Where is God?
The Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, executed by the Nazis for his involvement in an assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler, once said the following: “God wants us to realise his presence, not in unsolved problems but in those that are solved.” (Letters and Papers from Prison) So where is God’s presence? We might answer that question in several different ways: in us; in Christ; everywhere. We probably wouldn’t say that God is at the end of our reasoning; at the very fringes of human understanding. But sometimes we can talk about God’s existence as being the answer to unsolvable mysteries and therefore God becomes the one who sits at the place where our imagination runs out. We tend to do this when we are on the defensive; in other words, when we are trying to create an apologetic for our faith.
So should the Christian engage in apologetics? Well, it’s a Christian thing, apologetics; it goes back to the early Church. But consider this further quote from Bonhoeffer:
Religious people speak of God when human knowledge (perhaps simply because they are too lazy to think) has come to an end, or when human resources fail - in fact it is always the deus ex machina that they bring on to the scene, ... for the apparent solution of insoluble problems… (Letters and Papers from Prison)
Has Bonhoeffer lost his faith? Is he having a go at religious people other than us? Or is there something endemic in the way that we think that means that God is only ever the end point of our reasonable resources? Now the early apologists had a very different way of going about apologetics than some modern theists do. Their argument was not to defend a concept of God as the answer to unanswered questions, but to help people see the truth of Christ in contrast to Hellenistic ideas of the time. Their apologetic was acutely philosophically engaged – I think ours should be too. But what it brought to that territory was an apologetic focussed upon the centre of Christian teaching, not the periphery of it. So if we are to define an apologetic in modern society, then surely it must not be for a God that merely exists, but for the God that we know and are known by in Christ.
Bonhoeffer certainly didn’t avoid an engagement with philosophy; in fact his habilitation thesis Act and Being was exactly an engagement with philosophy. Likewise, we shouldn’t ignore the New Atheism, for example; but if our only defence against it is to advocate the existence of a God that might be a first cause, or a sufficient explanation for the universe’s origins, then we are not very close to the Christian understanding of God in Christ. God, we would surely have it, is right in the middle of things, not at the outskirts. God has enfleshed himself within time and eternity and the apologetic for that is to talk about this very God – Jesus Christ – in the sense that He is revealed to us; that is, at once as the good news of our salvation and as very God.