When God Feels Far Away
God disappeared last week. After months of new transitions, at last I had opportunities to do what I thought God wanted. And in the busyness, I paused long enough to take stock—and he was gone.
Of course, my mind retorted, God is not missing. God is the Great I AM; he is always personal, always present. One morning—far from home at a conference in Colorado—I stood and gazed at the Rocky Mountains on the horizon. They were about twenty miles away, but visible from every vantage point. But the reality of the mountain—the feeling of a climb beneath my feet, an opportunity to summit and take in the view, even one tree or blade of grass—was so distant, I couldn’t see it or feel it. Like the mountain, God was present, but felt distant.
As leaders in ministry, the feeling of God’s distance can be so unnerving—Bible studies go on, groups must be led, people need to be encouraged—and we wonder if we should even be doing ministry. So in that silence last week, I grabbed my Bible and flopped under a tree. I flipped open to the gospels to ask: “What if I was an average girl, living in first century Judea? What would Jesus tell me to do when God feels far and I feel alone?”
I scanned the first two chapters in Matthew while plucking grass… hmm, baby Jesus won’t do. Average Judean girl wouldn’t know about his birth. Chapters three and four—I couldn’t help think about how I would teach about Jesus’ temptation, rather than what is there for me. My eyes scanned and stuck on Matthew 4:17: “Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.’”
Repent. I rolled over to stare at the sky and wonder. Who am I, really? Am I the composite of what others see—busy, bright, “gifted?” Am I the me I know—prideful, petulant, selfish? The truth probably lies in the middle, I thought, but either way, just one sentence from the mouth of Jesus reminded me how desperately I need God—Father, Lover, Healer, Savior.
I read on, into Matthew five and six, and I am that Judean girl on the mountainside, watching this wild and wonderful man tell me how to find God. I began to think about the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who are hungry and thirsty for righteousness. I realize that God feels far when I feel strong, because I don’t meet any of that criteria. And I begin to realize that to find God, I need to be where he hangs out. He’s with the downcast and the low. He’s present to the pure of heart.
As the sunlight flickered through the trees, I sensed his whisper again. I’ve been God’s fair-weather friend, available when I have time and when it’s convenient. But that isn’t God. And he doesn’t wait on me. I wait on him. I hear him again in the pages of his Word, and I feel peace. Perhaps I needed him to be distant, so that I am reminded how much I need him. Perhaps he “hid” so I could seek.
Written by Nicole Unice