Where is God?

A message popped up on my iPad one Sunday afternoon: “Happy Sunday. How was church?” This typical Nigerian greeting on ‘the Lord’s Day’ was met by an atypical reply from me. “Happy Sunday to you. I didn’t go to church today.”

The response was predictably swift and unequivocal. “I will pardon you for today but next Sunday, please don’t fail to go to church.” What followed was an interesting exchange of views – one side rooted in the idea that weekly church attendance equalled ‘serving God’ and guaranteed lifelong blessings and a rewarding afterlife. The opposing view (mine) was that I didn’t feel the need to find God in a special place and that serving my fellow man is the best way to please the creator. The exchange ended on an agreeable note, when my friend realised that our views were not that far apart, in spite of my lack of commitment to a weekly ritual.

So, what’s behind this age-old habit of weekly worship? Believe it or not, its origins lie in the pagan practice of worshiping idols made of wood, clay, stone and precious metals. In order to pay homage and offer sacrifices, believers had to be in the physical presence of the deity at a temple or shrine. Abraham was the first person to challenge these beliefs successfully, proclaiming the idea of a single, all-powerful god who didn’t need a physical form. In doing so, Abraham advanced our relatively modern idea of monotheism and became the first Jew. Ironically, Abraham’s father, Terah, had a business that sold idols.

Change, no matter how radical, is slow. Often, throughout the biblical years, the Jews required physical representations of God, including the Ark of the Covenant, a golden calf and various other manifestations. One offshoot of Judaism, Islam, has held firmly to the idea of one omnipresent god, Allah, the same god of Abraham. The early Christian church, as fashioned by the Romans, was less clear-cut, with a trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit and numerous statues of saints and crucifixes, to help persuade millions of idol worshippers across the vast Roman Empire. Today’s Christianity, despite the widely held belief that ‘God is everywhere’, still pushes the idea of going to church regularly, to worship ‘in His presence’.

Recently, while giving a friend a lift, I heard a radio advertisement for a crusade or conference at one of those huge Lagos mega-churches – with the usual list of speakers and the promise of ‘miracles, signs and wonders’. Right at the end, the voice loudly declared that if one were to attend, “God is waiting to meet you.”

I thought it was just me, but my friend reacted in exactly the same way – with a mixture of mirth and incredulity – to the idea that you had to go to a special place, at an appointed time, to ‘meet God’. How do such ideas still thrive in 2018, after more than 3,000 years of monotheism, grounded in the idea of an omnipresent, omnipotent God? Quite easily, I think, because church leaders have a vested interest in driving attendance numbers, membership and, ultimately, tithing and collections. Without the numbers, those huge auditoriums would not exist, neither would the palatial homes, luxury cars and private jets.

Before you dismiss my opinion as mere cynicism, consider this. How has Judaism survived and thrived, despite persecution over centuries, without evangelism, and ended up with Jews being the most prosperous individuals on earth? Much of the practice of their religion takes place at home and is weaved into their daily lives. Their wealth is derived from the practical application of principles learned from birth and honed by isolation, not from any inducement to tithe. Interestingly, Jews are extremely generous givers and have the most amazing system of charitable institutions, ensuring that no member of their community gets left behind.

Islam continues to grow without evangelism also; and although adherents of both religions worship weekly in their millions, I can’t think of a single celebrity Rabbi or Imam with a flashy lifestyle. Instead, they are engaged by their congregations to focus on teaching and prayers, and are answerable to them. Conversely, Christian pastors are often seen as ‘owners’ of churches, with the right to huge incomes and benefits.

If we really believe in an omnipotent, omnipresent God, shouldn’t church be a place where those in need can receive help and support from those of us who are ‘followers of Christ’? Wasn’t He more concerned about people’s sickness, hunger and nakedness, than whether they were going to the temple? Come to think of it, I can’t remember a single reference in the gospels of Jesus holding regular meetings with his followers. Perhaps He was too busy travelling to all the places He was needed.

In fact, He was the kind of guy most modern-day pastors would warn you to stay away from – a homeless, itinerant man with radical views, who was resistant to authority and spent time hanging out with prostitutes, moneylenders and tax collectors – the agents of the Roman oppressor. He challenged the leadership of the church and questioned their affluence, relative to the poverty of their congregation. Ultimately, he was executed because he had no friends in high places who could vouch for him – just a ragged bunch of fishermen and other poor followers.

He moved around from place to place, knowing that God is everywhere and would provide for His every need. He didn’t need the permanence of a building because his trust was in something far more solid and everlasting. He didn’t want to be surrounded by the righteous, when there were so many sufferers who needed him more. And, if he needed a place to pray, one location was as good as another – a quiet room, a mountaintop, a garden or even out in the bush.

Let me be clear – I’m not saying people shouldn’t go to church, but I do think that we place far too much importance on the institution and on regular attendance. Many have been manipulated into tithing, believing it’s a Christian obligation (it is not*). Our real focus should be to try and make a difference in the real world, where so many people need our help, support and encouragement.

When things get really tough and all hope is lost, many desperate people wonder aloud, “Where is God?” The answer should be obvious – ‘everywhere’ – because He should be present wherever we are. Let’s dedicate ourselves to showing up for other people when they are most in need. And, hopefully, the next time someone asks, ‘Where is God?’ you’ll be right there to show them.

(* For my views on tithing, see my earlier post ‘Above the clouds‘ 04/05/2015)

“God’s whole being is present in every part of space, or at every point in space; it is also necessary to say that God cannot be contained by any space, no matter how large.” ~ Wayne Grudem and Jeff Purswell

“A heathen philosopher once asked, “Where is God?” The Christian answered: “Let me first ask you, where is He not?” ~ John Arrowsmith

“But what we can do, as flawed as we are, is still see God in other people, and do our best to help them find their own grace. That’s what I strive to do, that’s what I pray to do every day.” ~ Barack Obama

19 thoughts on “Where is God?

  1. Dear Mike,
    Great insight! You have shed light on some dark corners we naija Christians consider a no brainer as we have been socialized into getting dressed and showing up on Sunday by fire by force.
    I was at church today and i must say God met me there however,I’ve also had to ask questions about how our big places of worship help the needy after i heard this story here goes…
    In the US, Texas to be precise there were two Nigerian students on the verge of not being able to afford their school fees despite their on and off odd jobs. So they approached their Nigerian church in Texas after all they both were choir memebers and comitted workers in two other units; alas they were told the church had no budget for them. In desperation these two ladies started attending one of the charismatic churches every Sunday after their Nigerian church service by week three they approached the church with their challenge and boom like magic,word went round these ladies were prayed for and given the required amount to stay in school all from the churches pocket.
    Don’t get me wrong, i am not saying nothing is being done all i know is that a lot more can be done right here right now.

    Cheer Mike it’s also a delight to be challenged by your point of view.

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  2. Michael I agree with a lot that you but i believe you oversimplify the Jewish religion. Jesus had issue with some the Rabbi because they were no different than many pastors we know now. Presently some of those Rabbi exploit their congregation in many was by ripping the synagogue money and overcharge members for bar mizpah. I have coworkers over the years openly complain about the abuses. Even in divorce they at times took bribe and side with one party over the other so that party. Even some of their charities are illegally financed by tax payers money. As for charity for their people, that do exist but not for the Ethiopian Jews that was brought to Israel during the Etiopian civil war.
    Not that I am anti- Jewish but they have their level of corruption and traditions that are not of God like the Christian’s. Of course we will find the same thing among segments of Islam too. The major religions have all corrupted leaders inbedded somewhere or another. I guess it’s the nature of mankind.
    Of course I agree with your views of what we should be doing.

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    1. Thanks as always for your very detailed response. Yes, it was oversimplified for comparison purposes. The main point being that their religion is infused into family life, especially the raising of children that leads to their disproportionate success. They have corrupt rabbis, I’m sure, but I don’t think it’s accepted or even celebrated the way it is with gullible Christians who will defend their pastor’s right to buy a private jet. For the purposes of writing short articles like this, one has to generalise and assume that everyone understands that. Thanks for the great feedback!

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  3. I am in total agreement with the spirit and idea of this article. However, I would like to clear up some misconceptions stated about the homelessness of Jesus and raggedness of His disciples.

    In John 1:35-40 two disciples of John the Baptist heard Jesus and asked him where He lived. He told them to come over to His house and they spent the night there. These two never went back to John and one of them was Andrew, the brother of Peter. In Matthew 13:1 we are expressly told that Jesus went out of the house and sat by the seaside. There are some bible scholars who have chosen to conjecture that the house which had a portion of the roof torn off by the four friends of the bed ridden man was Jesus’ house. It is categorically stated in Matthew 8:14 that Peter had a house and when Jesus visited He healed Peter’s mother-in-law. When Jesus told the seeker in Matthew 8:20 and Luke 9:58 that foxes had holes while He had no resting place, He was out of town. Do read Luke 9:51-58 for context.

    The disciples of Jesus were not obscure men. Matthew was a tax collector and he threw a party when he responded to Jesus’ call. Peter had partners in his fishing business as we see when his ship (which would be a big boat and not a small canoe) was used in Luke 5:2-7. In Mark 10:23-31 the disciples were astonished when Jesus said it was hard for the rich to make heaven. They wondered among themselves who could be saved and Peter went on to say that they had left ALL to follow Jesus. Peter only spoke for himself in Acts 3:6 as he said he didn’t have any gold or silver which may have been because of the time of day as some have speculated to be 3a.m. John who was with him in this encounter didn’t say a word and the idea being communicated was that Jesus’ Name trumps everything.

    I agree that a certain strain of the Church in Nigeria is fixated on money and have refused to heed the saying of Jesus that “the poor you will always have with you”. This is pathetic. The other day I told someone that although the tithe is supposed to be for the Levites, widows, orphans and strangers Deuteronomy 14:22-29 and 26:12-13, it has become the gravy and how church is run. The Levites today would be those who work in church as full time staff and the pastor who is also full time. I won’t go into tithe. However, it was quite sad that when Freeze came up with his message on not tithing no pastor could engage him in a serious and enlightening discussion. The ones who spoke out on it resorted to ad hominem arguments. This is mockery on Paul’s take of studying to show that one is approved and rightly dividing the word of Truth. I personally think that certain men perceived a threat to their income and so responded to Freeze the way they did.

    Church is a place where we go to hear the Word preached that should help make us better people in order to improve the lives of others. We shouldn’t have the habit of not going there as it was Jesus’ practice to go to the synagogue Luke 4:16 and Paul said in Hebrews 10:25 that we shouldn’t forsake meeting together as some have made into a practice.

    Being a Christian is about doing the weightier matters of Judgment, Mercy and Faith Matthew 23:23 and Righteousness, Peace and spreading Joy Romans 14:17 as we live our lives for God and communicate the gospel of Jesus.

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    1. Thanks for this IK, you are as studious as I am not, given that I tend to be a little irreverent at times! My reference to Jesus being homeless is not to suggest that he didn’t have a home to go to, but that he was constantly on the move and was never concerned about where he was going to sleep – there was excellent hospitality everywhere because of the work he did. As far as we are aware, his home was the family house in Nazareth where he grew up. The same applies to the disciples, as they left everything behind to follow him – that’s what made them so exceptional. When he fed the five thousand, they had nothing at the time. When he sent them out to preach, they had nothing and He made sure of that, because He wanted them to see how the serious work of a Pastor is done. They proved that if they were doing God’s work, they would lack nothing. How different to the church leaders’ philosophy of today! Like I said in my article, it’s not that we shouldn’t go but that we should properly understand why we are going. My point was that we tend to go as a ritual – out of habit – and we are encouraged to do so in some places, to keep the coffers filled.

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    2. Sorry, I forgot to say that I read Matthew 13:1 but as is my habit, I read the whole chapter. I’m not a fan of reading selected verses. It says he went out of ‘the house’ not his house. Go to the end of the chapter and you will realise that when he told all those parables, he was out of town. It says that ‘he left that place when he was finished and returned to his hometown. There he taught in the synagogue, which gave rise to his rejection because he was seen as a local carpenter’s son and not highly regarded. Context, my friend, is everything.

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  4. I agree with the fact that God is everywhere and we do not need to meet at a certain location before we meet Him. Matter of fact, Jesus said that the time has come when the people who worship God will neither worship on the mountains of Samaria nor in Jerusalem but they will worship Him in spirit and in truth. True worship is from the heart. Bible says God looks at the heart. Yes, some people have abused the whole point of meeting, but you will remember that in the Gospels, it’s recorded that Jesus worshipped in the Synagogue. Another point is that Christians are admonished not to forsake meeting regularly. I just thought I should point out these facts. Interesting write up sir

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    1. Hi Abel, it’s wonderful to have you on my blog! Yes, He worshipped in the synagogue but He did so as part of His Jewish heritage, not as a weekly ritual. There are certain days that are necessary to attend. I agree – Christians should meet regularly but what are they meeting for? Is it to discuss issues about the school, clinic or feeding programme that they support? Or, is it to shout, dance and parade in their Sunday best? It’s all about the purpose – something that I think has been lost.

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      1. We have definitely lost a lot of things which we don’t want found. I read the Above the Clouds post and so much resonated. I tell people that polygyny is no sin. This does not mean I endorse it. Paul does say that the man who would be a leader in God’s house should HAVE ONE WIFE. This is so because the design of God is one man to one woman in marriage.

        A man had the power to compel his daughter to marry whoever he pleased. However, the consent of Rebecca was sought twice before she left with Abraham’s servant to meet Isaac. This is the ideal. And there was no formal ceremony before she became his wife.

        There’s a lot of nonsense being taught as doctrines and sacraments. This is so because people do not find things out for themselves. Paul commended the Christians in Berea in Acts 17:10-11 for being noble because they searched the scriptures to ascertain the veracity of what they were being taught.

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      2. Thanks IK. I’m thinking that I need you as my Biblical consultant whenever I decide to poke my nose into spiritual matters! You’ve got a very practical understanding of the scriptures because you read it for yourself. Unfortunately, most people get manipulated and misled on those very Sundays in church.

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  5. Greetings Michael. Insightful and well thought out but misguided, misled and ignorant of the Scriptures my brother (absolutely no malicious intent) we’re too close for that.
    1. Jesus regularly went to the Synagogue (Temple/Church) to worship weekly. Luke 4:16 When he came to the village of Nazareth, his boyhood home, he went as usual to the synagogue on the Sabbath and stood up to read the Scriptures. Basically He was setting an example to His followers.
    2. The Apostle Paul wrote And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.
    Hebrews 10:25 NLT
    How else were Jesus’ followers to be taught and edified? Yes there was and still are home meetings but there will always be a place for meeting. The word ‘church’ is ekklesia, a place of meeting. Not necessarily a large place. Jesus said where 2 or 3 are gathered together in His Name there He’d be…power of agreement, presence of angels as we worship. The building is not important because we the ppl are the church.
    Finally you say the disciples were poor…far from it. Also Jesus was not homeless, far from it. When He said the Son of Man has no place to lay His head, he meant He would not be staying any place permanently because as you said He’d be busy travelling and working while it was day because He had a limited time to accomplish His purpose.
    Look at this Scripture. Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God!” In fact, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!” The disciples were astounded. “Then who in the world can be saved?” they asked.
    Mark 10:23‭, ‬25‭-‬26
    Di man dem ask THEN WHO IN THE WORLD CAN BE SAVED??? You know why??? Because they were all RICH! Fishing was a big business then.
    Blessings bro.

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    1. Hi Paul, it’s so great to have you on my blog! It’s even better that you are a Pastor because I love to debate the Bible with you learned gentlemen. Let’s get to your points:
      1. You’re right, he did, when he was back in Nazareth but most of the time he was on the road, leading to reproach from the Pharisees about healing, eating, reaping, etc. on the Sabbath. My take on the gospels suggests He was more out than in, hence why they thought He was setting a bad example and why they were not friends.
      2. I said clearly in my post that I wasn’t suggesting that people shouldn’t go to church but rather that we should be careful not to go out of habit, believing that the ritual of attending is sufficient. Meanwhile, we ignore the weightier matters of justice, mercy, love, etc.
      3. My brother, I love the way pastors extract verses to prove a point and exclude the context! Lol. A closer look at Mark 10 shows that Jesus was approached by ‘a very rich man’ who asked about what he should do to go to heaven. Jesus reminds him of keeping the commandments, which he says he has done, then suggests that he should sell all of his possessions. Jesus’s response is the one you quote – it was not targeted at the disciples, although he was speaking to them. To buttress my point, the disciples then remind Him that they “have left EVERYTHING” to follow Him. Everything.
      As for Jesus being ‘homeless’, I was being a bit flippant and perhaps dramatic in describing his constant moving around, staying with friends, followers and supporters. Perhaps I should have left it at ‘itinerant’.
      When you live in Nigeria and you see the level of manipulation used to maintain attendance and the resulting revenues, you would understand my viewpoint even more. Dirt poor people being coerced by rich pastors is a sickening reality here. It’s so far from the roots of the church. If one believes the camel/needle analogy, virtually none of these pastors will enter the Kingdom.

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      1. The only thing I’ll add is God has no favourites. Therefore any Pastor who transgresses and or leads ppl astray for their personal gain and does not repent, he or she shall be judged and very likely perish!

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  6. Another brilliant blog. I imagine you would make enemies of a lot of pastors should they happen to read it. Nothing for me to add, as I could agree more with everything you say.

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    1. Hi Charles,
      Yes, you may be right. However, a few of my readers are pastors and they’ve been very supportive, but that’s because I don’t know any of the ones who would take offence. Most are far too remote to read blogs like this. One of my favourite quotes is the one these ‘men of God’ use when anyone questions their methods: “Who are you to question God?” Priceless.

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