What can you do when God feels far away?
The Bible reassures us that once God finds a home in our hearts, God will never leave us. God will always be there, despite the circumstances of our lives. This is a very important and reassuring truth. It is a truth that we can base our trust and faith upon. There is one difficulty though that many of us encounter. God doesn’t always feel all that close. In fact, sometimes it can feel like God is very far away. This can cause fear, guilt (are people of faith supposed to feel this way?), doubt, worry and all sorts of other anxieties and problems. So what is a good Christian supposed to do in these instances? Some people might say to just shake it off and ignore or deny those feelings. Others might conclude that this happens because we have turned from God and need to repent and “just trust in Jesus.”
In order to get at what we should do in these situations, we must first examine why they occur. There are of course many reasons why we might feel distant from God. We could be putting up barriers (through sin or a refusal to forgive for example). We could have false expectations of God (God was supposed to do such & such for me… where is God?). We also might be looking for God in the wrong places (in our achievements, modern science, money, fame, pleasures etc…). The feelings of separation could be a result of our brokenness and our inability to experience intimacy or closeness. They might appear during times of trial that we need to go through so that our faith can become strong. You see there are many circumstances that can lead to us feeling separate or distant from God. Some of them are our fault. Some of them products of the circumstances of our lives. Tragically, Christians too often jump to conclusions or judgments deciding that such a person simply lacks faith. On the contrary, sometimes the feeling can be caused by the Holy Spirit who is speaking to us. Trying to get our attention or to draw our concern towards a certain situation or difficulty in our lives.
So what can we do? First off, we can praise God. This is so important and should be a default reaction to difficult or unknown circumstances. We can praise God for our emotions – for without them we would not be alive. We can praise God for our present circumstances – for despite how tough they are, God is still with us (and that is far better than true loneliness). By praising God, we get our eyes off ourselves and that is crucial. Once we move our eyes off ourselves, we can ask God for wisdom and guidance in figuring out the source of our feelings. What causes us to feel far from God when in fact God is close by? By praying and listening, we often discover that there is a truth we need to learn. A barrier that needs to be removed. A sin that needs to be repented of. A false belief or expectation that should be cleared up. An attitude to adapt or trust that needs to be rebuilt. This is just a few examples of the learning and shaping process that might be going on at a time like this.
Two important things to keep in mind. 1) When God feels distant for whatever reason, a great way to respond is to get back in touch with Jesus. To experience Jesus in some powerful new way, through worship, study, service, etc… Often God can feel far away because we have lost connection to the source of love, strength, and grace in our lives. 2) During times like these we need the community of saints around us. The encouragement of others, the advice of those who have gone before us, the intercessory prayers of other Christians are all indispensable. This is when we need other Christians more than ever. To lean on them for faith and strength. Sadly, too many people walk away from Church out of embarrassment, shame, bitterness, rage, guilt and a whole host of other reasons. Don’t let this happen to you. Turn to God and remember that our faith is built when we exercise it. We exercise our faith when we trust God and are obedient, even when we can’t feel God. That coincidentally is what faith is all about.