Prague, Czech Republic Photographer: DXR
Have you ever felt distant from God? If you have been a Christian long enough you have probably felt distant from God at times. Distance from God does not necessarily mean God’s displeasure with your life. If we examine the Bible we see saints and heroes who have felt distanced from God at times. Abraham felt God’s promise for a heir wasn’t going to happen so he took action his own way. Job lost everything and says “though he (God) slays me, I will hope in him.” King David “a man after God’s heart” felt distance from God as we see him pen the prayer Jesus later echoes from the cross “My God, my God, why you have forsaken me.”
There are many reasons why we may feel distant from God, I think it is helpful to go over some of them and then go over some things we can do or contemplate in the midst of these seasons.
-A big reason why many may feel distance in their relationship with God is because they are just plain distracted. We have a seemingly infinite appetite for distraction. 43% of smartphone users check their phone within five minutes of waking up. The average smart phone user engages in 76 phone sessions a day, with heavy users engaging their phone 132 times a day. Studies differ on how much time the average person spends on their phone, anywhere from three to five hours a day. As a culture we are addicted to novelty and information. It is hard to reflect on God’s goodness when we spend so much time on our phones. To some degree we are what we think about, and what we think about on a regular basis is a matter of worship.
-God may be growing us and teaching us how to wait on Him. Waiting on the Lord is a prevalent concept throughout the scriptures. God wants an active relationship with us, not to barely include him in our lives. Distance can be a call to seek God to a greater level. God is looking for the spiritually hungry and thirsty.
-Distance can be a testing of our faith. Will we serve God only when we feel his lavished love on our lives? The French poet Charles Baudelaire once said, “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he doesn’t exist.”
-God allows certain seasons of distance and dryness to bring us clarity not only for our own lives but to see the pain around us. It is incredibly easy to live self centered lives and not even know it. Times of distance can propel us to meditate and ask questions about our relationship with God and our stewardship to him and those around us. We can more fully appreciate aspects of Jesus character during these times. Jesus suffered rejection and loneliness. In these times we come to a greater appreciation for his sacrificial life for us. We can also develop empathy for the lonely during these times of distance as well.
-We may feel distance in our relationship with God, because we have shame or a practice of sin in our lives. Repentant, yet imperfect Christians, are not called to a life of shame, but a life of freedom in Christ. If you are living for God, nail your shame onto the cross where it belongs. Jesus forgives you, and you are not to be defined by your past. Now, for some cases it is entirely possible if we are practicing a particular sinful behavior, God is zeroing in on it by pulling back His presence purposefully, so we can focus in on it. God loves us too much to be slaves of sin, He is calling us to mature, and become more like Christ.
-We may feel distance because we are going through a difficult situation and don’t feel like or trust God is in the midst of it based on the circumstances. God is sovereign, so we sometimes incorrectly blame Him for the difficult circumstances we find ourselves in.
-Some people feel God’s distance because they mishandle the Scriptures. They don’t see God as good, so they don’t pursue Him. They have fashioned images of God in their head that mislead their hearts about God’s goodness.
-Previous broken relationships also shade our view of God’s love for us. Often times we are driven by events we may not even know about, and possibly things that happened decades before. Many people’s whole lives are a reaction to emotionally charged events.
-It may just simply be a mystery. All distance from God is to some degree is inconclusive. Saints have all felt this distance at times.
Some possible resolutions or thoughts in sensing God’s distance I think could be:
-Know that feeling that God is distant does not mean He does not love you. He loves you so much! The work of the cross cries out this truth. The Christian has no intellectual grounding to believe God does not love them, such thoughts makes light of the work of the cross, and puts your beliefs based on emotions above God’s work.
-Part of our walk with God is faith. CS Lewis said “Faith… is the art of holding on to things your reason once accepted, despite your changing moods.” The writer of the book of Hebrews says “without faith, it is impossible to please God.” When we feel God is distant, it is good to meditate on God’s word. The Bible declares God’s love for us, it declares our future in Him, and it declares who God is.
-If we have crowded God out of our lives, know that He wants to be part of our lives because He loves us. Do you feel unworthy to have a relationship with God. You are. We don’t earn a right to have a relationship with God, it is pure grace. God desires us. God in his grace calls all of us to know him, love him, take up our cross, and follow Him. Set aside time to read and meditate on the Scriptures. The Apostle Paul tells the Philippian church to dwell on whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, anything excellent or worthy of praise. Journal and write down the times you felt God was present and in your life, the good things in your life you are thankful for, and most importantly how good God is. Israel would set up stones for memorials at various times when God would do something in their nation. This acted as physical reminders of God’s work in their lives.
-If we feel shame in our lives, know that the natural response is to keep God at a distance. Adam and Eve felt shame after sinning in the garden and the first thing they tried to do was hide from God. This act of hiding and shame after committing sin echoes a picture that humans have done for thousands of years of history. This act of hiding and putting distance is not what God calls us to.The writer of the book of Hebrews it says “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Once we have repented we need to know and trust that God loves us despite our failures and our sins. Jesus already knew long before we were born that we are sinful people, yet He still chose to love us. When we sin God is calling us to repent and pursue after Him, not put distance between us.
-Sometimes one may feel distance in their relationship with God due to doubts about God’s goodness from the scriptures. There are no doubt some difficult scriptures that cast a hard and negative light on God’s goodness from how our western eyes see it. There is no way to address each difficult scripture here, but I think a few ideas are important to think about. First off, stay curious, humble, and always be checking your biases, and the postures of your heart. Learning about God and the scriptures is a life long journey. Secondly, get some good scholarly books on interpreting scriptures and viewing difficult passages. I have found over the years that there are usually good answers to many of the hard texts in the Bible. When these texts are unpacked historically and contextually, they dramatically change the way they are seen. It’s good to remember we are not all called to be Bible Scholars, but God calls each of us to be equipped to know what we believe and why. (1 Peter 3:15) This is for our sake and the sake of others around us. We give glory to God in the ways we use our mind and intellect. Lastly, see everything through the cross. The great over arching narrative of the Bible leads to Jesus and his act of love on the cross for his people. I love how Allistair Begg says “The main things are the plain things, and the plain things are the main things.” We should view the Bible in this way and meditate on the cross and what that means for us. Can the God of the Cross, who looks down on his enemies, and says “Father, forgive them” really be some moral monster?