Thursday, February 19, 2015

 

A Repeat: "The Absence of God, He is Here!"

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 nonetheless. 

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 Dillard
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 notes:
    “. . . 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 always there!

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!

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