Dr. John E. Johnson

Dr. John E. Johnson

Finding God’s Reality

 When Philip said to Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father, and
it is enough for us”, he voiced what many of us want from God—a sense of the
reality of His presence. Moses wanted the same thing (Exodus 33). He had been
in the wilderness with God, but he wanted More. On any given weekend, in the
worship service, I ask what I sense others might be asking—“Is there a vivid
consciousness of the presence of the living God in this place?” For Philip, it
was missing. And maybe it sometimes is for us.

It’s not that there is a failure on God’s part. He is
there. Like Jacob, we occasionally awake out of our drift and say, “Surely the
Lord is present in this place, and I did not know it.” For Philip, God was
right in front of him, in his space, speaking with him, eating with him, and
journeying with him. For three years, the presence, the Being of God did
amazing things, and Philip’s unbelief obscured his vision. He did not know it. Jesus’
reply in John 14 is telling—“Have I been with you so long?”
(paraphrased—“Philip what do I have to do to convince you? For God’s sake, open
your eyes!”)  And maybe God is saying the
same thing to us.

We want a glimpse of God. We step into a house of worship
with a hope that maybe today God will reveal Himself. But in much contemporary
worship, the sense of God’s absence is real—and it is not hard to explain. We too
have a vision that is obscured by too many distractions. As Davis puts it in
his Worship and the Reality of God, “Never before in human history has
it been possible for the human mind to be so overstimulated, so distracted and
so overloaded with a never-ending, Niagra Falls-like cascade of information,
images, entertainment, texts, sounds, fantasies, pornography, and commercial
advertisements.” Alien realities are at work to wash out our consciousness of

Maybe this is why I find an occasional escape so
necessary, like the one I took last week to Ione, away from strip malls and
subdivisions. I was first attracted to this part of the northeastern corner of
Washington because I sensed a deeper reality of God’s presence when I first
came up this way to kayak. Though I have spent so much of my life as a pastor
in the church, God seems to do some of His best work in me in this place. Here
I realize that the House of God stretches from one corner of the universe to
the other. As Barbara Brown Taylor puts it, “Earth is so thick with divine
possibility that it is a wonder we can walk anywhere without cracking our shins
on altars.”

There is something about the wilderness, where the stars
like to show off and creation struts its stuff, and it can be so silent you can
hear the silence. And for me, when I hear the silence, I begin to hear God in
clearer tones. To put it in Davis’ words, one can more easily pick up the
signal of Trinitarian theism (Father, Son, and Spirit), all speaking to the
heart. The signals of modernity and postmodernity are also fighting to be heard
on my spiritual receiver, but they become much weaker on the Pend Oreille
River. Word and general revelation team up, as the Psalmist notes in Psalm 19. I
begin to more deeply appreciate his words, one who saw creation as a powerful
way God joins His special revelation to speak to us of His reality. Day to day,
the works of God pour forth speech; words are not heard, yet their utterances
go to the end of the earth…the precepts of the Lord rejoice the heart (Ps

What’s amazing (and disheartening) is to see, amidst the
pristine beauty, occasional spaces that have been trashed. An expanse of forest
is occasionally dotted with properties that serve as dumping grounds for old
cars, appliances, and garbage of all sorts. Some people seem to choose the
rural as a refuse pit. And Spokane, which serves as a gateway for much of this
scenic beauty, is, ironically, known for a fair amount of deep spiritual
darkness. How does this happen? Aren’t people aware God is speaking?

Could it be that the adversary, knowing that our God
chooses to reveal His reality in various ways, be it in special or general
revelation, through His Word or through creation, works 24/7 to distract, to
vandalize, to spray graffiti wherever there is beauty? He does whatever he can
to weaken the signals and distract the receiver. Before Pandora and Satellite
Radio and CD’s, I owned a small AM-FM radio that sounded like this on a long
road trip—ReRe—ah–*–coco—jjffff.  Lot’s
of noise, but no connection. There were both sender and receiver problems. And
lots of competing signals. The devil seems particularly busy in these days
keeping people from hearing and seeing, be it in a church or out in nature.

As Jesus was underscoring to Philip—it is not for lack of
a strong Sender.  “He who has seen Me has
seen the Father.” God is right in front of us, above us, among us, and within
us. It’s not—where is God—but—where are we?


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1 Comment
  • sewcreative
    3:52 PM, 28 October 2013

    So majestic….I envy your moments of respite. But…I am most thankful that you are able to have them. Enjoy!

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