Peter Rollins and Experiencing God

In Insurrection, Peter Rollins critiques the way in which various religious movements attempt to experience God.

One approach is the one taken by Chick Tracts, where God is a being so external to the world, the earth is left with no real meaning, and life becomes just something to endure until the final reconciliation.

Another approach is believing that we can encounter God in worship experiences. This initially seems much better, since it says we have the ability to have a relationship with God here and now. But ultimately, this approach renounces the world as well. Since God is experienced under the exceptional circumstances of a worship service, a distinction is maintained between normal life, and life in connection with God. God is sequestered into a building and an event, not because this is the intent of the organizers, but because the very structure of what they are doing demands it. Someone who has a brief experience of God may well be drawn into an addictive pursuit of more and more extreme worship experiences, trying ever harder to create a "thin space" where God may be felt.

It's a simple calculation everyone intuitively understands. If God is experienced more in the service, then he is experienced less elsewhere. If powerful musical and inspirational performers, or special smells and ceremonies, or certain habits and locations, are the means by which God is brought close, then God is forever on the retreat from the world at large. The rest of life is less significant, and less meaningful.

It would seem then that there is no answer. God is either forever distant, incapable of being experienced at all, or our very attempts to experience him drain life of meaning.

But Christianity has a different answer altogether. God is not experienced in moments of exultation, in ceremonies, or far removed from the world. God is experienced only and entirely in acts of love towards others.

This is the way in which Christianity turns us towards the world, to radically re-engage in life as it is. In Christianity, there is no service to God outside of service to others, there is no spiritual experience outside of practiced love.

This is why Jesus makes a big deal about bread and wine at the last supper. Not because he wants them to have a ritual where they feel intense emotions as they exchange crackers, but because he wants them to pursue him in the living out of relationships, in the sharing of meals as the concrete expression of friendship and love.