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Hidden

The Hiddenness of God is one of the two major philosophical challenges to the existence of God. If you’re arguing that God is not real—that’s “God” in the traditional sense of all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-good —you cite either the existence of evil and suffering, or the hiddenness of God to support your disbelief. You say, if God’s so good, why can’t humans experience God more easily? Why isn’t God there when we feel like we desperately need God? Why isn’t the evidence plain? All this hiddenness smacks of communal delusion, that there’s really nothing there.

 

On this rock, many a faith has foundered, because the answer can’t be found in logic. The only answer that makes sense is the mystic’s answer, the answer of Job, and that’s not really an answer. It’s a stance. It’s the recognition that my little pea brain can’t actually take in the fullness and broadness of God, any more than a one-celled being can understand me. Job’s realization is that the height of human hubris is to assume that we should be able to understand. (Of course then comes the question, what kind of God would make humans so damned dim? But that’s some other discussion.)

 

There is yet another answer to the question of the hiddenness of God to be found in the experience of the mystics. It’s also on display in the new cosmology/theology of our evolving universe. This is the observation that God isn’t hidden at all, or—more clearly—God’s hidden in plain sight. God is integral, inseparable from all of life and the universe. Teilhard de Chardin called this The Divine Milieu, where everything participates in God; every single situation is of God. God is being-ness, not a being; experience, not a concept; feeling, not an idea; reality, not a proof.

 

This leads me to a related kind of hiddenness: not God’s hiddenness but ours.

 

My reading this past year has been challenging. I struggled through a lot of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s work—as well as books, articles, podcasts and blogs about him—because the contemplative group wanted a Teilhard retreat. I read A God That Could Be Real because— when I panned a positive assessment of the book—I was challenged to write my own review. (See A dialogue that could be real—but not yet on Still Points). I read The Innovators, a history of the people who developed computers and the Internet, because George wanted to talk about it together. I don’t know that I would have chosen to read any of these books if I hadn’t had a push.

 

The end result has been surprising: a new orientation towards the universe and life. I feel stretched out toward the future: an arrow of evolution in the endless stream of creativity. But not as a singular point, a supernova of wisdom and light: more like one of the crowd.

 

I have imbibed the cultural value of individualism pretty deeply. I remember once thinking that the worst thing that could happen to me would be to teach at a community college rather than, say, Harvard. I was appalled by student preaching to a congregation of 30 or 40 and swore I’d never take a small church. On the scale I set for myself, I’ve failed quite profoundly: I teach nowhere regularly, and the local church that I serve unofficially has five members. I have not set the world on fire, made my mark, or become famous and important.

 

I would be lying if I said that it doesn’t bother me sometimes.

 

100 years ago, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin started talking about the “reality and organicity of collective magnitudes.” In more recent years, E.O. Wilson (and others) spoke of “emergent properties.” Both Teilhard de Chardin and Wilson observed that when some thing (subatomic particle, atom, molecule, cell, animal, etc.) reaches a critical mass, something entirely new and different results. It is not possible to know beforehand the number of things required to bring about this change; the nature of the new “something” is likewise unpredictable; and the laws that govern this new entity are unforeseeable. The product that results from a collective magnitude will behave in ways and have capacities that cannot be anticipated. More, as the physicist Phil Anderson says, is different.

 

This principle of collective magnitudes—emergent properties—underlies the entire universe. Ever since the Big Bang banged, the movement toward entropy has been opposed by a movement toward increasing complexity and consciousness. A few examples: the emergence of organic life from inorganic elements; the capacity of ant colonies to adjust foraging levels and locations; the organization of muscles into a heart that pumps blood; the appearance of consciousness. The constituent parts remain the same, remain their full selves—chemicals, cells, muscles, ants, neurons—but seen together, they merge and something radically new emerges. Not one atom of my body is alive; but I am alive.

 

In evolution, it’s collective magnitudes—not outliers—that change reality and set new laws into motion. Outliers are important, but lasting change comes when a sufficient number of individual entities are fully themselves and fully in relationship with each other.

 

The Hassidic tradition speaks of the Lamed Vov Tzadikim—the thirty-six righteous men of every generation, unknown to themselves and to each other, whose life of prayer and righteousness makes humanity right with God. Anonymous, concealed, scattered, hidden: across the continents, they hold the earth together.

 

I’m betting that we need more than thirty-six people right now. Looking at the bloody mess of the world, it’s obvious that we desperately lack a sense of fertile possibility. Given global distress and dystopic expectations, many minds are thinking the same thing: we’re fucked. I’m praying there’s no collective magnitude living out of this conceptual framework, this expectation that the human being is devolving to a creature without the capacity to respond to life with generosity, possibility, vision, ethical consideration, or beauty.

 

It is no longer sufficient to trust in the lamed vovnicks or to pray for visionaries to lead us. It’s time to become visionaries ourselves. When we hold inside ourselves a sense of deep connection to the bigger picture—the possibilities of evolution, the future we can’t anticipate but which promises something unimaginably new, and most importantly, trust in the ultimate goodness of life—and when we hold that in spite of our own fear, uncertainty, despair and suffering, we become part of evolutionary emergence. We don’t know what our work will bring into being. We don’t know how many of us it will take. But we can certainly believe that our work is part of some new collective magnitude, an alternative to the devolution that threatens to tear our world apart.

 

Finally, and importantly, I must remember this: evolution responds to deeds, not thoughts. I can ponder all this but my thoughts change nothing unless they are translated into action. Choose your authority, here: Thomas Merton said, Christianity does not teach man to attain an inner ideal of divine tranquility…It teaches him to give himself to his brother and to his world in a service of love. The Dalai Lama recently tweeted, It’s unrealistic to think that the future of humanity can be achieved through prayer or good wishes alone; what we need is to take action.” No matter how you cut it, we have work to do.

 

So I am well and truly convinced that I must point all of me toward the next great emergence. To that end, I’m writing this. I’m meditating, voting, volunteering, listening. Laughing, loving, growing things. This is my work. I don’t know what your work is, but I do know that we are doing it together, part of a mass of unseen, invisible evolutionary revolutionaries trusting blindly in something we can’t imagine but for which we long.

 

Hidden here in the backwater of New Denver, BC, population less than 600 souls in a world of 7,393,005,016, I’m the leading edge of evolution. As are you. Hoohah!

 

 

 

 

 


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