There is in our churches and ministries a gap. It is largely ignored and to be honest I believe few actually even see it. It is this middle space where real life and theology meet, but don’t meet easily and neatly. The space between our conception of the reality of our physical space and the theological ideals we have of God and the cosmic.
In the Western world we are fairly confident about the rational truths that we can claim about the empirical world around us (the world we can know about through our senses). Science has taught us through methodical research that certain elements interact with other elements and that there are laws (or at least habits) that nature has so that the same reaction will happen to the same interaction every time. These scientific discoveries certainly help to explain certain things in life. For example, I know (through hours of methodical and well documented research) that if I put a Mentos into a 2-liter of soda the result will be a dramatic fountain of effervescent hilarity. We also use this knowledge to explain many things that may seem supernatural or extraordinary that happen in our daily lives.
We also are aware that there is another, more transcendent level of things. This is where concepts such as heaven, hell, eternity, higher gods or a God exist. We in the Christian church are well versed at talking about these things and teaching them to others.
Then there is this space between, the place where these two levels seem to come together as a part of our everyday lives. This is where we ask questions about our future, the tragedies that may happen that are out of our control, the past things that have happened to us or around for which we do not find a ready explanation in science or theology (as defined in the higher level of things). Some cultures talk about spirits, ghosts, and other types of magic operating at this level and in control of things.
I believe that this space between, this middle space is where the Western Christian church has incredible difficulty. We don’t know how to address it so we don’t address it at all. But people are trying to deal with it, to find answers, to make things “make sense”. Oftentimes in my experience if the disconnect is strong even “good Christians” will turn to other religions, astrology, palm reading, etc. to find answers to their unanswered questions.
Which begs the question – do we have any answers for this space between? Does our Story have anything to say about the tragedies of life, the unknown coincidences, the struggles with the past and possible future we all deal with? Or do we merely point back to science and say, “there must be a rationale explanation”?
I believe we do have some things to say about this middle space, not all of which includes having “answers”. In history the churches and ministries which found themselves most centered on communicating to this level experienced some powerful changes. I wonder what would happen if we spent more time communicating about God’s presence in the space between? For isn’t that where we all live?
A great article on this very issue by Paul G. Hierbert can be read here. He does an excellent job of explaining the different levels.
Thoughts? Examples of places where you have seen people dealing with the space between?
I have to be honest and say that part of these thoughts have been spurred on by recent tragedies to friends.