What To Do When God Seems Far
by Pastor Aaron Adame
This past Sunday, we were reminded of the reality of God’s presence and what happens when God is near to His people from Genesis 21. As Christians, I think we struggle to recognize the significance of the biblical theme of God’s presence and its implications in our life. I know I personally was reminded during my time of study and preparation of just how pervasive this theme is throughout Scripture. From beginning to end, the Bible is a story of God’s presence among His people. He was with Adam and Eve in the garden. He was with the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob). He was with the Israelites as they left Egypt. He was with Moses on Mount Sanai. He was with the nation of Israel in the tabernacle and the temple. He was with mankind in the incarnation. He is with every believer in the Spirit. He will be with us in the mission of disciple making. He will be with us in glory in heaven! God’s presence (God dwelling with His people and His people dwelling with him) is the hope of the gospel!
The presence of God is what we were made to experience. We were made to be in fellowship with Him. We are at our best (fully human) when we are united to God in fellowship through Christ by faith. In contrast, we live a fractured life, an empty life when we are not experiencing God’s presence through Christ. These are bold statements; however, not only are they biblically founded, they are also true to our experience. Every believer in Christ can testify to their own experience when God is near and when He feels far.
With all this said, what I want to do in this article is focus on what we are to do when God seems distant. Every believer knows the terrifying seasons and situations of walking through spiritual valleys. The question is: What should we do when God seems far?
The first and most obvious thing to do when God seems distant is to examine yourself, be honest with yourself about unconfessed sin, and then take that confession to God. David writes a humble confession after his great sin with Bathsheba and Uriah:
“Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me” (Psalm 51:9-11 ESV).
David knew that his sin had not separated him from his God completely. David still believed and trusted in God for his salvation; therefore, he was not completely lost. However, his sense of God’s nearness was disrupted because of his sin. This is the same when a child hides some wrong from her parents. She is still their child, but she hides from her parents, either to not get caught or to avoid feeling the shame and guilt from her wrong. Or, as a form of discipline, a parent may put a child in “time out” or send them to their room. These gestures suggest what sin does, it creates a relational separation. This same thing happened with Adam and Eve in the Eden after they sinned—they hid from God while God searched for them.
So on this point, if you are going through a season where God’s presence seems allusive, look for unconfessed sin and confess that sin, that His nearness may be restored in your soul. Before I close this point, please understand, it is not God running from us when we are in this place, it is our unconfessed sin that causes us to push God out as we hold onto our sin. But as the Scriptures say, “If we confess our sin, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9 ESV).
CULTIVATE THAT NEARNESS
Nothing good happens by chance. Everything takes effort and intentionality on our part. This includes our relationship with God. Before I go on with this point, let me first clarify that our desire to experience the presence of God is a response to the God who made the first move to be with us. Romans 3:10-11 states, “as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God” (ESV, emphasis added).
We love God because God has first loved us (1 John). Know that as we desire to be with Him, He longs to be with us—He has gone to the fullest extent to be with us. With that said, now that we are in Christ, we need to work hard at cultivating that nearness. We should understand this dynamic naturally. If you are married, your relational intimacy is not automatic—you have to work at it. If you are single, but dating, you will not grow in that relationship unless you pursue them intentionally, getting to know them. This takes work, but we do it because we love them. This is the case in all of our relationships; it is also true in our relationship with God.
So how do we cultivate the nearness with God? Several of the spiritual disciplines are great places to start.
1. Regular Bible reading, which includes memorization, meditation, and application. Listening to God’s Word and living in light of it is the first and best way to cultivate that nearness.
2. Prayer. Nothing will supply you with the sense of God’s nearness better than spending time talking to the God who hears and responds. Pray alone. Pray with others.
3. Gather with His people. What’s interesting is that we often forget that in Christ, we are the temple of God, individually and corporately, where God dwells. Which means that when we gather with God’s people, in a very real sense we can experience the presence of God.
These two suggestions are far exhaustive as the only ways to restore a sense of God’s nearness when He seems far. In fact, you could be doing everything you ought to be doing and still feel what some have referred to as “a dark night of the soul.” However, as Psalm 23 reminds us, our Good Shepherd is with us, not only in the green pastures and still waters, but also in the valley of the shadow of death. Praise God that He desires to be with us and has made a way for us to be with Him.