God in the Common Things

_CES4959Last night in the class I am teaching on the Gospel of John we examined a passage in chapter 7 where Jesus is rejected by a crowd in Jerusalem because they knew where he was from.  The people knew Jesus was from the Galilee region and they also knew who his family was.  In their mind there was no way he could be the long-awaited Messiah.  Apparently there was a common belief that when the Messiah came he would burst upon the scene suddenly and mysteriously.  Jesus’ arrival coincided with none of their preconceived ideas.  This was so problematic to the crowd that they refused to believe he was indeed the Christ.

Breaks-Winter-vIn his commentary on the Gospel of John, William Barclay says the position taken by the crowd that day was “characteristic of a certain attitude of mind which prevailed among the Jews and is by no means dead—that which seeks God in the abnormal.  They could never be persuaded to see God in ordinary things.  They had to be extraordinary before God could be in them.”  Barclay goes on to say that the teaching of Christianity is right the opposite: “If God is to enter the world only in the unusual, he will seldom be in it; whereas if we find God in the common things, it means that he is always present.   Christianity does not look on this world as one which God very occasionally invades; it looks on it as a world from which he is never absent.”

I like very much what Barclay writes here.  I fear, however, that he is far too generous in his assessment of Christianity.  Unfortunately, a lot of Christians today also seek God primarily in the abnormal.  It’s almost as though they think the ground must shake, or there must be peals of thunder and  strokes of lightning, before God speaks or reveals Himself.  It’s practically understood that God would not bother to reveal Himself through anything commonplace or ordinary.  If God is going to make Himself known then it must be in some special way, something quite extraordinary.

_CES0190My experience is more in tune with Barclay’s portrayal.  Without a doubt, I have witnessed God’s manifestation in ways that would qualify as abnormal or extraordinary to most people but these have been few and far between.  In my experience God is much more prone to make Himself known in far more subtle ways.  In the eyes and smiles of children I have witnessed God’s love.  In the budding of a magnolia leaf I have sensed His purity and grace.  In the presence of mountains I have felt humbled by God’s mighty power.  In the flight of an eagle I have glimpsed something of His majesty.  In the touch of the wind upon my face I have felt the Spirit’s movement.  In the midst of a stark desert I have felt His gentle embrace.  Beneath tall trees and beside flowing streams I have sensed a nearness to God that was as real to me as the pounding of my heart.   Haitian girl 2I wish more people realized that God has chosen not to reveal Himself only in the abnormal or supernatural.  In the very normal or ordinary things of life, in regular nature, God beckons us and longs to be acknowledged and embraced.  The crowd in Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles long ago had what they were looking for right in front of them and missed it because they were looking for God to appear in other ways.  Is the same thing happening to us today?  I suspect so.


(I took the top three images in Pike County, Kentucky, and the last one in Haiti.)