I have a few friends who are questioning their Christian faith at a fairly basic level. If God is even there, why isn't he more obviously real and present to me? In a conversation with one such friend in a hot tub, I objected that because God's being is so unlike ours or anything else that we know, it requires an entirely different mode of knowing, closer to the way in which we know a beloved parent than the way we know algebra (I realize now that this analogy is more problematic than helpful). His response was that though he understands that a personal mode of knowledge is required for him to truly know his mother, she presents herself as objectively real to him prior to all demands of personal knowledge; in other words, he might neglect her and therefore fail to come to know her on a personal level, but he would not easily be able to deny her plain existence since he can see, hear, and touch her (all Freudian comments will be deleted). Why isn't God more like this, he asks? This friend claims he would understand having to humble himself, take up his cross, lay down his life, whatever, as long as first he had solid reason to believe he wasn't deluding himself into acknowledging God's existence.
Another friend, in an online chat type discussion, said something like this: "I don't need theology; I need a God I can see and touch, who can hold me when I'm distressed, speak to me and kiss me."
These types of comments are beginning to make the problem clear to me. They're just asking for what the church we've grown up in, the seeker-sensitive evangelical church, has told them to expect. We've been told that God will meet all our needs, without being told to repent of our need to control everything. We've been told that God will answer all our questions, without being told not to put God to the test. We've been told Aslan IS a tame lion and this is the kind of god these guys want. They want a god who will hop up on their examination tables so they can see and touch him while he, in his infinite patience, might ask for a few token observances, but won't demand that they surrender everything, especially their thinking ("otherwise how would I know I wasn't deluding myself?"). The god they want doesn't need them to renew their minds. They want an idol.
Idolatry rests on the confusion of the transcendent and the creaturely, making the divine openly available to the creature to be seen and touched. These guys don't want the transcendent God of the Bible; they want the god we talk about at church.
One of these friends of mine, who holds a degree in biblical studies and theology, often comes back to the signs motif in the Gospel of John. In John, Jesus performs numerous miraculous signs with the explicit intention of their serving as signs toward belief in him. This guy claims that if he could have been one of that select group who were lucky enough to live in Galilee or Judea in that three year or so period when Jesus walked around turning water into wine, he would believe. Of course I raise all the classic objections that plenty of people did see these things and didn't believe, but he comes back with the honest enough self appraisal that he truly thinks he wouldn't be one of them, that he would be one of the few to put his whole trust in Christ if he saw that kind of objective proof. Isn't the whole point of the incarnation after all to bring God within our observable sphere so we CAN see and touch him?
Two things seem important here. First, Jesus' divinity is never objectively observable. It is objective, but its objectivity stands in total authoritative lordship over us, opening us up to investigation, not itself. It is Jesus' humanity that is on open display in his incarnation; his divinity, despite all the miraculous signs to it, is still only known through faith. The signs, for all their impressiveness, do not establish his divinity but point past themselves to it; they are, after all, miracles performed by a human and this can never be proof that this human is God. Even in Christ's incarnation, there can be no proof for God's existence. This is why so many can see the miracles and disbelieve while Anna and Simeon are able to believe seeing only the unimpressive infant Jesus with no external objective proof of his divinity (yes, I know thats in Luke, but its still valid).
Second, and probably more importantly, we must consider the theological implications of Christ's ascent into heaven. It is on purpose that so few saw the historical Jesus and so many more see the church in all its fallibility. Jesus was not an idol in his historical earthly life, but his ascension only establishes that fact more plainly. God never gave us any reason to expect any epistemological control over him; we can always only know him through faith. But won't we see him directly in heaven? Yes, when our minds are raised incorruptible from the dead. For now, they must be subjected to death. Our minds must be renewed and there is no undoubtable Cartesian basis for this to convince us in our fallen state that this must be so. We must relinquish control, repent of attempts to epistemologically control God and put him to the test. We must respond to the transcendent Word of God present in Jesus' humanity in faith for its own sake, not because we find it reasonable. To know God in Christ we must totally start over, including starting our thinking over from a totally new starting point, outside ourselves in Christ; we must be born again in him. A god that presents himself as fully reasonable to our fallen minds cannot be God; likewise a god that presents his full being to our eyes without destroying us can only be an idol.