The Underground Church


"God is invisible. How can I see him or hear his voice?"

Christianity teaches that God is spirit, and it is certainly true that realities of the realm of spirit cannot be appreciated directly through the traditional senses. We can't measure the size of God, nor can we pour God into a beaker, or explode God with dynamite. When God speaks, except under extraordinary circumstances, it isn't through soundwaves in the air. So how do we see God? How do we hear the voice of the Almighty?

I should assert at the start of my answer, that of course the main way that we now "see" God and "hear" God's voice is through the writings of scripture--the deeper we delve into these treasures the closer we get to the mind of God. If we think we are hearing a message from God, we must test it against what has already been revealed through these writings.

In rare cases, God has made his presence known in dramatic and miraculous ways. Much could be written of light (or fire) and its association with God's appearances in the Bible. Moses saw a burning bush. The Israelites fleeing Egypt were lucky enough to have a pillar of fire guiding their way. Some of the prophets heard God speak in an audible voice. And of course, we believe that God deigned to enter our world at one time in physical form, in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. For a limited time, people could touch him, smell him, and get audible answers to questions. All these lucky and rare moments seem to serve as a kind of exclamation point--a cosmic "like" from realms beyond--used to validate and support His work at certain crucial times: the delivery out of Egypt, and the birth of the church, for example.

Most of the time, however, God has seemed content to allow the laws of nature, that are God-created, to operate as usual. Physical manifestations shatter that operation. You may recall the story from the Bible where Elijah was taken up to mountaintop and told that he would encounter God:

A hurricane wind ripped through the mountains and shattered the rocks before God, but God wasn’t to be found in the wind; after the wind an earthquake, but God wasn’t in the earthquake; and after the earthquake fire, but God wasn’t in the fire; and after the fire a gentle and quiet whisper. (I Kings 19:11-13, from The Message version of the Bible.)

God was in the still small voice. He speaks to us usually in subtle ways, not dramatic ones.

We must first be listening if we are to hear anything. Jesus said, "seek, and you shall find." If we are too busy in our frantic activities, too self focused, too anxious, perhaps too guilty, then we will not see or hear.

We must also see through eyes of faith. The Bible speaks of those who "having eyes do not see, and having ears, do not hear" (for example, Mark 8:18). Nothing closes our eyes more effectively than a closed mind. "Faith" here means the story or narrative that we use to make sense of the information that comes to us. It is often said "seeing is believing". However even in the hardest of sciences and the coldest of laboratories, the opposite is true: "Believing is seeing." Science is about having a theory and testing it. Having that theory does bias one's interpretation of data. Humans have a natural tendency to discount data that contradicts a favorite theory, and to interpret neutral events in a favorable way that serves the theory. For the truth to emerge, science depends on safeguards, such as randomization in clinical trials, and upon the honesty of scientists. Nonetheless, theories often die hard, and even sometimes linger on unnaturally due to vicious political machinations and misguided efforts to "save" a theory by cheating. Once in a while this fact even rises to the level of scandal and surfaces to the headlines of major news outlets. I'm not saying this tendency is bad in all cases, but simply that it's natural. "Believing is seeing."

Having invoked science, we can turn there for an analogy. In some ways, the answer to this question might be analogous to how we know about other things that are invisible, such as bacteria and DNA. We could say that we know God in the same way that we know about quarks, dark matter, or black holes. We ascertain the existence of the invisible through its effects upon the visible. In the case of a black hole, we notice that the wobble of an orbit implies that something is exerting a massive force upon it. In the case of the realm of spirit, and particularly of God, we see how the effects upon people's lives imply a massive force that is unseen.

Just a couple of days ago I came across this:

My observation came upon leaving the state school where I completed my doctorate and arriving at the Christian university where I teach. One of the first things I noticed was a stark difference in the overall appearance of the students, though not only the female students. As a group they bore cheerfulness, exuberance, and polish that couldn’t help being attractive. A colleague who had also attended the same state school I did noticed this, too. We pondered a number of possible causes. One obvious explanation was simply the dress code. Students required to wear dress clothes to class, as they were at that time, are naturally going to look nicer than those wearing ripped up jeans or sweats. But the attractiveness seemed deeper than clothing.

Could it have been lifestyle choices and commitments? A population that generally abstains from drinking, smoking, and partying is bound to be healthier and therefore look healthier. And perhaps geography was also at play: people in cold climates under gray skies don’t look as radiant as those who live under the bright sun of the South.

We also noted a culture of affirmation and encouragement that was the polar opposite of the cold, cutthroat environment of our state school. Nothing makes one feel and look better than knowing you are valued and loved. Surely, this was a factor, too.

But likely it was even more than all of this. It really did seem, we finally decided, that an inner experience with Christ can’t help but be manifested in outer appearance. Inner peace and joy radiate outward.

(from Christianity Today).

The "still small voice", or the gentle breeze of the Sprit of God, works mysteriously upon the inner being--the "heart and soul" if you will--of those who accept God. We have a little piece of God in us. That Spirit links us together with fellow Christians. It also both helps us receive communication from God, and helps us communicate with God, as St. Paul states.

In a million ways that are unheralded and don't make it into the New York Times headlines, that "still small voice" comforts, cajoles, fortifies, and chastises, and leads the way.

I know a lovely woman who was working closely with a sick child. Upon the very moment of his death (unbeknownst to her at the time), he appeared to her in a dream to tell her not to worry about him, that God was taking care of him.

I have personally witnessed the quiet perseverance of the faithful under extreme circumstances. I had a good friend die of bladder cancer, and even in the midst of his tragic suffering a kind of deep peace seemed to permeate his life. It was infectious.

When I was in graduate studies, a friend told me a story from his own life, of a pastor who mysteriously set aside his prepared speech for a moment in order to speak directly to a question that my friend had prayed about that morning.

I recall another story of someone feeling the sudden urge to make a right turn, and to drive off his usual route; he did so, and following this strong impulse, eventually stopped in front of a house, and then approached someone who, as it turned out, had a great need, and had just prayed for help.

It is not for nothing that the church is referred to as the "body of Christ". Often we experience God in the activities and ministrations of the servants of Christ. Much could be said about the historic activity of the church in pioneering and founding great institutions of Academia, and hospitals to care for the sick. Religious orders sent nurses to places that no one else would go. We could point to charitable activities of heroic Christians like Mother Theresa, or the "martyrs of Memphis" who died caring for yellow fever victims in the 1870s.

God reaches into our innermost being through the sacraments, "outward and physical signs of inward and spiritual grace" (a common definition). Baptism relates to our receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit. We encounter Jesus at the table of Holy Communion, when bread and wine are passed around, in memory of the time when Jesus said "this is my body".

Are you a Christian? If not, perhaps you might consider joining. Become a little cell in Christ's larger body, and join in God's great work. Open yourself to the Spirit's guidance in your life. Become God's voice and hands to world that really need His love and mercy.

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