I suppose it must have been a few months ago when I first noticed something was wrong, although it might have been going on for ages. There was a steady drip into my bath, coming from where – if I were ever to overfill the tub – the excess water might leave. When eventually a plumber was called, he was puzzled. He removed the front panel and fumbled around the end of the bath. “Well,” – I could identify the amazement in his tone – “I’ve never seen anything like this before!”
He moved to the toilet cistern and adjusted the ball-cock. “That should sort it.” he said. The cistern outflow was piped into a common outlet with the bath and that happens to slope slightly the wrong way. In the normal scheme of things, this wouldn’t cause a problem because the other end of the outlet is below the top of the bath anyway but, with no overflow from the bath to counter it, the cistern’s excess was making its way to the bath’s plughole.
This concept of finding the solution to a problem other than where the problem manifests itself is not so uncommon as you might think. A trapped nerve in the spine, for example, can report to the brain a pain in some other part of the body; conversely, a pain in the foot can be the result of some other problem causing us to walk badly.
I’m reminded of something I was told at college some forty years ago.
Before we can appreciate and have a relationship with the God who is, we have to unlearn what we’ve been taught, misunderstood, or simply assumed about the God who isn’t!
Put another way, any wrong ideas we might have about God can hinder our understanding of who He really is. I’ve recently been reading God Lost and Found by John Pritchard, the former Bishop of Oxford. He heads one section “Faith not as locating God at a distance, but as recognising God in the midst.”
Here he explores some of these ‘wrong ideas’. We might think of God as so vast, powerful and ‘out there’ that it’s impossible to get near to Him. He is cosmic; why – how, even? – would he bother with our tiny problems? We think of Him present in spectacular events and emergencies, but not in the nitty-gritty of daily life. If we do think of any connection between God and us, it might be as a kind of heavenly auditor, totting up good things and bad things, – after all, didn’t Abraham believe, and it was ‘credited to him as righteousness’ (Gen.15:6)? – or we might see God as a kind of judge, jury and executioner: keeping an eye on what we’re doing and punishing us when we do wrong.
Pritchard draws his readers’ attention to many scriptures that can re-affirm God’s closeness to us. The Lord would speak to Moses, for example, “face to face, as one speaks to a friend” (Ex.33:11). Isaiah tells of God’s intense commitment to Israel, using words that have been turned into a familiar song (Is. 43:1-4). Paul, as we might expect, is more direct. “Do you not realise that Christ Jesus is in you?” he asks (2 Cor. 13:5); and, lest we should be any doubt, “God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27).
I recently attended a Quaker Meeting for Worship, where I was reminded of their self-professed lack of ‘doctrine’. However, one of their key principles is expressed as “that of God in everyone.”
And finally, in case this is a particular problem that sends you thinking down this road, let me quote a ‘Wayside Pulpit’ poster that I saw locally many years ago:
“If you’re not close to God … guess who moved?”
God doesn’t change; His love is eternal and His commitment to us is written in the Scriptures. Just as that plumber examined my bathroom to see why water was flowing the ‘wrong’ way, we have to examine our lives to see why we feel there is a distance between God and us.