I regularly listen to Greg Koukl’s Stand to Reason broadcast aired Sunday afternoons on American Family Radio. The live shows occur on Tuesday afternoons at 4pm Pacific time. Normally, I listen to the podcasts which are available before the show airs. This week, an individual that had suffered a great tragedy called the show. He told the story of how he had lost a loved one during the past two weeks. The great problem was that he felt that God was so distant during this process. I must commend Koukl on the great advice given to the individual.
Koukl has stated that he has not felt a great emotional presence of God in his life. While I can say that I have felt God’s Spirit in a very real way, I too can identify with Koukl and the individual calling in that at times God does seem distant especially during emotionally taxing situations. There may be reasons why some feel God’s presence strongly and others do not. Nonetheless, it does not mean that those who have a relationship with God but fail to experience a powerful experience with God are any less of a Christian than those who do. Some reasons may exist why some have such powerful experiences with God and others do not. My experiences with God came during a turmoil that resulted from a strong stand for Christ while praying and dwelling in the presence of the Holy Spirit for over an hour. Some may be more in tune with the spiritual realm than others. Howard Gardner has posed nine various forms of intelligence which are given in the picture below. Danah Zohar has suggested that a spiritual form of intelligence be added to the equation (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spiritual_intelligence). If this is the case, this would mean that some have a greater spiritual awareness than others. This could offer some explanations as to why some experience the presence of God deeper than others. It must be warned that the lack of a “deep relationship” does not equate the lack of a relationship. Regardless of the ability of spiritual depth that one could potentially possess and regardless of whether such depth is related to a spiritual intelligence, most of us will experience times in our lives when we feel that God is distant. This article will seek to provide comfort to such individuals by showing great persons of faith that also experienced times when they felt that God seemed distant. In the end, one will find that God is not as distant as one’s emotions would have one to think. In fact, it is during those times that God is closer than one could ever imagine.
Job Felt That God was Distant
The Bible tells the story of a man named Job. Job was a good man. The Bible tells us, “There once was a man named Job who lived in the land of Uz. He was blameless—a man of complete integrity. He feared God and stayed away from evil” (Job 1:1, NLT). Even though Job was a good man, he lost everything. He lost his family. He lost his financial security. He even lost his health. He had essentially become a beggar on the streets. Job kept his faith even when his wife said, “His wife said to him, “Are you still trying to maintain your integrity? Curse God and die” (Job 2:9, NLT). Even though Job kept his faith, Job seemed to feel that God had abandoned him. Job even went so far to say, “God has handed me over to sinners. He has tossed me into the hands of the wicked. I was living quietly until he shattered me” (Job 16:11-12a, NLT). Job felt abandoned by God. Yet, God was still with Job. By the end of the story, God reminds Job of His ability to handle any situation. God said, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me, if you know so much” (Job 38:4, NLT). Sometimes a person will seek to accuse God of this and that. But, God is the One who created the universe from nothing. God is the One who set the laws of nature in place. The molecules were formed because of this great God. Therefore, this God can still do a wonderful work even in the midst of the worst of circumstances. God had not left Job. God was about to bless Job for his faithfulness. In the end, Job received much more than he had before. The Bible records, “So the LORD blessed Job in the second half of his life even more than in the beginning. For now he had 14,000 sheep, 6,000 camels, 1,000 teams of oxen, and 1,000 female donkeys” (Job 42:2, NLT). What can we learn from this? Just because God seems distant doesn’t mean that God is distant. Stay close to God and in due time, God will make His presence known to you. Even when God seems distant, God will still bless His faithful children.
David Felt That God was Distant
The Apostle Paul described David as, “But God removed Saul and replaced him with David, a man about whom God said, ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart. He will do everything I want him to do’” (Acts 13:22, NLT). Yet, there were times when David felt that God was distant. This is especially seen in the songs that David wrote, called psalms. David wrote, “O LORD, how long will you forget me? Forever? How long will you look the other way? How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul, with sorrow in my heart every day? How long will my enemy have the upper hand? Turn and answer me, O LORD my God! Restore the sparkle to my eyes or I will die” (Psalm 13:1-3, NLT). If David was as Paul stated, “a man after God’s own heart” and felt that God was distant, why do people today feel as if they are less religious if they go through times of spiritual drought? David fumbled and bumbled from time to time. He made mistakes…some major…but God still loved him and used David to fulfill the tasks in which David was called to do. Even when God seems distant, God still has a task for those whom He has called.
Jesus Felt that God was Distant
The wild truth is: even Jesus felt distant from Father God while on the cross. Classical Christians understand Jesus to have been the embodiment of God on earth. Yet, Jesus Himself felt what it was like when a person experiences spiritual drought. Jesus said from the cross, “‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachtani?‘ which means ‘My God, my God, why have you abandoned me'” (Matthew 27:46b, NLT)? Granted there are great theological depths with Jesus being identified as God and experiencing the separation of the Father. Those issues are for another article at another time. But for the moment, the reader enduring a spiritual distance from God should recognize that God understands. There were theological reasons for the momentary separation between the Father and Son at Golgotha. However, one needs not think that when God seems distant that God is not associated with the person. Even when God seems distant, God still loves you and still cares for you.
Some individuals use anything to make themselves appear to be superior to another. Spirituality may be one of those areas. Those who have experienced God in a real way may use those experiences to make those who have not feel less spiritual. However, the experience originates with God. If you are going through the storms of life and God feels distant in your life, do not fret. God is still there if you have entered into a relationship with God. You will one day feel God as near to you as God actually is. I offer the following nine steps to help you get there quicker.
Tips to Stay Focused During Times of Divine Distance:
1. Keep a Regular Prayer Routine. Keep praying. Don’t stop. Just because God seems distant, God is there with you. Communicate with God. Don’t lose the line of communication through your spiritual drought.
2. Keep a Regular Devotional Routine. Keep reading the Word of God. In my experience, even when God seems distant, God continues to communicate timeless truths through the regular study of God’s Word. It may be that through the study of God’s Word that you regain that intimacy that you once felt.
3. Focus on the Promises of God. There is a story of an aged man who was facing death. Blind and rigid, the man told his pastor, “I am troubled because I don’t remember the promises of God.” The wise pastor said, “Sir, don’t worry. You may have forgotten, but God hasn’t.” God will keep the promises that God has made. Stay focused on those promises.
4. Keep in Mind What You Know about God. Remember the truths that God has taught you about Himself. Focus on the things you know about God instead of the things you don’t know. You may not know what the future holds, but you will know that God is beyond the scope of space and time. It may seem like everything is flying out of control, but you will be reminded of the God who holds everything together and gives things order.
5. Remember the Times that God has Previously Delivered You. This is where a journal may become handy. When God does something great for you, record it. Write it down. When you go through times of spiritual drought, you might find great encouragement by scrolling back to rediscover the times where God has made a way for you.
6. Keep Asking for God’s Presence. Some Christians are under the impression that they can not ask or question God about anything. This is not what is found in the pages of the Bible. Many a person of faith has boldly asked God why things were happening as they were (ie. Job, Habakkuk, and David). Be honest with God. God already knows everything is going on anyhow. Ask God for His presence to return as you have once experienced it. If you have never had such an intimacy with God, ask for it…repeatedly.
7. Dwell in the Shadow of Spiritual Giants. Christianity has never been meant to be an individual affair. Christianity is about relationships…a relationship with God and a relationship with others. Befriend individuals who maintain a great spiritual disciplines. Grow with them in the Lord. Do not think that you must travel this Christian walk alone.
8. Serve Others. The reason you may be going through a spiritual drought may be due to the fact that you have suffered some form of loss. The worst thing you can do is to lock yourself up in your home and never get out. Join your local congregation. Help out in some ministry. Volunteer. You may find that by helping others that you find the intimacy with God that you desire.
9. Keep a Thankful Heart. Finally, do not get caught up in a personal pity party. Yes, allow yourself to grieve if you have lost a loved one. But, instead of focusing on what you have lost, focus on what you have…or perhaps had. If you did lose a loved one and this caused the spiritual drought with God, focus on the years that you had with the loved one. I understand that this is easier said than done. However, when one keeps a thankful heart, one might find that one not only finds intimacy with God, but also an optimistic spirit.
Seeking intimacy with God,
All Scripture, unless otherwise noted, comes from Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible: New Living Translation, 3rd ed. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2007.