December 13, 2010 | 12:55 pm

Monday – Naming God’s Presence

Two years ago I found myself in a very difficult interview situation. The question the interviewer focused on with laser precision was, “What do I need to know to understand who you are?” After he asked it the first time, I gave what I thought was a good answer. And then he asked, “If this is all I know about you, would I know who you are?” I answered “no” and said he would have to learn more about me. So he asked again, “what else would I need to know to understand who you are?” I added one more thing, but that wasn’t enough either. We went round and round on this question, and I became more and more uncomfortable with my answers. What I discovered is that as soon as I say who I am, it is already too limiting to fully represent me. Could it be the same way with describing God’s presence in our lives (no equivalent intended between me and God!)? We often say that describing God is difficult because God is transcendent. But could it also be true that we have trouble describing God because God’s presence overwhelms us? What if God is hyper-present?  In How (Not) to Speak of God, by Peter Rollins, he says that part of our difficulty in naming God is not because God is far away, but because we are “awash with the Spirit.” In other words, as soon as we try to name God, we already sense it falls short of who God is or how God is present. As we move into the biblical texts that speak of the birth of Christ, this is something to consider. In Isaiah 7:14, foretelling what the Messiah would represent, and in Matthew 1:23, narrating the birth of the Messiah, the message is the same: he shall be called Emmanuel, which means “God is with us.” Maybe our difficulty in grasping God is because we are “awash with the Spirit,” not because God is absent in our midst.