the area.” Mentioning religion or faith usually takes care of most curiosity, and based on Tanya’s looks, I assumed it would with her as well.
Instead, she perked up. Once draped across my back seats, she now sat erect, leaning slightly toward the front. She asked what kind of religion and if it is a “spirit-filled” group. Despite her apparent interest, I had none. I attempted again to quell the conversation by giving the general spill of my “other job,” hoping that would bore her. It seemed to work. She slumped back down and returned to her window observations. But then I asked her, without thinking, about her faith background.
What was I doing?! I was not interested in Tanya’s story. I had heard her story before. She was trying to assure herself that she was in the best place for a blessing or trying to read every sign that might be “the sign” that crossed her path or the evening news. What had I gotten myself into? At least we were down to 3 minutes of drive time remaining.
A different voice came from the back seat as Tanya said softly, her tone losing its rasp, sounding rather like a young child exhausted and ashamed, “I used to have faith, but I am not sure anymore.” She’d go on to share, depleted of tears, of the tragic and gruesome death of her son just a year before, and how his loss flung her into a spiral away from the faith once so sure. She had done everything unholy to avoid feeling. Assuming she had lost her faith, or at least any access to what she longed for, it was only in the past few days that she had worked up the courage to attempt to face the God she cursed in her grief.
I turned to look her in the face for the first time. There, in my back seat, I saw what I voiced, “Tanya, you have not lost your faith, it has found you. You are now one of the great multitudes crying out to our Father, ‘How long, O’ Lord?’, ‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?’” She smiled and cried, and our 5 minutes were up.
Photo by Victor Xok