Feeling God’s Presence

God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I am has sent me to you.’” -Exodus 3:14 

Dear members and friends, 

After having two children, I have discovered one truth repeatedly: there is a deep difference between becoming a father and being present as a father in the life of a child. In short, any healthy male could become a father to a child, but in order to be present as a father to that child, he not only needs to be constantly and intentionally present in the child’s life, but he should also work hard to make his presence real and meaningful to the child. However, being a real and meaningful presence to other people, even if they are your own child(ren), requires a mutual relationship and collaboration between the giver and the receiver. Essentially, this is what God teaches us through many stories in the Bible: how God is constantly present, and how we can make his presence real in our lives. 

Another big benefit of being a parent is that I have been relearning things through amazing and honest questions from my children. One day, my daughter came to me and asked, “Daddy! Is God real?” She had just watched something on TV where it was argued that God is not real. This was frightening to her because I had been assuring her of the comforting power of God every night, especially during sleep. The challenge to me in answering such a simple and innocent question arose from the acknowledgement that my daughter might have a limited understanding about the concept of “God” and the concept “real.” As I pondered how to answer her, I suddenly realized that the answer my daughter was expecting was not the logical assurance of the realness of God, but my own affirmation about the matter at hand. Thus, I answered to her, “Yes, honey. As far as I am concerned, God is real!” That was good enough for her. Feeling assured, she joyfully went back to her previous activity. 

However, the question of whether God is real or not is challenging to answer. Surprisingly, the core of the challenge is not whether God is truly and objectively real, but rather stems from the very nature of the human mind. To a degree, we are limited by the fact that we subjectively acknowledge and frame the world around us within our confined understanding of “reality”. In other words, the matter of faith has always been about how people experience and believe in the realness of God. Therefore, the essential challenge of informing other humans about the reality of God arises not from a lack of logic or communication skills, but from the innate inability of transferring one’s own experience to the minds of others. Perhaps this is why the German philosopher and theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834) emphasized in his book, On Religion: Speeches to its Cultured Despisers, that religion has to be experiential, meaning one must experience the presence of the Spirit in one’s own life and by one’s own mind. However, there is yet another challenging task for humans, which is the prerequisite to the experience of what is spiritual: they need to be able to distinguish the difference between subjectivity and objectivity. In other words, before humans can confirm their own experience of God as real, they first need to be able to distinguish what is real subjectivity in their own minds, and what is real objectively. 

Next week, I will discuss my personal struggle with this question when I present the first talk in my special sermon series, “What Matters Most?” Please join me then.

Blessings, Rev. Junchol Lee