The Spirit/Saint of the Age

That title is from the philosopher Hegel and it shows up in all kinds of quackery from the Age of Aquarius to Gestalt to whatever movement someone else is pushing. It is a hardy perennial. Probably because we like finding patterns in things and we are social creatures – “it is not good for the man to be alone.”

In seminary a layman from the congregation I was assigned to asked me about the revelations about Mother Theresa. The revelations were her years long feelings of the absence of God. I eventually had two answers. The first was based on experience. Per her report Mother Theresa had a very strong encounter/appearance of the risen Christ. If just based on Peter’s reaction on the mount of transfiguration, many things in the everyday world would seem like God is absent after such an experience. That is one of the dangers of direct revelation, and one the reasons that the church has never based doctrine on any form of continuing revelation. It is personal. My second reaction was very Lutheran. Reading the book that was the basis of the question, it rubbed me that her father-confessors never really seemed to offer absolution. They just encouraged her further in her saintly vocation. The Lutheran in me just want to scream, its grace. She gets this better than you do. She offers it everyday, but nobody is reminding her.

But after reading this there seems to be a third answer. Mother Theresa represents the misgivings of the age.

…[Atheists] experience of God’s absence is a truthful experience, shared also by believers. Faith is not a denial of all this: it is a patient endurance of the ambiguity of the world and the experience of God’s absence….

Now not all believers feel that absence. Many live in a wonderful everyday relationship with Christ. And we shouldn’t privilege one over the other. Not all parts of the body are eyes or feet. But especially Lutherans should be able talk about that absence. Luther called it the hidden God. No matter what you did the hidden God disapproved and hid His face from you. Luther’s answer was the revealed God. The Word of God. When the hidden God was too much, you looked to the cross, to the God revealed in Jesus Christ. You let God fight with God. You let Christ handle the tensions that we have now been justified but not yet glorified.

That post continues with this phrase, “patience with others is love, patience with self is hope, patience with God is faith.” We are saved by grace through faith. In a very impatient age, it seems right that the saint of the age had the patience to keep faithful for years at a time while feeling an absence.

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