Who is God for me?

As summer arrives here on Cape Cod, it seems easy to find God.

As I write this I’m looking out my window at new buds opening into sunshine and at bright-breasted robins, their heads thoughtfully inclined, divining the soft rumble of worms beneath their feet. Later this morning I’m going to take our rambunctious, loving puppy Suki on a walk to the beach and she will pull on the leash every step of the way, brimming with excitement simply because she is alive. My kids will come home from school this afternoon and they will barrel into the house, hungry for snacks to grow their young bodies, with loud reports of the latest from the Mullen Hall playground.

I am so grateful for our life here. The world around us is full of wonder. God is everywhere.

God is everywhere.

One thing we Christians believe is that God loves this creation so dearly that God never strays far from it. In fact, in some Christian theologies, God is present and alive in and to every single part of it. And I find that claim entirely persuasive when I’m viewing spring blossoms or walking a rambunctious puppy or hugging our healthy kids. But it’s a trickier thing to assert God’s omnipresence when we look beyond the borders of our own privilege.

As I view these spring blossoms, elsewhere seas are rising, forests are burning, and tops are being lopped off mountains to uncover the coal that can make our seas rise more. As I watch robins, elsewhere albatross are choking on plastic bottle caps. The last male white rhino in the world died a couple of weeks ago as I was walking my sweet dog to the beach. Our kids run through their world, happy and healthy and garrulous. And elsewhere children very like them are running too, but they are fleeing from violence in Honduras or Syria or Myanmar.

If God is everywhere, where is God in all those places, places where wonder has given way to sorrow?

There’s no good answer to this question. But maybe the question should be different.

There are two Latin phrases that are traditionally used in Christian theology to describe the nature of Christ’s presence in the world around us: pro nobis (which means ‘for us’) and pro me (which means ‘for me’). I don’t mean to bog this down with theological jargon, but I think these ideas—for us, for me—can be helpful. What they suggest is that, whenever and wherever God meets us in the world, God meets us in the world. Who and what Christ is, is always who and what Christ is to us. An analogy might be to think of human relationships: to me, Colette is a wife, to our kids she is a mom, to her parents she’s a daughter. She’s always the same person, but who she is changes depending on the person she is relating to. And as those relationships vary, so do the responsibilities that go with them.

The same is true of God and of God in Christ. When we meet Christ in the world, Christ is relating to us. Christ is saying something to us, Christ is asking something of us when we encounter him. So the question to ask in each situation isn’t really, ‘where is Christ in this?’ Rather, we should ask, ‘who is Christ in this, and what is Christ asking of me?’

The answer to this question can be comforting and obvious when we meet God in a sunset at Chapoquoit Beach or at a reunion with an old friend. But even when the situations are more difficult, the answers can still be quite clear. Who is Christ when that old friend we’ve met gets cancer? What does Christ ask of me then? Who is Christ when a child in Syria flees violence? What does Christ ask of me then? Who is Christ when an albatross gasps and dies, when a rhino becomes extinct, when the oceans rise? What does Christ ask of me then?

God meets us in each moment, speaks to us in each part of creation.

May we have strength to hear what God has spoken.