Why does God sometimes seem absent?
The presence of God is all around us at all times. We can know He is omnipresent, feel His Spirit within us, and experience special manifestations of His presence. These are the building blocks of living in an everyday relationship with Jesus Christ.
But if those things are true, why does God sometimes seem absent? Why do even the most seasoned disciples experience feelings of spiritual desertion? What should we do when we think our God has forsaken us?
The best thing to do in times like these is to increase our awareness of God. By turning our eyes upon Jesus, we can strengthen our faith beyond emotional experiences and build a life on the foundation of His Word.
The Absence of God
The first question to ask yourself in times of God’s perceived absence is, “Who moved? God, or me?” Is there a secret sin that is causing you to run from God in shame? Has your love for God been slowly replaced with apathy? The Bible encourages us to “draw near to God, and He will draw near to you” (James 4:8).
In His divine wisdom, God knows when to let us experience the consequences of our actions and when to chase us down with His sacrificial love. In Romans 1, Scripture explains how God gave the world up to their sinful desires and the consequences of their rebellion. But just a few chapters later, it explains that “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
Desperate circumstances can cultivate a deeper desire for God in our lives. Our faith can grow cold because we replace Jesus’ radical call to discipleship with a complacent Christianity. But we serve a God who redeems suffering to bring salvation to the brokenhearted.
“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” — Genesis 50:20
One practical step you can take when you feel like God is absent is to pray the Psalms. Psalm 22, Psalm 51, and Psalm 139, in particular, give words to the person who feels like God is absent, and invites Him to draw near again.
The Miraculous and the Mundane
The next step to increasing our awareness of God is to expand our view of what it means to be near Him. Think of your closest human relationship. Surely, you have a handful of memorable moments with that person. But how many more moments have you shared on long road trips, talking on the phone, or living your daily life that were not especially meaningful? The power in those mundane moments was in being with the person that you love. Our relationship with God works in the same way.
Similarly, how we handle suffering says a lot about what we believe about God. We want the mountaintop experience but are not willing to walk through the wilderness. We want to be called “child of God” but are surprised when we suffer like the Son of God suffered.
“The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him.” - Romans 8:16-17
Our God is the God of the miraculous and the mundane. But that does not make Him mundane or ordinary! It makes Him a relational God who meets us where we are and loves us.
Practicing the Presence
There was a 17th-century monk named Brother Lawrence who understood the awareness of God in a special way. He was a dishwasher in his monastery, yet his lowly kitchen work gave him a unique insight into experiencing God’s love. His teachings on this subject have been collected into a work that is still popular today called The Practice of the Presence of God.
The main idea of Brother Lawrence’s epiphany is that God is with us everywhere — every day. He recognized that we create complex rules and systems for entering into God’s presence that can make it seem like an impossible task. But in reality, Jesus has made it possible to be with God when we do our daily work out of love for Him.
“We can do little things for God; I turn the cake that is frying on the pan for love of Him, and that done, if there is nothing else to call me, I prostrate myself in worship before Him, who has given me grace to work; afterwards I rise happier than a king. It is enough for me to pick up but a straw from the ground for the love of God.” — Brother Lawrence, 1666
To practice the presence of God in your everyday life, ask the Holy Spirit to turn your mind to thoughts of Him. When we blur the lines between the sacred and the secular, we experience the joy of an everyday relationship with Jesus Christ.