From one of my favorite columnists in today's Nashville Tennessean:
It lasts only a few days, maybe just a few minutes — the still point of the new year, a moment for getting some perspective on past and future before the slam of routine returns. Where will spiritual conditions take us next in a year of election politics and apocalyptic dreams?
Popular images of God shift with alarming speed. I remember the excitement around The Prayer of Jabez back in 2000, a book about an Old Testament prayer that hopes to bring results (spiritual, material) to those who pray it. It met an ancient yearning for a formula to harness divine power.
Then 9/11 changed the subject. Prayers to a domestic deity who always says yes fell out of sync with an era of mass killing and savage war.
In 2003, the fictional Da Vinci Code hit the scene with a new challenge. It was going to blow the lid off Christianity, revealing church history as a conspiracy of lies. It would prepare the way for a liberating esoteric spirituality, beholding a gnostic Creator alien and superior to the all-too-human God of the Bible.
It had a good run. Yet nearly a decade later, in the real world of recession and suffering, there’s no surge in gnostic churches.
This year’s presidential election will push conversation about God in other directions. It will focus arguments on American exceptionalism — the belief that we are uniquely blessed as a nation, which God sponsors if we remain God-fearing.
Or our policy debates could awaken images of a darker god, one who presides over dreams of violence and deep distrust of other people, other Americans, in a society armed to the teeth.
We’re already hearing references (and jokes) about yet another scenario — the end of history as we know it, come this December, which marks the termination point of an ancient Mesoamerican calendar, allegedly set to trigger global upheaval. This sounds exciting — or terrifying — to millions. It all depends on one’s own temperament, how one already feels about the future, the cosmos and God.
Whether ignored or not, sober arguments all year long will say Mayan time calculations are harmless, irrelevant and mean nothing about the end of anything.
Then there’s another viewpoint — a biblical idea that won’t get airtime, political sponsorship or super PAC money. But it will get the last word: God remains hidden for God’s own reasons. God won’t be teased out or figured out or outguessed.
Franz Kafka once remarked: “God dwells in darkness, and that is a good thing, because without the protecting darkness we should try to overcome God. That is our nature.”
Another fateful year rises, bringing fevers and revelations, with human nature balancing between dread and grace.
Columnist Ray Waddle, a former Tennessean religion editor, now lives in Connecticut. He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.