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God in the Ruins?

R.R. Reno in his book In the Ruins of the Church urges Christians to continue to ally themselves with the institutional church even though much of it is in ruins. Reno honestly recognises the shattered state of the North American church, yet counsels the church to stay in those ruins for God is present there, just as God was present in the ruins of Jerusalem.
I am unconvinced.
You see, the Temple was ruined and Jerusalem was destroyed because God had departed. The prophets' visions of the Shekinah departing from the Temple are grievous because they reveal that God has left his holy mountain. The city will certainly fall and the doom of the Temple is guaranteed. Therefore, if the contemporary church is in ruins it seems contrary to Scripture to argue that God is present there. Instead, those ruins should be a sign telling us that God has departed.
Simply put, I do not think that contemporary North American Christians can make an a priori assumption that God is still with us. Of course, Christians tend to object to the idea of godforsakenness and point to the passage in Hebrews that says that God “will never leave us nor forsake us.” Yet what they hasty reader misses is the fact that this verse is a quote from Deuteronomy 31 where Moses tells the people to go with courage into the land knowing that God will never leave them nor forsake them. But in the very same chapter Moses also says that, once in the land, Israel will rebel against God. Therefore, God says, “My anger will be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them and hide my face from them, and they shall be consumed… I will surely hide my face in that day because of all the evil which they will do.” We cannot proof-text our way out of forsakenness. Such theologies belong to the false prophets, not to the prophets of the living God.
Only by recognising our forsakennes can we hope to be restored. Only when we recognise that God has abandoned us can we hope that God will once again hear from heaven and come down.
I will stay within the ruins of the church, not because God is there, but in order to be the presence of God to a godless people. The church is the cross that the followers of Jesus must bear. We are called to journey with a people in exile if we are to maintain any hope of exile coming to an end.

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  1. HA HA HA, this is clearly the best comment anyone has left so far!
    Other than that, this is a very interesting post. I’m still not sure where I stand on the idea of exile/Godforsakeness…I’m not sure what implications this has for my own life, either way. I wonder if you can lump the church as a whole as seems to be implied by this post?
    Thanks for making me wonder…

  2. I’m not too shocked that you’re hesitant about embracing the idea of exile/godforsakenness. Some churches do a pretty good job of indoctrinating people and make them incapable reading the bible with any sort of clarity.
    But how are you not sure of the implications of godforsakenness? I can only understand that position if you’ve embraced a very western position that makes Christianity all about your personal relationship with God apart from everybody else. The bible clearly teaches that people flourish or perish as a group. That means that even the righteous few will suffer the devastating consequences that result from the wrongdoings of the group as a whole.

  3. I was basically expressing that I don’t understand because I haven’t really thought about what it means. For example: so, if I am participating in a church that as a whole has turned away from God, what is the point? If there is a point, what does that look like? How much of my taken for granted assumptions may I have to change? How much of my idea of Christianity and salvation will I have to change? Will I be granted salvation if I continue just living like the rest of the church? (that question, of course, reflects a very specific view of salvation) Etc, etc, ad nauseum. There’s just too much going on here that I haven’t even thought about.

  4. The expanded version of the Deuteronomy text as you have quoted it here, rather than supporting your point merely adds to the confusion, as it clearly contradicts itself. Moses tells the people to go with courage knowing that God will never leave them nor forsake them, only to have God then forsake them and hide his face from them. What kind of a promise was that? What a strange view of God that you and Deuteronomy present – one who seems to turn away from us when we stop doing what he wants us to do.

  5. Sorry if I left you feeling confused by my treatment of Deuteronomy. However, I don’t think the text contradicts itself. Rather, it shows the need for understanding Scripture contextually. Each statement makes sense within the covenantal context of Deut. 31. I’m saying we can’t just take one statement (i.e. that God will never forsake us) and make it apply at all times in all situations. God’s presence or God’s absence are expressions of the covenant that he has with his people. If the people keep covenant with him he will always be with them. If they break covenant they will end up far away from him.
    I hope that clears up the text.
    And while I can understand your perplexity with the idea of forsakenness I think you’re loading your question when you phrase it in terms of God turning away from us when we “stop doing what he wants us to do.” If we understand God as existing in a vulnerable love relationship with his people then what the Deuteronomist is saying, and what much of the OT says, is that God allows his people to reject him.

  6. Also, (and more sticking with your original point), are you claiming that there is no church in North America that is meeting God on some level? Has God abandoned the ones that are doing it “right” because of the actions of the majority? (Cause I’m pretty sure that God loves the Anabaptists…)
    To take it one step further, does your view of God-forsakenness extend to us as individual Christians or has God just forsaken the church as a whole? As a North American Christian, am I trying to have a relationship with One who simply isn’t there? Am I trying to pray/talk to One who isn’t listening and has turned his face away from me? Is that why when I pray I feel like I’m talking to a brick wall, or am I just naively hoping that I can experience a Spiritual Being on some kind of a tangible level?

  7. Q1- No, I’m not claiming that there is no parish church that is meeting God at some level. However, once we get passed our individualistic tendencies those churches are still a part of broader Church which, I am asserting, is experiencing forsakenness.
    Q2- No, God has not abandoned the ones who have grasped what it means to be his people – but even these people suffer the consequences of exile. Look at Jesus. He existed in intimacy with the Father but he also suffered the brunt of forsakenness.
    Q3- Yes, it does extent to us as individuals. Jesus, Jeremiah, etc., all suffer the consequences of forsakenness along with the corporate body. That’s because a biblical understanding of individuals does not allow them to be dissociated from the corporate body.
    Q4-6- Maybe. Of course the first step to having a relationship with a God who isn’t there is calling out to God so that God sees, hears, remembers and acts. Such a hope is not naive.

  8. Thank you for taking time out of your extremely busy schedule to reply to my questions. I respect you and your opinions immensely.

  9. Also, (and now we’re really getting to the root of the matter), I think you’re spending too much time reading the Old Testament prophets and now you think you are one (ever read Don Quixote?). Or maybe you’re on to something profound and important…

  10. Actually I’ve been doing a hella lotta reading about Jesus and that has caused me to re-examine the OT prophets (I did just finish a course on Isaiah but even that was taught, interestingly enough, by a New Testament Scholar). Maybe you’re spending too much time watching TV and not enough time reading the Old or New Testaments…