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    tiny mushroom in moss

    A God Incognito

    God does not manifest himself in great organ music or sublime ceremonies but in the face of the poor, in suffering, in fragility.

    By Jacques Ellul

    October 30, 2022
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    • George Marsh

      This excerpt by Jacques Ellul reminds me of the line from Wordsworth, "The world is too much with us," and his following lines to the point that worldliness ("getting and spending") destroys our spiritual openness to the divine. We cannot serve God and mammon as ultimate values. Scripture presents a stark contrast, for us to care for full barns or starving beggars. Moderation in all things is the lukewarmness of mediocrity, not the call to follow Christ. Ignore the cry of the poor, the cry of Mother Nature, at your peril. Christ is the one asking for a cup of water, for turning off our motors while we wait for a train to pass.

    I believe in God’s secret presence in the world. God sometimes leaves us in silence, but God always tells us to remember. That is, God recalls us to the word which he has spoken and which is always new if we rebuild the path from the word written to the word lived out and actualized. God is a God incognito who does not manifest in great organ music or sublime ceremonies but who hides in the surprising face of the poor, in suffering (as in Jesus Christ), in the neighbor I meet, in fragility. We need to lay hold again of the elementary truth that God reveals himself by the fleeting method of the word, and in an appearance of weakness, because everything would be shattered if God revealed himself in power and glory and absoluteness, for nothing can contain God or tolerate his presence. God cannot be known directly but only through that which is within the realm of human possibilities. This is why imposing ceremonies and ornate basilicas are absurd. Solomon recognized this in his prayer at the dedication of the temple: “Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain thee; how much less this house which I have built!” (1 Kings 8:27). There then follow the intercessions of Solomon for the poor, for aliens, for the hungry, for sinners, and for suppliants. In all these situations of our human weakness God comes to us. But we can be sure that in our situations of wealth and power and domination and expansion and high technology and unlimited growth God is not present. God tells the rich that they have their reward; why then should they have God as well? This is why God is silent in our Western world of opulence and technology. God is certainly present, as in the rest of the universe. But God is present incognito and in secret. God is present as he was when the serpent spoke to Eve and she was enlightened about the tree and took the fruit in order to be as God. God is present incognito and has enough respect to allow the creature to choose its own destiny after issuing a warning.


    From Jacques Ellul, What I Believe, translated by Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1989), 148–49. Reproduced by permission of the publisher.

    Contributed By JacquesEllul Jacques Ellul

    Jacques Ellul (1912–1994) was a French political scientist and Protestant theologian.

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