In, With, and Under
I don’t necessarily endorse Luther’s group of prepositions with which he tried to explain his doctrine of consubstantiation – how he thought Christ was really present in the Eucharist. It has been helpful to me over the years, however, in trying to understand more than one puzzle concerning God and our lives in this world.
In our present culture we often must guard against New Age-y types of emphases on God’s immanence. False teachers of various kinds want us to find God within ourselves. Hegel simply identifies God with world-history and believes he knows where He/it is going. In reaction to these deceptions, Christians have many times responded by emphasizing the radical transcendence of God, and His separation from Creation. This response is right and proper, but can be overdone.
God is not a distant surgeon, holding the world He created at arms’ length, with a look of distaste on His face while He manipulates it wearing latex gloves. He is often a fire that suddenly breaks forth from an ordinary bush. A quiet voice more startling than an earthquake because it speaks from a place so deep within our experience that we can never quite believe again that any moment of our life is completely solitary.
I often find that God must “sneak up” on me to get a message across to me. I’ll find myself singing a song that nothing in my previous train of thought would lead up to, but that it surprisingly relevant to my situation. God suddenly springs out at me, not so much from a distant “above”, as from deep within the historical stream of my life.
Luther attempted to explain the Real Presence by the metaphor of a blacksmith holding an iron rod in the fire of his forge. As he draws out the rod, it remains an iron rod, but is simultaneously filled “in, with and under” by fire. It is iron and fire at the same moment. Whether or not this is a good way to think of the Eucharist, it reminds me of what St. Seraphim of Sarov said about the Christian life – it is all about the continual acquisition of the Holy Spirit. We ourselves are to be that fleshly rod filled with the fire of the Divine Presence.
God’s Kingdom doesn’t simply tower over us from Heaven, but is among us and doesn’t always come with observation.