If you were to set out on a journey in search of God, where would you go? Over the centuries, people have travelled the world in search of God. Every year, hundreds of thousands of tourists visit such sacred places as the Holy Land, or St. Peter’s Square in Rome, or the Croagh Patrick in Ireland, or El Camino de Santiago in Spain. Others head for the quiet solitude of the desert, or retreat to the mountains or to monasteries, in search of God, or at least an experience of God. Some people go to church, or to yoga class, or golfing. It’s not uncommon for someone to return from their search grateful for having found something of what they were looking for; but more and more, I encounter people who return somewhat disappointed, unimpressed, with unrealized expectations.
Perhaps one of our problems in searching for God is that we don’t really know what we’re looking for, or that what we’re looking for is not who God really is. Our expectations can be unrealistic, or even misguided. We might expect that, upon encountering God, there ought to be some kind of drama, or overwhelming sign, to punctuate the experience. If we’re not deeply moved, or brought to our knees, or given to see visions, or changed, we might remain unconvinced that we have found anything at all. There was, as they say, “a big wind and a lot of dust, but there was no rain.”
Jesus was preparing his disciples for his departure. He was leaving them for good, but he promised that he would send another – the Holy Spirit – to be with them in his absence. But for the disciples, it felt like a huge disappointment. Their journey with Jesus, they believed, was supposed to have led to some dramatic and life-changing encounter with God. “Jesus,” says one of the disciples, “Just show us the Father and we’ll be satisfied.” That’s when Jesus tells them that, in following him, they have been with God all along. “The Father is in me,” he says, “and because you believe in me, when I am gone, the Father will be in you, and you will do greater things than me.”
If we were to set out on a journey in search of God, Jesus reminds us that we would not have to take even a single step. We who believe and do the will of the Father will, over time, take on the nature and character of God. It doesn’t happen overnight. But it happens. And Jesus says that when it does, we will do the works he did — in fact, even greater things than these.