Westmont Magazine Searching for God in America
From a chapel talk by Dr. Roberta Hestenes,
Former President, Eastern College
Not long ago, PBS commissioned a national survey that revealed an astonishing discovery—the American people have a discernible hunger for religion. They want to know more, hear more, and see more about what is involved in spiritual matters. They are searching for God.
There’s something in the language of searching that resonates very deeply with me, because searching, yearning, journeying, and struggling are right at the heart of who we are. We want to know what life is about—what is its meaning, its purpose, and how can our individual lives have significance?
But very often, we don’t know that it is God we are hungering for. St. Augustine said that God has made us for Himself, and our hearts are restless until they find their home in God. So we search, we long, and we struggle against barriers to finding God.
Suffering can be a barrier, especially when there seems to be no point to it. And people can be barriers—people who tell you it’s not all right to be who you are in your search, complete with your struggles, doubts, questions, fears, anxiety, and uncertainty.
The search for God takes many different forms. I have discovered that some of us think we’re searching for God, but we are in fact engaged in our own form of hiding from him. We can hide in our relationships, or we can become so busy that we leave no space, no time for God, and the real questions never have room to come in and take hold.
The Scriptures tell us that, when we search for God, he makes himself known, and we can and do find him. But the Scriptures also tell us that God is the one who is searching for us, and it is we who are hiding. Take the first story in the Garden of Eden—who is it there that is hiding and who is searching?
It is not God who is distant and far-off, undiscoverable, and shrouded in such mystery that He cannot be known. Instead, God comes to us and says, “Where are you?” Like Adam and Eve, we hide because we are afraid of what will happen if God finds us.
We need to remind ourselves that God’s intentions toward us are for good. His search for us found its ultimate expression in Jesus, who not only came to where we are but became what we are. Because of that, God is the one who understands our doubts and struggles, our losses and uncertainties, our longing. And God’s longing for us is so strong that He turns the world upside down to find us, just like the shepherd who seeks out his one lost sheep and celebrates when it is found.
But God’s search for us does not end when he first finds us. It goes on through our life, meeting our deepest longings, needs, and hungers as we respond to his love.
The search for God in America is not simply about our inner longings, it’s about what God is up to in the world—God searching for us for love and for justice, for faith and for courage. He’s saying to us, “Go for it.” God with us. God helping us.