When God Feels Distant
Let me give you a little inside information about God. He likes to watch….He’s an absentee landlord! – John Milton (The Devil’s Advocate)
Many people feel as if God is an “absentee landlord”. That is, they believe that he exists, and that he created the universe, but also that he is off in the far reaches of space busying his time with something other than the affairs of humanity on earth. He’s on a never-ending vacation in the galaxy somewhere, and can’t be bothered to intervene for his creation, even when they beg him earnestly to do so. As a result, many people – if not most people – do not feel close to God.
But this is not an experience only for those who believe in God but do not have a relationship with him. Even Bible-believing, Jesus-loving Christians sometimes feel that God has left them. His presence, once so intimate and tangible, suddenly vanishes without a trace, leaving one to wonder where exactly God is.
I know that personally there have been times in my own life when I did not feel that God was close by. Sometimes, those were seasons of straying on my own part, and I should probably have expected to feel that way given my wandering ways. Yet there have also been times when I was pursuing my relationship with God – even crying out to him – only to feel like I was all alone, talking at the ceiling. Ever felt that way before?
In times such as these, it is important to turn to the Word of God for reassurance. Our own feelings should not be allowed to dictate our spiritual lives. Feelings are deceiving. They sometimes trick us into believing something that isn’t true. Just as many people who feel unloved are often surrounded by people who care for them, so we can feel that God is absent when in reality his presence is all around.
He is There – You Just Don’t Know It Yet
This was the situation with a man in the Bible named Jacob. Traveling a long distance, he stopped along the way to camp out overnight. While sleeping, God came to him in a dream, and revealed that Jacob would have descendants so numerous that they would become a formidable nation that would inherit the land on which he slept and be a blessing to the entire world. What happens next is insightful. In Genesis 28:16 it says “Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.’”
Jacob’s experience is helpful for us. What we see is that, despite Jacob not feeling the presence of God, the Lord was indeed with him the whole time. God never abandoned Jacob. He was right near by. Jacob just hadn’t realized it yet.
If you are feeling like God is absent in your life, take a lesson from the life of Jacob. God is right there in the midst of your life and troubles, even if you don’t see any evidence of it. This is the kind of God we follow, one that does not leave us to figure things out on our own, but is working in the background in ways we can never fully understand, in order to bless us and make us like Christ. The Psalmist says it well:
The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18)
God’s Presence is a Promise to All
You might feel tempted to think that God is obviously with a guy like Jacob, who is one of the more significant figures of the Old Testament, but that is a special case. You may feel that God is probably with other people – perhaps those more holy or important than you – but the thought of God’s presence being with you is hard to buy into. Amidst life’s hardships, who could blame anyone for feeling that way? Yet we must let our minds be set straight by Scripture.
God’s presence is a promise to all people, everywhere, for all time. The apostle Paul, on a missionary journey, says that God has placed people all over the earth “that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each of us…” (Acts 17:27).
This is a great description of life. Many people feel like they are flailing around in the dark, trying to feel their way towards God, hoping by some miracle perhaps to even find him. Yet this kind of desperation-driven action is unnecessary. Paul says it so clearly: God is actually not far from each of us. What this tells us is that, despite often feeling that God has left us, he is nearer than we think.
Your Day of Realization is Coming
Be encouraged by these words. Wherever you are, whatever you are dealing with, however you may be feeling – God is right there in the midst of it all, even if you can’t sense his presence. What you need to do is trust in the Word of God and believe the promise, despite strong pulls to the contrary. Believing that God is with us when we cannot feel him is an act of faith, and the Christian life is a life lived by faith. Trust in the promise. Cling to it for dear life if you need to. One day, like Jacob, you will look back on this season and say with confidence “surely the Lord was with me, and I did not know it.”