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God is in the cloud

May 29, 2013

We like to solve mysteries, but God is not a mystery to be solved. In the Bible the Presence of God is often described as the cloud. God led the Israelites through the desert as a “pillar of cloud” by day. When he talked to Moses, God descended in a cloud on Mount Sinai or at the entrance to the tent of meeting. When the temple was dedicated, the glory of the Lord filled it as a cloud. And God descended as a cloud on that high mountain where Jesus was transfigured.

The cloud symbolizes the mystery, the unknown, and in some ways the very essence of God. We want our skies to clear so we can see God better. But God is in the cloud. We want to clarify and bring order and understanding. We come up with theology and stances and are urged to stand firm in our beliefs. But God is not in our beliefs. God is in the cloud. We build structure and follow rules. We memorize verses and go to Bible study and make sure we’re all on the same page. But God doesn’t live in our Bibles. God lives in the cloud. We wrap our Christianity in messages and disciplines, in obedience to rules and creeds. We set parameters and strive for no doubt, for absolute certainty. We demand adherence and unflinching faithfulness to tenets and stances as proof of our connection to God. But God is not in our disciplines or rules or stances. God is in the cloud.

God was in the cloud in the desert, in the cloud on Mount Sinai, in the cloud at the Transfiguration. And yet we have such a hard time abiding in that cloud. We want clarity from God and demand certainty in each other. We develop theology and use it as a litmus test against one another. Faith and doubt are set up as rivals. Our faith is defined as an unflinching devotion to a Book when it’s meant to be a trust that walks with God in the cloud. We’re telling each other to hold on to the wrong thing. We grasp for a Book when we should be holding a Hand.

We try to nail each other down to a set of beliefs, when the only nails we’ve ever needed held Jesus on the cross.

We want our beliefs frozen in inerrancy. We drive our stake into the solid ground of one interpretation. We dig in. We take our stand. But Jesus keeps walking. He said,

Come, follow me.

Jesus continues to walk.

We want so badly for the mist to clear, for the fog to lift so we can see, but God is in the cloud. When the mist clears, when the fog lifts, and I can see clearly, that’s when I know I’m screwed because God is in the cloud. That’s when I’m most lost, more lost than ever.

So I’m learning to appreciate the clouds of life, for that’s when God is most near. I’m learning to keep following Jesus, because he’s gonna keep walking. I’m becoming less determined to solve the mystery and more determined to live it. I’m less determined to find that little plot of land where I can grow old, because Jesus is a nomad. And I’ll carry my rain gear as I follow Jesus, because God is in the cloud.

Exodus 13:21. Exodus 24:16. Exodus 33:9. 2 Chronicles 5:13,14. Mark 9:2. Matthew 4:19.

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From → bible, spirituality

9 Comments
  1. Seth permalink

    I like these two lines “We memorize verses and go to Bible study and make sure we’re all on the same page” and “We set parameters and strive for no doubt, for absolute certainty. We demand adherence and unflinching faithfulness to tenets and stances as proof of our connection to God”

    Two days ago I had a very long FB discussion that included one person getting un-friended and doubts about some people’s Christian faith/sincerity… all over the simple idea that possibly, just maybe people were born gay and didn’t choose it in an act of sinful depravity. Being as it was that I put forth that idea, I was told that all people are born in depravity and that all people are born basically homosexual. The implication being that some resist and some do not.

    Relating this to your post then, I felt that because I had a different idea, because I did not have the same certainty they did, because I was not on the same page they were, therefore I was a big concern for them. And why? I’m not sure. I love those people, why can’t we talk through this issue or others? Why is certainty and sameness so absolutely needed?

    • hballaman permalink

      Wow, Seth, sorry you experienced that. I don’t quite understand it either. I don’t know how faith turned into certainty. It makes me think of Brene Brown, have you heard of her? She’s a professor of social work who’s been researching vulnerability for more than a decade, and her findings are profound. I’d encourage you to watch her TED talk. It’s quite amazing:

      I also want to thank you for putting forth the idea that gay people might just be born gay. That was so brave of you to say, especially in your community. I know you’re still questioning where you stand on the issue, but even the fact that you’re questioning is huge. Many Christians don’t see any reason to question it, as you’ve seen in your FB interaction. Your willingness to question is humility and that’s beautiful.

      • Ford1968 permalink

        The On Being podcast featuring Brene Brown is a must listen!
        http://www.onbeing.org/program/brene-brown-on-vulnerability/4928

      • hballaman permalink

        On my to do list today! Love Brene!

      • hballaman permalink

        Ford, the On Being podcast was amazing. Thanks for suggesting it. So much great nuggets. I’ll be listening to it over & over.

      • Seth permalink

        Thanks hb, I had a listen to Bene. I agreed with the idea that being vulnerable meant being more authentic, more happy, but more open to being hurt by others.

  2. Ford1968 permalink

    One of the things I’ve been working on is mystery. Yes to everything you’ve written. AND I think God reveals Himself in the communion of people. If each human interaction was an electrical impulse – a firing neuron – then God is a nimbus humming cloud that surrounds us here on earth.
    …too heavy a thought before coffee.
    Best
    Ford

    • hballaman permalink

      Ford, I like that idea! Yes, much too early to ponder, but I’ll be thinking about it today. God in the vibe or connection we make w/each other. Cool. As a highly intuitive feeler, I experience this “Spidey” sense a lot. Maybe that’s the Holy Spirit in us!
      Along a similar line, one of my close friends thinks science and religion are slowly converging, reaching for truth from different angles. Ever seen “What the Bleep Do We Know?” It addresses this very idea, suggesting quantum physics is revealing more than just science. Kind of an oddball documentary but interesting to think about. God is in the electron cloud. The Uncertainty Principle. Fascinating stuff.

      • Ford1968 permalink

        Hi HB –
        LOVE This. No, I’ve not seen “What the Bleep Do We Know?”, but I agree that science and religion are not the enemies that some would like them to be. Are you familiar with the concept of “God of the gaps”? The idea is that the concept of God is needed to explain what we don’t know; and the more knowledge we gain, the less there is a need for God. I don’t subscribe to that at all. I believe that science is a way to explore God’s amazing creation. Since you seem to like Ted Talks, I’ll point you to this one. I don’t know how someone could look at a fractal and not believe in God.

        [a fractal is a single variable replicated many times to create what seems to be organic, irregular shapes…if you don’t have time to watch the whole thing, pick it up at 6:30]

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