We live in a world that doesn't accept the notion of absolute truth any more. Rather, truth is experience; it is what we make it to be. This, of course, butts right up against what we, as Christians, understand about God. God, we have been preaching for years, is absolute truth. Whether you believe in Him or not, He is.
This is something that my studies have forced me to think about more critically over the course of this semester, particularly when thinking about how we minister to the present age. In a world that doesn't believe in truth, our assertions of God as truth are null, if not void. This world just isn't listening to tracts and teachings like they used to. Bible-beating gets us nowhere. Standing on Truth is not enough.
Which is hard to admit, right? As believers, it feels like Truth ought to be enough. That it's okay to believe just because there is something to believe in. That it's more than okay - it is necessary. We must believe because there is something to believe in. The problem is that in a world ruled by the subjective, Truth does not exist without experience. It cannot simply be.
This world says that the chair I am sitting in exists, and I know it exists, because I am sitting in it. That the keyboard on which I type these letters is real because I can hear the clickety-click of my fingers on the keys and watch the letters appear on the screen before me, which only exists because I'm actually looking at it. I can know these things are true because I can see them, hear them, feel them. I can taste this world. I can smell this world. And so, it must to some degree be real.
So in ministry we're left to figure out how this understanding of the world requires us to minister differently, how we must present Truth in order for it to be understood. And the more I have thought about this, the more I think it's not so great a divide. There's not so much distance between what this world is demanding of God and what we, as Christians, ought to be showing of Him.
None of this is to say that God is not Truth. None of this is to say that God is not real. What I am saying is that we have to get beyond our idea of truth, our idea of real, and think more critically about in which contexts is God Truth? In which contexts is He real? The answer is not so simple as "all of them, all the time." It's more complicated than that.
God Himself tells us that He is love. It's tempting to say that this is Truth - God is Love. And on the one hand, it is. It absolutely is. But it tells us something else about God, and that is this: God is true only insomuch as He is love. Truth, we cannot "experience;" but Love? Love is something tangible in this world. We can experience Love. It is here that we can begin to understand what ministry to a subjective world must look like.
It's not enough to say that God is Love and rely on Truth to defend itself. What this world is looking for is the Love of God, and that is how we convince them. All the arguing, all the Scripture-quoting, all the confident assurance in the world is not going to convince a man. Love him, and he will know. Give him the experience of God, and he will start to see. Demonstrate love, and you give a man something to believe in. He believes first in the love, and then looks for the place from where that love came. Love comes from God. So love leads a man to God.
We sort of know this, don't we? We know that this generation, this world, is increasingly expecting more of us as Christians. They aren't satisfied with what we believe; they are more interested in what we live. They're looking for God manifest in our lives. And it's not just because they want us to break free from the hypocrisy that has so defined Christians (and continues to because, hey, we're human); it's because God is only real insomuch as He is manifest in this world. That's why they're looking for our love. They're looking for our grace. They're looking for our acceptance, our mercy, our open doors, our open arms. They're looking for us to live like God is truth so the world can experience the tangible nature of God among us. In a sense, we make Him real.
It's complicated, I know, but I don't think I'm that far off. Is God real without love in the world? Yes. Is God truth even if He never speaks? Yes. Does God exist beyond what we can experience of Him? Absolutely. This is our truth paradigm speaking. This is how we understand Him.
But that's not the real question, at least as I see it. The real question is not is God real without love, is God truth in silence, is God existent without our knowing it. The real question, and this is the heart of the whole thing, is: Is God God without Love? Is God God unless He speaks? Is God God beyond our experience of Him? The question is: Is God God if He is not manifest among us?
And the answer, I think, is no. He is still powerful. He is still good, maybe. He is still deity. But without that interaction and manifestation of His presence among us, He is not God. At least, not the God He proclaims to be.
So there's something to this world that is demanding more of us than a simple adherence to Truth. There's something to a world that wants more than to believe. They want to see God manifest. They want to see God among us. They aren't looking for a God that is true; true is only a product of the mind. They are looking for a God who is real. And real is a product of experience.
When we think about ministry to a world like this, we have to think about more than tracts and teachings; we have to think about encounters. We have to think about making God manifest, about embracing the experience of Him. We have to bring people into contact with Him so they can touch, taste, hear, feel, and see...so they can know. That is our best ministry.