2008: The Presence and Absence of God

Volume: The Presence and Absence of God

For Jews, Christians, and Moslems alike God is not an inference, an absentee entity of which we can detect only faint traces in our world. On the contrary, God is present reality, indeed the most present of all realities, and his presence is unrestricted: If God is what believers believe God to be, then God is present. But what does this mean? In which sense, if any, can God be thought to be present?

Safeguarding the distinction between God and world has always been a basic interest of negative theology. But sometimes it has overemphasized divine transcendence in a way that made it difficult to account for the sense of God’s present activity and experienced actuality. Criticisms of the Western metaphysics of presence have made this even more difficult to conceive. On the other hand, there has been a widespread attempt in recent years to base all theology on (religious) experience; the Christian church celebrates God’s presence in its central sacraments of baptism and Eucharist; recent process thought has re-conceptualized God’s presence in panentheistic terms; and some have argued that God might be poly-present, not omnipresent.

But what does this mean? What does it mean to say that God is present or absent? How are we to understand the sense of divine presence in different religious traditions, the religious metaphors, rituals and institutions by which it is expressed, and the theological constructions that seek to make sense of this? This is what this conference is supposed to explore.