This is my second post in my continuing reflections on the Lord’s Prayer. This post will look a different aspect than most might: when God feels distant and silent. What do we do when our God is in Heaven and not here on earth?
Madeleine L’Engle, in Circle of Quiet, writes: “Gregory of Nyssa points out that Moses’s vision of God began with the light, with the visible burning bush, the bush which was bright with fire and was not consumed; but afterwards, God spoke to him in a cloud. After the glory which could be seen with human eyes, he began to see the glory which is beyond and after light. The shadows are deepening all around us.”
L’Engle identifies what most of us might be feeling as we dig into the Scriptures. God leads Israel from Egypt as a pillar of fire, only to have his presence trumpted by thunder and fire surrounded by a glory-cloud of angels. He would later rain fire from Heaven against false prophets, appear to Samson’s parents on an altar, wrestle mano-e-mano with Israel. But soon he became quieter. He whispered to Elijah. Soon, he spoke through prophets. And for years he went silent. The Chronicler, in Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah doesn’t record God saying much.
Where was he? After the exile, he spoke through a scant few prophets. Israel was promised that they would be quieted by love (Zephaniah 3:14-16) but instead it seemed that it was God who was silent. Four hundred years went by – and with only a few writings that could have been inspired in the Greek world – and God was silent.
Our Father was in Heaven, seemingly content with the silence.
I write this now reflecting on those words. “Who art in Heaven.” Right now, God seems silent. I don’t feel him moving in me, I don’t feel his Spirit stirring up the silence of my soul. Everything seems empty. All prayers, Scripture readings, anything I do feels like static. I know it should be working, I know something should be happening, but it’s all white noise. God the mighty temple builder seems content to leave the dust settled on the end table, the throw pillows on the floor, and the windows streaky from the last clean. Where is God when he feels silent?
It’s hard to know what do when God feels distant. It’s like losing the crutch that you have wobbled on for years, not having any physical therapy but being told to run a marathon. Forget trying to even run – standing up straight is going to be a big enough issue for you. Where did he go? Doesn’t he know that I rely on him to stay upright?
In that last sentence, whichever meaning you read from upright would be appropriate. Why fight sin when the source of that fighting is gone? Why fight sin when it doesn’t feel like the person you’re fighting for appreciates it? Why fight sin to be made in the image of someone who feels so distant?
I remember the first time I truly thought I heard God speak to my soul in a tangible way. Sure, I said I was a Christian for my whole life. I went to a Baptist school from Kindergarten to 12th grade, I read the Bible (as much for homework as anything else), memorized Scripture, did service projects. But still, God didn’t really seem to be anyone personal to me. I had no idea you were supposed to feel anything.
It wasn’t until the Spring of my Senior year that I started to feel something. I was at a youth service where we explored different stations of the cross, different stands that showed different aspects of the prayer week. I don’t remember exactly what the exercise was, but we were supposed to nail something to a giant wooden cross. I don’t remember if it was a sin or a thing we didn’t like about ourselves. But I remember nailing something to that which made me cry. The thing was, I didn’t know at the time that anything had really happened.
But something did. I think it was the first time I really felt God moving in me personally. It finally felt real to me. There really was somebody working. I cried for a while, talking to a few other people at the church and went about life as normal. Except, it wasn’t. I was excited to read for school assignments. Scripture memorization actually started to shape my mind rather than turn into words on a quiz.
Why do I write that? Not sure. Part of it is for your sakes. Part of it is for mine, to remind me of a time that I knew God was there and a time that I knew I belonged to him.
So what’s getting me by right now? Not a lot. Unfortunately, you can’t will yourself back into feeling God and you can’t will God into doing something (remember, the Spirit will blow where it wills). The biggest thing that keeps me going right now is remembering my baptism.
There’s something incredible about baptism that we miss when we reduce it to a mere symbol. The apostle Paul talks about baptism, saying: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ Jesus was raised from the dead to the glory of the Father, we too might walk in the newness of life.” (Romans 6:3-4) Being dunked in the water under the names of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is a special moment when the gospel is spoken over us directly. We are told, by name, that we are being baptized into the death and resurrection of the Son of the Father who was raised back to life by the power of his Spirit. It is the blessed assurance that we, as Christians, are inextricably bound to Christ by the Spirit, assuring that some day after we die, we will be bodily raised back to life.
And that promise of new life will bring me to the next moment, letting me pray with the prophet: “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock will be cut off from the fold and there will be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on high places.” (Habakkuk 3:17-19)
No, this won’t force God to speak by any means. But it keeps me singing, which is what’s important right now.