July 28, 2014

Where Is God When We Need Him?

“At different times on the journey I have tried to fill the emptiness that frequently comes with God’s presence …” – Brennan Manning

“The emptiness that frequently comes with God’s presence …” So that’s what this is? In recent days, some in the Internet Monk community have especially touched me. I can identify with the despair that has prompted comments in the vein of wanting to give up after seeking intimacy with God and not finding it. They are expressions of emptiness and the fear and frustration that he is not present – the same fear and frustration I’ve struggled with for a year.

My business is struggling. My emotional well is down to the level of mud … and my God is being ever so quiet. Then, another phone call a few nights ago and another sad story was added to my extended family’s anthology of recent trials. It knocked the remaining wind out of me.

I confess that I have begun to succumb to the thought that we are all on a fixed income metaphorically speaking. There is a finite supply and an increasing demand for everything from material wealth to the less tangible, though no less longed for, emotional and spiritual riches. Access to a newswire gives me a daily window to devastations around the world. Natural disasters, war, persecution, famine and disease leave people without resource. To make matters worse, they are also without any comfort in their sufferings. The earth labors. Its people groan. Lack reigns. Am I right to think this way?

Without diminishing the sobering circumstances that are the lot of so many and also without purporting to espouse a prosperity message either of material wealth or of an unrealistic life devoid of all struggle, I make a submission. It is that we are ignoring the reality of God’s provision and presence in this world and in our lives when we survey our spent surroundings and see no supply. Being a glass-half-empty person by nature, I preach to myself most of all. It is conformity to a way of worldly thinking I have struggled with since childhood.

From the first pages of Scripture to the last, God demonstrates that where there is need, there is also provision. Where there is emptiness, there is also a remedy. Where there is the aching fear that we navigate our days on earth alone, there is a loving God always present and actively sovereign. But our perception fails at times.

Perhaps we see only brokenness, captivity and ash heaps of ruins. Isaiah prophesied and Jesus reiterated that his coming would bring restoration, freedom and beauty. That is where I long to live.  Yet the road there is often messy and doesn’t necessarily look as we think it should. Jesus’ own life is Exhibit A. Israel expected her Messiah to come conquering. Yet, “he was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.” Not exactly what they were looking for.

Perhaps the same could be said for me – for us. Jesus shows up, but he’s not what we expect. I survey my difficult circumstances and the more dire circumstances of those around me wondering, “Where have you been, Jesus?”

Then he says, “I was the hungry one who needed food, I was the thirsty one, the naked one, the traveler, the prisoner, the sick, the lonely and wretched.”

Jesus is here, but he comes clothed in rejection and sorrow and demanding my compassion. What am I to do? I’m wallowing in my own weakness just now.

Indeed what are we to do when the human condition is …

Loneliness …

Mourning …

Brokenness …

Hunger …

Nakedness …

Need …

Captivity …

Apathy …

Persecution …

Despair …

Devastation … and

Death ?

I am with you if you are thinking, Some of these conditions are mine – and there doesn’t seem to be answer or resource enough to cover them.

Mother Teresa comes to mind at this point. She suffered from a well-documented dark night of the soul for many years and admitted to not being able to sense God’s presence. Because of this, some have even wondered whether she was truly reborn. Yet, the fruit of her life declares otherwise. If it is as Manning says, that emptiness often comes with God’s presence, then her long dark night may be the most compelling evidence that the poor and dying she ministered to each day were a manifestation of Jesus. He trusted her with his silent presence in their emaciated bodies. He trusted her to obey him. He trusted her to pray for them and to serve them. He trusted her to not give up. He trusted her to trust him.

Jesus, can the same be said of me – of us?

The truth is … this is the plan. We are it. We are his body. We are Jesus on earth. And there is enough of everything we need. He is the one who spoke all things into existence by the word of his power. Can he not speak …

Beauty …

Bread …

Comfort …

Compassion …

Freedom …

Hope …

Grace …

Goodness …

Rest …

Shelter …

Strength …

Wisdom …

Life … to those who ask in his name?

The Bible we hold in our hands, from Genesis to Revelation, from the time of prophets to the time of Christ is a catalog of profound human need answered by God’s plenty. The church, from the foundations laid by the Apostles to Christ followers of today, is to catalog the same. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these …” (John 14:12).

God wants us to articulate the need or desire. When the widow of one of Israel’s prophets cried out to the man of God because creditors were about to take her boys as slaves (2 Kings 4:1-7), Elisha said to her, “How can I help you?”

Likewise, when Jesus encountered a blind man (Mark 10:46-52) who shouted to him for mercy as he entered Jericho, he demanded a more specific request. “What do you want me to do for you?”

I’ve always thought I was quite good at telling God my needs and desires and expressing them for others in my intercessions. Perhaps not. I tend to cry out for a generalized mercy or to pray along the lines of sympathy rather than taking the time before God to discern what of his will he is working in me. Andrew Murray writes, “Our desires are put to the test to see whether they are honest and real and are according to God’s word.”

Provision, though unseen, is present. Elisha said to the widow, “Tell me, what do you have in your house?” At first she told him that she had nothing. In truth she had a little oil. Blind Bartimaeus thought had nothing, but Jesus’ presence evoked the knowledge that he harbored within himself a mustard seed of faith. Our truth is that if we have come to Christ we harbor something he can use.

Am I willing to venture it on God even if it appears to be all of my supply? I am so selfish when I am emotionally tired. I want to hide if there is a demand for the little energy I have left. Yet there are times when he wants the vial broken open and every drop poured out.

Acts of obedience – sometimes strange ones – are required. Elisha told the widow, “Go around and ask all your neighbors for empty jars. Don’t ask for just a few. Then go inside and shut the door behind you and your sons. Pour oil into all the jars, and as each is filled, put it to one side.” Similarly, Jesus’ command to Bartimaeus began with the same word, “Go.”

God wants us to participate in his answer. We can identify needs. We can pray, but it requires effort to go. Even as I write this, I can think of several ways that I can go.  A sick family member needs more frequent visits. Emotionally abandoned children I know need attention. And everywhere there is financial and material needs to supply. There is never a shortage of places and ways to go. The shortage is in the goers.

God creates adequate supplies out of small investments and sometimes out of nothing. The widow did all that Elisha commanded. “She left him and afterward shut the door behind her and her sons. They brought the jars to her and she kept pouring.” When there were no jars left, the oil stopped flowing. She paid her debts and lived on what remained.

Bartimaeus believed Christ and went on his way healed. Jesus divided the loaves and fishes and fed thousands. Mother Teresa, with no personal resources, ministered half a century in the streets of Calcutta. In his lifetime, George Muller prayed in enough provisions to care for 10,000 orphans. The Apostle Paul received grace to bear weakness and insufficiency as he ministered his way to martyrdom.

It is with the perspective of hindsight in each of these scenarios that we see God’s presence and the provision he brought. But in the moment, in the daily reality of debt, physical impairment, hunger, sickness and overwhelming responsibility, he may have seemed absent.

Maybe in your moments he seems absent. At times, he has seemed absent in mine, but he is not. He is present in those in need around us. He is present in our own need.

“Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast” (Psalm 139:7-10, NIV).

How else, except by need and emptiness, do we even begin to think of Christ, let alone come to him? How else, except by a continuing and deepening discernment of personal need, do we keep coming? It is our emptiness on earth and God’s much more in heaven that are meant to meet. The more empty we are, the greater our capacity to receive him. There is no room for him in the sated and self-satisfied. “Blessed are the poor in spirit … blessed are those who hunger and thirst.” It is precisely in need that he is present.

Comments

  1. sharing in Jesus’ sufferings are not the intense ones of scourging, crown-of-thorns upon the brow, carrying a heavy cross & eventually getting nailed to it…

    He knew the problems with family dysfunction. health problems. money problems. national turmoil. religious hypocrisy. alcoholism. prostitution. social injustice. racial tension. unmet expectations. frustrations. hope deferred…

    yeah, He knew it all. He did not fix it everywhere He went. He felt it though. every desperate gaze as He walk the dusty streets of Nazareth & Jerusalem. He knew the promises of Messiah. He knew it was not His time to make all things right. but the kingdom was proclaimed & evidenced by His words & deeds…

    at this very moment, very sincere Christians that i think are much more deserving than i, are experiencing the challenges of brokenness, dysfunction, craziness in a world that pretends such things are controllable.

    i see the craziness in the world around me. in my own family. in the families of dear friends. suffering that is real. visceral. harsh. cruel…

    yes we understand our frail composition. and the enemy that seeks to ‘kill, steal, destroy’. oh yes, we know that only too well…

    we need you Jesus! we need Your grace, strength, protection, healing, goodness in the midst of the whirlwinds of life. please Lord, know that we are but dust…

    and the journey continues. tears mixed with laughter. mourning with joy. pain with pleasure. keep us safe O Lord. help us in times of need. bring us safely home. amen…

  2. You know as I read this I am reminded of the times when I thought that maybe I should just give up on this whole thing but something inside me screams NOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I find this ever increasing desire to know God but most importantly knowing that he first desired me. You know maybe that is what many of us fail to see as we attempt to know God. It isn’t that we just woke up one day and said oh yeah I now desire God; it is that he has come after us. He desires us. He is jealous for us. That is one of the most beautiful things that I have ever heard; Jesus Christ, God of the Universe came after me? Wow.

  3. Wonderful post!

  4. “He is present in those in need around us.”

    This is a good way to look at life, Lisa. We will never think that God is somehow “not showing up” if we are seeing God in those in need, because there are certainly needy people around, Including ourselves. If we can bring healing words and actions to one another, this is God showing up as well. God tending to His children through His children.

    I haven’t read the book about Mother Theresa based on the letters she wrote over the years, but I have heard about it and I can’t help feeling a little sad that she was working so hard among the most destitute and for many decades never had what some call “consolations” from God. For lives like hers we really have to rely on what Jesus said and what the apostles said in terms of her reward being an eternal reward.

    • Forgive my tardiness in responding. This posted about the time I couldn’t keep my eyes open another minute.

      “God tending to His children through His children.” What a good way to put this Joanie. You’re right. Mother Teresa’s life does in some ways seem sad, but the expression on her face in the picture with this post indicates joy. Perhaps there was more consolation for her than we know.

  5. Thank you, Lisa. Good word from the Lord. May we dare to live it.

  6. Another Mary says:

    Thank you so much! My heart needed to hear that.

  7. Thank you very much for this post Lisa. We can know all these things intellectually, but there’s something about hearing them (or reading them) from others who are similarly in a dark place. At times when I am emotionally fatigued, struggling with day to day life (like now), where I want to throw up my hands like the Ecclesiast and just cry out “Meaningless! Meaningless! Everything is meaningless!”… in those moments, I take great comfort from the body of Christ, especially in the testimony of those who have similarly struggled with the darkness.

    I’ve find Luther’s theology of the cross particularly comforting over the past few months, a theology that Alister McGrath dramatically brings to life in one of the chapters of his recent book “The Passionate Intellect” (U.K. title “Mere Theology”). He writes:

    “The cross, like Mount Sinai, may be enfolded by clouds and darkness. Yet God remains present in the darkeness, transcending both our capacity to discern him, and our willingness to trust him… The ‘Word of the Cross,’ according to Luther, does not destroy or even totally dispel this spiritual darkness; nevertheless, it reveals it for what it truly is and provides enough light for us to make our way within it, one step at a time. Indeed, there are times when Luther seems to think of Christ as a candle, projecting a flickering circle of light, allowing us to find our bearings and our way. Beyond that candle, all is dark and unknown. Yet we cannot make the candle burn brighter. We must trust the one who holds it, and leads us in the gloom. ‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it’ (John 1.5).”

  8. Sometimes I would like to ask God why He allows poverty, suffering, and injustice when He could do something about it. But I’m afraid He would ask me the same question. — Anonymous

  9. Our perspective, suffering, is so temporal – in the now. His Truth, reality and restoration is so very eternal and glorious.

    Oh that we could grow beyond “little faith” and short-sightedness.

    Thanks for this

  10. I think depression may have something to do with our dark nights of the soul. Part of depression is the inability to see light, joy, good etc we can only see the bad things happening to us and around us.

    • I agree with you Ruben. Being bipolar I have had many very dark times. All the Goodness of God seems to disappear. This of course is not true. God is good, loving, kind. He is the light. I just have to hope that He will turn my sadness into joy. I know He can. But, if not, I pray He can use my darkness for good, for His glory. I also prayed for you if you suffer with depression.

  11. This word won’t get heard many places. It won’t draw a crowd or “inspire” a 7 message sermon series, but it speaks truth to our condition–thanks.

  12. If my actions are any indication, I generally want God to keep his nose out of my business when things are going well (and saying a few quick “thank you’s” during rote prayer doesn’t count as gratitude in my book). When things go wrong, I sit around wondering how God could let these things happen and have no answers for others that ask the same.

    I don’t think you can have it both ways: If we are free to make choices, then we are free to live without God’s forced intervention during the good times and the bad, and given that I’ve seem plenty of folks die while my Christian friends were wearing a hole in the carpet praying for God to heal, I’m not sure we can expect his intervention anyway.

  13. Thanks for reminding us that God does not always show up the way we think He should, but He does show up!

  14. 4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
    8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

    This is what keeps me here on this planet when I feel the darkness overtaking me. This passage has saved my life many times. That last line….put it into practice, and the God of peace will be with you. WE are in control of our thoughts, and we don’t have to entertain every thought that enters our minds. We have the ability to change the video in there and think on things that are true, noble and pure. The peace of God WILL guard our hearts and minds.

  15. When things aren’t going well for I am always wondering if God is showing me something I need to take away from the situation, to grow from. Sometimes its a choice I am refusing to look at, sometimes its behavior I need to acknowledge, sometimes it is the inordinate amount of time I am spending looking inwardly at my own needs, desires, wants, appetities that I am not looking out ward at others and how I affect them or how I can influence.

    Most of the time though I don’t figure out what I really was suppose to pull from all this until I have time for reflection….

  16. 1. The life and teachings of Jesus are hardly an adequate answer to the problem of human suffering (if such an answer is even possible).

    2. The suffering of Jesus–however archetypal–could not be considered especially severe when compared with the broad experience of humanity.

    3. God’s reluctance to magically intervene in our lives (and the dubious nature of stories suggesting the contrary) suggests that he is only a symbol. The alternative is to suppose him capricious, apathetic, or malevolent.

    • Maybe He is only a symbol to some.

      Maybe He is nothing to some.

      The non-believer is right…for them, there will be no God.

      But for the millions of us who have known Him, and His saving grace and power to transform our lives, He is certainly real, and He will remain that way for eternity.

    • Wow Werner, what a bleak existence you must live. God just a symbol? Jesus’ suffering not enough? All I can say is that God’s love is more powerful than the hardest shell we can surround ourselves with. I cannot wait to hear how his love breaks through to you. And I mean that with all kindness of heart.

      I am glad you are here with us, Werner. Continue to listen as others share how God shows himself to be anything but capricious, apathetic or malevolent.

    • So, we’re causing all this suffering, and you’re mad at God, or conclude he doesn’t exist? But it is WE who are capricious, apathetic, and malevolent. Why does he owe us? We’re the ones screwing it up.

    • Werner, have you read The Problem of Pain, by CS Lewis?

      His starting point for that book is pretty much what you are saying.

  17. God is a mystery, unfathomable. We want to make Him/Her in our own image, it’s all about us.No matter what has happened or will happen I know God is there. Jesus is Lord, amen.

    • Amen, Vern.

      He does reveal Himself to us, in the ways that He has decided. In His Word. In the bread and wine of the Supper, and the water of Baptism (accompanied by His Word).

      Beyond that, we just won’t find Him.

      • Steve, I think as you read Scripture you will see that God reveals himself in many other ways as well. He reveals himself in ravens providing food. In a whale swallowing a runaway prophet. In the sun standing still in the sky. In droughts. In floods.

        He reveals himself by angels singing to shepherds. He reveals himself by an audible voice that caused a Pharisee to go blind.

        And he is revealing himself to us in a multitude of ways yet today. As we read in Lisa’s essay above, he revealed himself to Mother Teresa in the lives of every dying person she cared for.

        We can’t put God in a box and say, “He only does this and no more.” Every time I have done that, he has gone out of his way to show me there is no box that can hold him.

        Oh what a God we serve!

        • Right, Jeff. God is ever present, everywhere.

          But the kind of revelation that I speak of is His saving presence. That, after all, is what really counts when it comes to our relationship with the Living God.

          He comes to us to save us through His Word, and Sacraments.

  18. Lisa, you have a special gift. Your writing has a way of welling up emotions inside of me that no other writer does. I know that doesn’t “pay the bills”, but Thank you.

  19. Overdosed a long time ago on Mother Teresa worship. She may not have had “personal resources”, but she had tremendous fundraising prowess, and chose not to spend it on modern medical facilities, or even pain meds, because she glorified suffering as an end in itself. Her “dark night of the soul” began, interestingly, right after she was granted her own order by the Vatican, in response to years of agitation. Perhaps she was one of those who got her reward here? She considered herself a Catholic, but made no attempts to convert her charges, instead wanting them to be the best Hindus, or Muslims, they could be. In other words, she seemed to be a universalist with an inclination toward an eastern view of suffering.

    • With respect, I don’t worship Mother Teresa. I use her as an example, human and no doubt imperfect as we all are. Nevertheless, I don’t know of very many others who would voluntarily spend decades embroiled in the problems of poverty and sickness.

    • Yay! Let’s all hate on Mother Teresa. I too wish she lived her life as well as I live mine.

      • Cute. :) Actually, I don’t know you, but it is certainly possible I would seriously agree with your (sarcastic) statement.

    • Modern medical facilities would not have helped the people Mother Theresa ministered to. Calcutta has such facilities. Your comment betrays a profound ignorance of the conditions on the ground in India, where the kinds of people to whom she showed mercy would have died like roadkill without someone to take them in.

      • Jeez, Chaplain Mike – wake up on the wrong side of the pulpit? My “profound ignorance” has nothing to do with it. She DID take them in, and then nursed them with the same medical sophistication shown to the roadkill. And she could have given them so much more…

  20. I actually have mixed feelings about Mother Theresa, I read some criticism of her where she ordered people to hold back on pain medication. I don’t know if it’s true…but if it is..that doesn’t seem right….

    I’ve torn myself apart over the issue of where is God when I need him. All I can say is that he has failed, in the crucial and pressing times when I needed him most…my prayers were met with silence and abscence. Have any of you read Philip Yancy’s “Disappointment with God?” I like how the book opens with the story of Richard, the Wheaton student who lost faith because of the times he needed God, and God disappeared.

    One of the things I noticed when my faith was going south, is that I woould go to church and hear people say all these wonderful things about God!! For example..”God answered my prayer!!” to “I had a rich time in the word…God really spoke to me through that..” to “God revealed himself to me today..” etc.. I would head to Bible studies, church etc..hearing all this bullcrap about God beign there when people needed him. And I’d look at my life and it was nothing but silence. What type of reward is that? Also I wanted to know why Christians are always quick to rush to God’s defense? I mean think about it…if those of you who are married treated your spouse in such a way by doing nothing but giving that person silence, how long would your marriage last? Seriously…?

    Okay..that’s it for now.

    • As a juxtaposition, since I became a Christian, I have lost my job, my savings, my wife, and my family. Where is God?

      I don’t have my prayers answered (at least, not to my satisfaction – “no” is technically an answer).

      I don’t hear from God.

      Yet, still, I trust God.

      • The fact that you still trust him in the midst of “no answers” and plentiful deprivation is wonderful indication of his existence – for only he could give you (and me) a faith like that. I choose to hang on to that faith, as you have done.

        What a great God.
        Blessings to you, Nedbrek.

        PS. During these dry times, I try to remember to thank God daily for his unseen mercies. I know there are many mercies in my life for which I didn’t even ask and of which I am not aware.

        • “The fact that you still trust him in the midst of “no answers” and plentiful deprivation is wonderful indication of his existence – for only he could give you (and me) a faith like that.”

          That… makes no sense at all. For if you follow that to its logical conclusion, the fact that others do not trust him is a wonderful indication that he doesn’t exist. Or the comfort that other gods give to other people, even during the worst of times, indicates their existence.

          • The evidence of God existence is not just that I have faith when circumstances dictate I shouldn’t.

            It is that God keeps His promises (as recorded in the Bible – specifically persecution and tribulation).

    • Eagle, I have not heard that story about Mother Teresa. I can tell you that in the days that my grandfather lay dying he was in considerable discomfort, but he asked to not be given pain medication. He had important things he wanted to say. Hours before he died, he confessed his sins and believed in Christ. I was a young woman at the time, but those moments have stayed with me for the last 28 years. At times I have wondered if that would have happened had he been in a drug-induced sleep.

      I am so sorry that you have felt abandoned by God. Pat answers and declarations from people who don’t seem to understand never help, but I truly believe that God rewards those who diligently seek him. Sometimes it takes a lifetime. I will be praying for you as others have prayed for me.

    • We tend to talk more about when things do happen than when they don’t, and even in reading we have to purposefully slow down and notice the “dead time”. When I read about the works of Noah, David, Moses, etc there are decades of very little good happening. There are decades of faithfulness recorded, and when you’re reading these cramped little verses, you can miss that. But it is certainly a characteristic of God – his plans seem to work very long term, leaving a long trudge along the road in the middle of the high points. And he didn’t shortcut that for himself, living through decades of humanity, losing his adoptive dad at some point, being unsupported by his family when the time of ministry came, and then years of such crowds hounding him that he had to run away in the middle of the night to pray in peace.

      Similarly, when people speak of having a rich experience, they don’t tend to clarify how much time was included there without that richness.

      I have been extraordinarily blessed in this past year and a half. A man I have no personal connection to or knowledge of donated me a wheelchair van that required less than 10% of its value to fix up to working fully. An organization that doesn’t support my particular neuro disease turned me down, then suddenly called me because they changed their mind and permaloaned me a powerchair. My church family has surrounded me with both prayer and practical help, and in my long shut in months not ceased to visit or forgotten me. My husband got a surprise transfer to the state we wanted to live in. I have had times of deep, deep peace.

      But I’ve also spent ever longer hours (I’m losing my ability to sleep) in pain and distress, unable to take in enough calories for satiety and energy or proper hydration, hemmed in by illness and weather, only seeing the outside of my house occassionally. Four months straight of that I spent in bed. Those hours and days and sometimes minutes feel so long, interminably long. I could never say in honesty it has been easy or even reasonable. As it is, I am dying slowly, wasting away visibly.

      Yet if asked, I would answer a lot like those church people, because the times of deep and tranqil peace, the feeling of the Lord’s presence, the energy of spontaneous worship when I do see the outdoor world or taste excellent food, the wonder I sometimes feel when I suddenly “get” something in the Bible, the gratitude I experience… those things really do outweigh the interminable days of pain and loneliness and imprisonment. I am still experiencing the bad, but mostly I remember the good. Between bouts of depression I get to see the Holy Spirit moving in my social circle or in the hearts of my church family. It’s kinda hard to explain, but when I say “I’m doing okay”, I’m not lying. It seems crazy that this can be okay, but it is.

      • Very well said.

      • Tokah, you always bring a great perspective to us. I am sorry, though, that you are “dying slowly, wasting away visibly.” I hope every day at least a bit of joy will be yours.

      • Tokah, you always bring incredible depth, perspective and kindness to the conversation. What can I say except thank you?

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      One of the things I noticed when my faith was going south, is that I woould go to church and hear people say all these wonderful things about God!! For example..”God answered my prayer!!” to “I had a rich time in the word…God really spoke to me through that..” to “God revealed himself to me today..” etc..

      And from what Christian Monist has been writing, a LOT of Godly Success Stories like those were faking it big-time, afraid of what would happen to them (from other Christians turning on them to Losing Their Salvation) if they didn’t. (After All, Christians Are New Creations, Instantly Transformed, and Always Victorious!) And as time goes on, it gets more and more divorced from reality until SOMETHING snaps. Or they’ve been faking it for so long the fake becomes real to them.

      I wonder if this is what Christ was talking about when he said “you lay heavy burdens upon others”? I don’t know what could be heavier than always faking it in fear until the fake becomes the real.

    • While it’s probably not a satisfying answer for someone who doesn’t necessarily believe in God or Christ the Christian claim is that he has already provided for/spoken to us in the times of harshest trial. I think the problem is often that we’re looking in the wrong place. Like Lisa noted, we’re like expectant Israel- we want a Savior who’s going to remove all problems/oppression- now.

      I find that there’s a big, often unbridged gap between our conception of God as present and active in our lives, and God as the Jesus of history. I wish this gap did not exist. It’s almost as if there were two Gods for some people. The one who they talk to, see “at work” in their circumstances, etc, and the Jesus of history that we find in Scripture. I discovered this gap in myself awhile back, and have been seeking to close it ever since.

      There’s a cartoon depicting Jesus on the cross, with a man standing on the ground looking up at him saying “why don’t you ever do anything for me?” For most of us, “answered prayer” means something like a voice, a change in circumstances, a subjective sense of God’s presence with us, or something that has a lot to do with….well, US. What if we discovered that all our prayer had already been answered in the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ? That the ongoing history of people is merely a “domino effect” of that one event- for instance, hypothetically, if I am truly thankful that God responded to my divorce by taking that sin/suffering upon himself and going through it with me(for that’s what the cross is), than I would probably dwell in at least a measure of peace on the matter. I’d be secure, not in my circumstances or a felt presence in my life, but in God’s proven presence in history(and promise for what’s to come). The problem is, most of us want to feel something, and while that’s completely understandable, we’re told to eat the food of his flesh, not look for signs or feelings. If I’m suffering, I want it to go away. Instead of answering our prayers to remove it, he says, “I’ll go through it with you.” In doing so, he makes himself completely sympathetic and accessible, which fulfills our one true need- to be united with him, to be loved by him, to know him. Will we follow? Will we see that as the true need, and his sacrifice as its true fulfillment?

      Per Werner’s comment above, the question of suffering is profound and seems to be a great reason not to believe in God. It puts before us the question: what is more important to me, being satisfied with my circumstances, or seeing and knowing Jesus? In order to bring us face-to-face with our most basic, instinctive response(our spirit’s condition), he offers only the second, for now.

    • Here’s a thought that is interesting Eagle – and may not fall in the agnostic train of thought so much…. sometimes as we travel deeper in our faith, trying to get closer to that union with God, something may occur to get us off track. I don’t usually see anything written at IMonk about the influences of Satan when one begins to develop stronger bounds in this area (maybe Satan has fallen out of vogue) but in my circles we still consider that influence (though we don’t dwell on it).

      Sometimes what I see here is the reward system – I’ve commited to Christ, now He should hear me and my prayers because I am commited and I should get what I need (like toys at Christmas). Funny though that when I am working hard on my growth there is always something to distract me. Heck it could just be me… or not.

  21. Randy Thompson says:

    We were called and chosen by One who “set his face to go to Jerusalem” to be crucified, and who “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Like it or not, following Jesus takes us to Calvary and the Dark Night of the Soul, for how else can we learn what the Psalmist knew, that “even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright s the day, for darkness is as light with you” (Psalm 139:12). And, what kind of witness to the world are we, if our witness is rooted only in happy times? Turtullian, the second century Christian writer, was right: “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” We may not literally bleed, but a “bloodied” witness is more powerful than a bloodless one. Someone in the valley of the shadow who tells me that God is good has my attention.

  22. This is wonderful, Lisa. Thank you.

  23. I am sorry I did not see this article until today. I’ve been reading at IMonk for about a month now. This is the best article yet. So profound. So unreligious, in that it honestly reflects those emotions that rise up within us, it didn’t try to cover them up or mask them, but led those emotions and the reality around us to Jesus. Excellent!

  24. love the Brennan Manning quote – so true.