The following is the fourth and final post in a series on how one can respond when experiencing the absence of God. Read the previous post, “Find Reassurance in God’s Silence and Stick with God Despite his Absence.”
Many Christians experience changes in their sense of God’s presence with them. They call it the dark night of the soul, God going silent, the ministry of silence, and God hiding himself. Our prayers seem to go nowhere. The sense of God we felt at earlier times has vanished. We feel no enthusiasm for religious actions that formerly gave us reassurance and joy. Reading the Bible is like attempting to eat sawdust. Israel also experienced the absence of God when no prophets were sent to them in the centuries before John the baptizer, and perhaps earlier during the centuries of enslavement in Egypt. The comfort of God’s nearness to groups and individuals by the sense of his presence and verbal communication makes his absence harder to bear. I offer five recommendations to consider when we feel God has abandoned us or stopped engaging with us. Below is my fifth and final recommendation.
Be Willing for Annihilation
Christians must be willing for God to blow up their lives. Experiencing God’s silence and absence is a stage of growth by which God brings us along with him. Like the caterpillar that must emerge from its cocoon in new capacities with wings instead of a dozen tiny feet, the Christian must also be stripped of all that hinders the being of God expressed through us. Supernatural love, giving oneself to others, is God’s life for which we are created, justified and transformed so we may become like God. The Christian life is an ongoing death (Luke 9:23) of bearing the cross with Jesus so that we would become like him, transcendent and open to God’s essence in our being. The merely human limitations of flesh and blood become in God’s hands vents of his love into a created reality. Human beings bear his self-giving sort of love to one another and the rest of creation, but only as filled and moved by God himself. We cannot love in God’s way without God’s direct involvement. Accordingly, everything about us must be transfigured to a mode of life we have not known — God’s vision of our identity and operation. Jesus is the example of God expressing himself in human reality. After his pattern, God also aims to express in us his own life of self-giving love, known as humility and compassion, and the solidarity of shared life. Imperatives in the New Testament point to shared life that is abnormal because it is supernatural and God’s gift: love one another, pray for one another, look to the interests of others, encourage one another, etc.
The only thing blocking God’s way for producing this life in us is our own small identity and warped self-concept. God’s darkness and silence is an attack on our false self-concept because we need to be defeated. Not willingly do we surrender our agendas and illusions of control, so God must deprive us even of himself as our comfort. When deprived, we will finally be willing to let go of that which blocks us from him. Like the parable of the soils that points us to the weeds, rocks and birds which compete with the word of God planted within us, so also we only become good soil by God’s work to dig out of us our ambitions, fears, illusions of control, and other aspects of a false self-concept. The attack feels personal, but this is only because we identify with our reputation, ambitions and agendas that substitute for God’s vision of us.
God is gentle with us even when his methods aim at devastation in preparation for new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). He asks us to trust him, like patients facing a surgeon. If we shrink back, then the hurt will be more difficult. We cannot scrutinize his mysterious works to carve out our inner life as a home for himself (Rom. 11:33). His ways are incomprehensibly crazy to us (Isa. 55:8-9) and seem to be worse than crazy — even foolish as we would judge by our analysis (1 Cor. 1:18-25). These witnesses to God’s mysterious and marvelous works in the dark should inspire us to feel our weakness before him, which is humility. Since God is at work in our experience of his absence and silence, the crisis can be safe for us, especially if we are supported by others who know the experience so they may reassure us (2 Cor. 1:3-4). This strange operation is how God works on people. With our friends we may be brought in due time to agree that God is good, even when he has been quiet toward us. He is with us when we do not see his works or feel his presence. He has promised never to leave us or forsake us (Heb. 13:5) and he proves that promise by bringing us to the end of the tunnel.
Read the first post in this series, “How Should I Respond When I Don't Feel God?,” the second post, “Experiencing the Absence of God Series: Remember that God Works in Us Constantly” and third post, “Find Reassurance in God’s Silence and Stick with God Despite his Absence.”