I was reading through my blog today, and I came across a post that still resonates with me on so many levels. I posted it once as "A Sobering Reality" and then again as "The Absence of God." I post it yet again today as a reminder to us all: God is not silent, God is here. We may not always see or hear him, but he has not forsaken us. I hope this blesses you.
Today I met with a couple of my students, and inevitably the
conversation turned to God. Being a
seminary professor, that is certainly an occupational hazard! What was not expected is how both
conversations seemed to focus on God's "absence" during hard times. We know (theologically, at least) that God
never leaves us. He is
"omnipresent." We also
understand Jesus' words when he says, "Behold, I am with you always, even
to the end of the age." We take
that to mean that God never really forsakes us.
Yet in our moments of trial, in times of despair, we tend to
live a lot more in Psalm 22 ("My God, my God, why have you forsaken
me?") than in Psalm 23 ("The Lord is my shepherd, I will not
want."). That little reality caused
me to think of Psalm 139 and God's continuing and never failing presence. Here is what the Psalm says (in part):
CSB Psalm 139:1-12
For the choir director. A Davidic psalm. "LORD, You have searched me and
known me. You know when I sit down and when I stand up; You understand my thoughts
from far away. You observe my travels and my rest; You are aware of all my
ways. Before a word is on my tongue, You know all about it, LORD. You have
encircled me; You have placed Your hand on me. This extraordinary knowledge is
beyond me. It is lofty; I am unable to reach it. Where can I go to escape Your
Spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence?
If I go up to heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, You are
there. If I live at the eastern horizon or settle at the western limits, even
there Your hand will lead me; Your right hand will hold on to me. If I say,
'Surely the darkness will hide me, and the light around me will become night'--
even the darkness is not dark to You. The night shines like the day; darkness
and light are alike to You."
Those of us who claim to be Christians (or even Jews and
Muslims, for that matter) typically claim that God is everywhere always. That
is, he is right with us even when we don’t think he is, and worse (perhaps),
when we hope that he is not. He is there. I think Francis Schaeffer wrote a
book entitled The God who is There. At any rate, Psalm 139 reminded me of all
the times in my life when God was present (like he always is), even when I
tried to overlook that reality. I can't
shake the reality that he is present. He
is here. He is in this place. I may overlook him, but there he is
Sometimes I notice God there on the fringe of my experience
(kind of hanging around like a brother who wants to be involved in everything
you do). Sometimes I respond with a
sense of comfort (Oh good, he is there!). Other times I respond with fear (Oh
no, did he see that!). Other times I am complacent (Oh, it’s just you, huh?).
Still some times I am overwhelmed (Thank God you’re here!). I think of the Jews
wandering in the wilderness and camped at Mt. Sinai. God showed up on the
mountain, and they begged Moses to make it stop! “Don’t let God speak directly
to us again, we can’t take it!” The acknowledgement of God’s presence
frightened them, maybe it made them a bit uncomfortable. Maybe we respond to
God in the same way. We know he is
there, but we wish he'd "tone it down" a bit. We wish he wouldn't "make so much noise"
in our lives. We wish he'd kind of fade
into the background just a bit. We want
God to be silent on occasions.
When we reach that point, however, we find ourselves
desperate nonetheless. We try to turn on
white noise to drown out the sound of God's voice or we paint with vivid colors
in an effort to keep him from showing up in our portrait so clearly. Yet as we try to silence him, we begin to
fish for "God substitutes" to give us some kind of comfort. We look for something (anything?) to give us
the comfort of God's presence. Annie
Dillard addresses this problem when she says:
“It is difficult
to undo our own damage, and to recall to our presence that which we have asked
to leave. It is hard to desecrate a grove and change your mind. The very holy
mountains are keeping mum. We doused the burning bush and cannot rekindle it;
we are lighting matches in vain under every green tree.
“What have we been
doing all these centuries but trying to call God back to the mountain, or,
failing that, raise a peep out of anything that isn’t us? What is the
difference between a cathedral and a physics lab? Are they not both saying:
‘Hello?’ We spy on whales and on interstellar radio objects; we starve
ourselves and pray till we’re blue.” From Teaching a Stone to Talk by Annie
Our fear of God’s
omnipresence causes us to turn off a switch in our minds and hearts that helps
us to ignore this fascinating (and sometimes frightening) reality. We pretend
he isn’t there. We even ignore his obvious appearances. We ignore the God of
all, then we say that we didn’t know he was there.
As A. W. Tozer
“. . . If God is
present at every point in space, if we cannot go where he is not, cannot even
conceive of a place where he is not, why then has not that Presence become the
one universally celebrated fact of the world? The patriarch Jacob, ‘in waste
howling wilderness,’ gave the answer to that question. He saw a vision of God and
cried out in wonder. ‘Surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not.’
Jacob had never been for one small division of a moment outside of the circle
of that all-pervading Presence. But he knew it not. That was his trouble, and
it is ours. People do not know if God is here. What a difference it would make
if they knew.” From The Pursuit of God by A. W. Tozer
We “know it not” because we don’t like the reality that
God’s omnipresence makes us face. That reality is this—when we fail and sin, he
is there. When we succeed, he is there. When we need him, he is there. When we
think we don’t need him, he is there. Even when we don’t want him to be, he is
there. God's omnipresence reminds us that we can neither take all the glory for
our "good" acts nor can we avoid the blame for the selfish acts. We
can't get away with anything. There is no place to hide. He is there! He is
One of my pet peeves is to hear a preacher talking about
Jesus’ cry (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me”) from the cross and say
something like, “At that point, God turned his back on Jesus because he became
sin for us.” Think of the ramifications of that idea—God, the omnipresent One,
turning his back on his only unique Son. God, the merciful, overlooking the
sacrifice his own Son Jesus is offering.
Can you imagine it? God, forsaking his Son! It sounds
ridiculous because it is. God did not “turn his back on Jesus” (look in the
text of the Gospels, it does not say any such thing). No, God was watching the
brutal fact of it all with tears in his eyes. He did not forsake Jesus, and he
does not forsake humanity. He endures when we pretend he is absent, but he is
there. He loves Jesus . . . even when Jesus became sin for us, God lovingly
watched his Son. God lovingly watches us as well.
He is there, and he loves us. He watches, waits, endures,
and hopes. He wants us to acknowledge his presence, to catch a glimpse of him
and smile. He is there, and he wants us to notice and to know it. He has not
forsaken us. He is there, why not admit it and embrace it? Why not exult in the
sheer joy and enormity of it? He is always there.
Scary, ain’t it?
Thanks for reading!
Labels: absence of God, God is here, God substitutes, God's presence, Jesus' presence, living in God's omnipresence, omnipresence