When you don't feel God's presence
On Sunday we considered the truth of God's omnipresence - that God is present everywhere, at every moment. This is a wonderfully reassuring truth, as it tells us that whatever we go through in life, God is present in that moment.
Given this, it is perhaps no surprise that there are those for whom the hard seasons in life draw them closer to God. His presence becomes more tangible, and experiencing that helps pull them through the trial.
But that is not the case for all. Rather, some have experienced an acute sense of God's absence in their life.
Listen to the words of CS Lewis, from his book A Grief Observed:
"Talk to me about the truth of religion and I'll listen gladly. Talk to me about the duty of religion and I'll listen submissively. But don't come talking to me about the consolations of religion or I shall suspect that you don't understand....
Meanwhile, where is God?... Go to him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence. You may as well turn away. The longer you wait, the more emphatic the silence will become."
And it is not as if Lewis's expereince is alien to the Bible. Listen to the psalmist in Psalm 42:
"I say to God, my rock: why have you forgotten me?"
It is, perhaps, that sense of being forgotten by God, of having the door closed in your face when you most needed God's company, that can be so distressing.
There are several things one can say about this, some of which are helpful. We could talk about the need to trust the truth of God's word above our feelings. We could talk about the need to examine our own hearts for any hidden sin. We could talk about the need to cultivate a sense of his presence through regular Christian fellowship, prayer, worship and Bible reading.
But Samuel Rutherford, the 17th century Scottish presbyterian pastor and theologian has something else to say:
"I know that, as night and shadows are good for flowers, and moonlight and dews are better than a continual sun, so is Christ's absence of special use, and that it hath some nourishing virtue in it, and giveth sap to humility, and putteth an edge on hunger, and furnisheth a fair field to faith to put forth itself, and to exercise its finders in gripping it seeth not what."
Or, as Rutherford's words are use in the hymn, The Sands of Time are Sinking:
'But flowers need night's cool darkness,
The moonlight and the dew;
So Christ, from one who loved it,
His shining oft withdrew;
And then for cause of absence,
My troubled soul I scann'd -
But glory, shadeless, shineth
In Immanuel's land.'
And those are not vain words. Rutherford knew what it was to suffer.
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