Youth Class: Quest for the Living God Study Guide Intro-Chapter 2

Confirmation + High School 2016

Quest for the Living God:  Mapping Frontiers in the Theology of God study guide and reading helps


For Sunday February 14, 2016

Assignment:  Read the Introduction and Chapter 1.

INTRO:   In the introduction, focus on page 4 and 5.

Excerpt: “A word about the phrase “the living God” used in the title. This way of speaking runs through the Bible from beginning to end to identify the Source of life as dynamic, bounteous, and full of surprises. When they entered into covenant, the people of Israel “heard the voice of the living God” speaking out of the fire at Sinai (Deut 5: 26) and knew “the living God is among you” as they crossed into the promised land (Josh 3: 10).

When Daniel was saved from the lion’s den, a foreign king recognized that the God of Israel is “the living God enduring forever” (Dan 6: 26). Christians, too, now included in the ancient promise, understand that they are “children of the living God” (Rom 9: 26) thanks to the marginal Jew Jesus Christ, “the Son of the living God” (Matt 16: 16).

Living means the opposite of dead. A well that is living never dries up but has water that is always springing up and running; its living water is fresh, alive, flowing. “My soul thirsts for God, the living God” (Ps 42: 2), prays the psalm writer, making this connection…

In addition, the term “the living God” evokes the realization that there is always more to divine Mystery than human beings can nail down. It prepares those who use it for astonishment.”

Summary of the Introduction from Faith Matters:

“(1) Thinking about God:  Each chapter in this book reflects on images and ideas about God – aspects of the Divine Mystery that the Christian tradition may have forgotten or overlooked.

(2) Contextual theologies:  The theologies rise out of the life experience of various peoples – Europeans and Asians,  African-Americans, Latinos, and women.  These theologies also arise from new insights from modern science, social sciences and humanities, as well as from Christian scripture and tradition.

(3) The Living God – The book’s title, Quest for the Living God,  uses a Biblical phrase, the ‘Living God’ to describe the God who is “full of energy and spirit, alive with designs for liberation and healing, always approaching from the future to do something new.  In addition, the term ‘living God’ evokes the realization that there is always more to divine Mystery than human beings can nail down.”

Questions for discussion:

  • What do you picture when you hear the phrase “living God?”
  • How do you see God as the “living God” throughout the Bible?
  • How have you experienced God as the “living God” your own life?
  • What have your experiences taught you about the “living God?”

Chapter 1:

Focus on page 12-13 and ground rules in page 17-21


“(1) From the beginning:  History shows that human beings are naturally religious; that is, the record shows that humans have always sought (and are still seeking) the transcendent dimension of life.

(2) Peoples of the Book:  Jews, Christians and Muslims have shown, through their history and sacred texts, that their people have always sought to experience the Holy.  The scriptures of all three traditions also describe a God who continually seeks for them.

(3) Why the search?  The living God is beyond description, and thus can never be wholly captured in words, but the human search for God goes on because the human heart is insatiable – and constant change in human culture mean that our experiences of God are always mediated through new realities. Thus new attempts to articulate ideas about God are to be expected. Christianity is now living through a new chapter in this quest.

(4) Modern theism:  Western culture has inherited an inadequate idea of God; this makes it difficult for us to understand God’s transcendence (always beyond us) and God’s immanence (always with us).  New theologies are trying to expand our understanding of God, and of God’s relationship to the world.

(5) Ground rules for the journey:  There are three guidelines for this theological journey: first, God is always a mystery beyond telling; second, no expression for God can be taken literally; and third, God has many names.

(6) High stakes:  Ideas of God can become obsolete. As the future continuously arrives, only a living God, who spans all times and all cultures, can relate to new circumstances.”

Reflecting on the reading:

  1. What about chapter 1 was new to you?  What intrigued you?
  2. Why do you come to church?
  3. Why seek after the living God?
  4. How do you interpret the cross?

For February 21, 2016

Read, Chapter 2.

Excerpts are included below.


“This glimpse into the mystery of God ever greater, ever nearer, logically flows into a path of discipleship comprised of love of God and love of neighbor, or in Rahner’s terms, mysticism and responsibility, which are inseparable. The mysticism envisioned here is not an esoteric spirituality. Rather, it is a basic way to God in our time when faith is stripped down to its bare essentials. Because faith is no longer supported by the manifest religious customs and general commitment of society, Rahner is adamant that “the devout Christian of the future will either be a ‘mystic,’ one who has ‘experienced’ something, or he [she] will cease to be anything at all.”

What is to be experienced? Nothing less than God, under the rubric of the specific Christian way of apprehending God, namely, as infinite holy mystery who draws near in self-bestowal through incarnation and grace. Christianity at heart proclaims a simple message: we are called into the immediacy of God’s own self. If we accept the silent immensity that surrounds us as something infinitely distant and yet ineffably near; if we receive it as a sheltering nearness and tender love that does not make any reservations; and if in this embrace we have the courage to accept our own life in all its concreteness and yearning, which is possible only by grace, then we have the mystical experience of faith. Accepting our life means letting ourselves fall into this unfathomable mystery at the heart of our existence in an act of loving self-surrender. Such an act does not make everything clear; God does not spare us bewilderment. And our turning toward God is always under threat from sin. But God is present where life is lived bravely, eagerly, responsibly, even without any explicit reference to religion.

The point is this: people who courageously accept themselves, who accept their own life with all its quirks and beauty and agony, in with all its quirks and beauty and agony, in point of fact accept holy mystery, who abides within them addressing them as self-offering love. This entails no loss of individuality but rather a growth in personhood that is liberated and fortified. For far from being a rival to human authenticity, holy mystery positively wills the world and ourselves in our finite worldliness. Rahner captures the noncompetitive nature of this relationship in his famous axiom, “nearness to God and genuine human autonomy increase in direct and not inverse proportion.”

Jesus Christ is at the center of this form of mysticism. In Jesus, crucified and risen, the self-promise of God to the world has won through to victory. As a definitive event with its roots in history, this victory can no longer disappear. It is eschatological, irrevocable, assuring us that the incomprehensible mystery will bring us, too, to a blessed end in God’s presence forever. Those who hear this word and bear witness to this truth in history form the community of believers. In this theology, the church is not primarily an piety and moral living. First and last the church is the sacramental presence of the promise of God to the world, a community that despite its sinfulness signals to the whole world that God’s self-gift is continuously offered to all.

The bounden duty to take responsibility for the world is integral to the practice of this mysticism. In truth, the basic relationship to the living God of our life can be expressed and given credible form only in an unconditional love of our neighbor. Self-centered as we are, love of others can become corrupted into an expression of hidden egotism. Surrendering to the incomprehensible mystery at the core of our life, however, allows the liberating grace of God to be at work. This is the case even if we do not explicitly acknowledge it, as the parable of the sheep and goats makes clear: “I was hungry and you gave me to eat… whatever you did for one of these least brothers or sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matt 25: 35,40).

Rahner observes that the tendency today to talk not so much about God but about one’s neighbor, to preach more about love of one’s neighbor and to avoid the term God in favor of the world and responsibility for the world— this tendency has a solid foundation. Not that we should go to the extreme of banishing God-talk, which would be false to faith. But since both transcendental anthropology and Christian revelation show holy mystery to be profoundly present and committed to the world and every person in it, then loving God means loving the world. In this theology, an a-cosmic, unworldly relationship to God is not possible. Encompassed by incomprehensible holy mystery, we allow our hearts to be conformed to God’s own heart, which pours out loving-kindness on the world in unrepentant faithfulness.

In our day, an older Rahner noted, love of neighbor needs to take a form that goes beyond the realm of private, individual relationships. Given our knowledge of how systems affect the individual, love today must be expressed also in Christian responsibility for the social sphere. Acting in this way is more than a humanitarian undertaking, noble as that would be. In a time of growing solidarity on a global scale, work for justice is stimulated by the Spirit of Jesus, for whom the neighbors’ good has an incomprehensible value, commensurate with the love of God poured out upon them.

It may be winter when luxurious foliage no longer clothes the trees of piety. But the bare branches enable us to see deeper into the woods. There we glimpse the gracious mystery of God, whom we cannot manipulate either conceptually or practically, but who abides as the very Whither of our questing being. The question facing us, Rahner urges, is which do we love better: the little island of our own certitude or the ocean of incomprehensible mystery? The challenge facing us is whether we will suffocate in the tiny hut of our own shrewdness, or advance through the door of our knowing and acting into the uncharted, unending adventure of exploration into God, must be expressed also in Christian responsibility for the social sphere.

As the theology discussed in this chapter has shown, human understanding of God never exhausts the richness of the incomprehensible holy mystery. Consequently, Rahner reasons, this “actually postulates thereby a history of our own concept of God that can never be concluded.” Historically new attempts at envisioning and articulating this mystery should be expected and even welcomed.

The following chapters distill highlights of yet further attempts to speak about God resulting from the seeking-and-finding dynamism of the living Christian tradition in our day. The rules of engagement governing religious language are in play on every continent as new voices contribute to the whole church’s understanding of the holy mystery at the heart of faith.”

Things to consider:

  • What are your reactions to chapter 2?  What challenged you?  What made you think in new ways?
  • What do you think “faith stripped down to its bare essentials” looks like? How do you interpret this “winter season” in the church?
  • How to do experience God’s “infinite holy mystery” ?
  • How do you experience “loving the world” in the experience of loving God?
  • How do you hear God calling you?  Where do you hear God calling you?
  • How do you hear God calling NYAPC?  Where do you hear God calling NYAPC?