Monday, September 5, 2011

Feeling God's Absence

I recently heard an amazing sermon by Kevin Kim on Lament from Psalms 88. You can watch the whole sermon here and if you are struggling in the darkness, if you are angry and hurt by what God is or is not doing in your life, I highly recommend it. It is also available in iTunes for free by looking up MPPC Lament. 

I am in a good place in my life right now. So what I got out of the sermon was probably not the main point. But as I was sitting there, I wrote down two words that the pastor defined for us. 

Consolation and Desolation 

The pastor defined consolation "as the felt presence of God." These are those mountaintop moments where God is ever present in your life, in your circumstances, in your moments. 

The pastor then defined desolation as "the felt absence of God." These are not the valleys of circumstance, the times when life is hard and the events of life are weighing you down. No. Desolation is the desert, desolation is the silence, when you don't feel God anywhere. 

In America ,we believe in cause and effect, we believe in results based on works. 

We believe that feeling close to God is a result of our Bible reading, prayer time and service. And conversely, when we don't feel God, when we don't hear God it is because we are pulling away, we are separating ourselves from him. 

But what if God does not work from a results based paradigm. What if God's actions are beyond our understanding but for His purpose? 
The ancients said, "What if consolation and desolation isn't so much about what you do and what you're doing, but it's more about what God is doing? What if consolation and desolation are both intentional moves of God in your life?" (Sermon Transcript)
If we learn nothing from Job, we learn this. There is a world at play beyond the world we know. Things happened in Job's life that had nothing to do with his actions. There was no cause and effect for Job and this really threw he and his friends for a loop. They spent chapter after chapter debating what Job must have done to cause these disasters in his life while Job continued to defend himself. 

I find a lot of comfort in this idea of consolation and desolation not being necessarily a direct result of my actions. God loves me not as a result of what I do or who I am but because He loves me. My consolation is not based on my actions but on God's grace. 

Sometimes my desolation, my feeling distance from God is because of actions or a lack of connection on my part. But I also have known a desert time in my life, a time of desolation and separation that was not a result, not a reaction to my deeds. I have felt the hand of God pull away even as I cried out for Him to hold me close. Even as I dove into His word more and more. Even as I sang songs of praise and worship and mercy at church each Sunday. My whole heart seeking, my whole mind knowing, my whole being serving who God is. And yet, God's felt presence was missing. 

Why does God do that to those that love Him? I know it is not that He has left me because I know that nothing separates us from the love of God. (Romans 8:38 - 39) But I think sometimes the feelings drift away, sometimes the felt presence is removed so that we can grow, so that we can affirm our conviction apart from how we feel. 

Just as at some point in every marriage, each person has to say yes, I am staying committed, yes I am choosing to love you. Even though I don't feel it today, even though you are not near. I am choosing you, even though...

I think the same is true in our relationship with God. At some point, we have to step up and say yes, I choose you God, even though I don't feel it today, even though I don't see you today. Today I will say blessed be your name

I experienced this desert a few years ago, actually the last time we lived in the Bay Area. It was a dark time for me spiritually, even though I was doing all the right things. I was crying out to God to be in our lives, in my life. At some point I had to make a decision. Was I going to still follow God, even if I could not feel it, even if I did not feel the warmth and reassurance of God's love? Or was this God thing really just an opiate for the masses as Karl Marx had believed, something to make us humans feel better and give us something to hold onto and to follow instead of figuring life out on our own?

When faced with what I believed about God, what I knew about the Bible, I decided that God is God and that is enough for me. My circumstances, my feelings, did not change that truth. My experience of God did not change God. He was enough. 

The darkness did not lift right away. It was not cause and effect, not a life lesson that once learned meant God would pour his presence back into my life. 

But slowly, I did start feeling more and more of God's hand on my heart and my mind. And more than feeling God's presence, I had come out of the desert with a deeper understanding of who God is and who I am in Him. My life is not determined by my circumstances. God is not at the mercy of my actions or inaction. God is bigger than me, infinitely bigger, and yet I am His and that makes me bigger too. The more I enter His world, the more I enter Him, the less my world, the events of my days, sway me. 

My conviction is so much stronger because I now know my commitment is based not on what God does for me but because of who God is. 

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