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When God Seems So Far Away How Do We Survive?
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‘Hiddenness of God’ is an ancient and a complex theme. It is portrayed in subjective and objective questions such as, ‘Where is God when we need HIM the most?’ and ‘Where was God during the Holocaust?’ respectively.
“Deus absconditus is the Latin phrase that describes this phenomenon—the hidden God,” writes Margaret Manning Shull in an article she authored in RZIM.org.
Trials and tribulations are the existential staple for many people from various faiths. Deliverance from these painful situations may not be in sight for many.
They say there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel. But the journey towards this light could be so burdensome that death, depression or insanity seems more existentially plausible than comfort, peace, and deliverance.
Yes, deliverance from pain and misery may not be everyone’s lot. It is most certainly an ardent desire for all, but need not be a reality for everyone reeling under pain.
But pain and distress are not the only premises emphasizing God’s Hiddenness. True; we yearn for God when we are amidst trials and tribulations. Not only during trials and tribulations, but we yearn for God during other circumstances as well.
Another article in RZIM.org authored by Margaret Manning Shull explains this situation well, “Why isn’t God more obvious? This question is often asked in many ways and in many contexts, by people of all levels of faith. When prayers go unanswered, why is God silent? When suffering or tragedy strikes, why would God allow this to happen? Why wouldn't God want more people to know God's good news? When all the "evidence" seems to counter the biblical narrative, why doesn't God just give the world a sign? If God was revealed through many wondrous signs and miracles throughout the Bible, why doesn't God act that way today? All of these examples get at the same issue—the seeming "hiddenness" of God.”
Hiddenness of God is an ancient theme.
The Bible portrays God’s Hiddenness through these verses:
Why, Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? (Psalm 10:1, NIV)
Why do you hide your face and consider me your enemy? (Job 13:24, NIV)
“But if I go to the east, he is not there; if I go to the west, I do not find him. When he is at work in the north, I do not see him; when he turns to the south, I catch no glimpse of him. (Job 23:8-9).
Man, then and now, suffers from the same dilemma. He seems to not find God when he needs HIM the most.
Hiddenness of God is a complex theme.
Some Christians who are in pain and suffering seem to have found God’s peace. They may have not necessarily attained deliverance from pain, but they dwell in the peace of God. Other Christians, who are suffering, run helter-skelter trying to find God, which turns into a futile exercise for them.
Ravi Zacharias often quotes the hymn
He Giveth More Grace
written by Annie Johnson Flint. Here are the context and the lyrics:
Annie Johnson Flint, the author of these words, lived a life on this earth full of pain and suffering. She was orphaned as a young girl, lived as an unwelcome burden with her first foster family. However, she finally did find love and acceptance with a new family, only to be orphaned again as a teenager. She suffered many physical afflictions that left her bedridden, incontinent, and in constant pain. And yet she wrote some of the most beautiful, faithful words you’ll find.
“He Giveth More Grace” by Annie Johnson Flint
He giveth more grace as our burdens grow greater,
He sendeth more strength as our labors increase;
To added afflictions He addeth His mercy,
To multiplied trials He multiplies peace.
When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources
Our Father’s full giving is only begun.
Fear not that thy need shall exceed His provision,
Our God ever yearns His resources to share;
Lean hard on the arm everlasting, availing;
The Father both thee and thy load will upbear.
His love has no limits, His grace has no measure,
His power no boundary known unto men;
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus
He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again.
This then is one facet of the complexity that requires greater detail. Some Christians, who are in suffering, find God and thus are able to be at peace with God even during their painful predicament. Some others become angry, bitter, and depressed and are at constant war against God during their painful predicament.
Dr. Bart Ehrman, an erstwhile Christian, currently an agnostic, departed from the Christian fold because of God’s Hiddenness (especially during suffering). He wrote, “Suffering increasingly became a problem for me and my faith. How can one explain all the pain and misery in the world if God—the creator and redeemer of all—is sovereign over it, exercising his will both on the grand scheme and in the daily workings of our lives? Why, I asked, is there such rampant starvation in the world? Why are there droughts, epidemics, hurricanes, and earthquakes? If God answers prayer, why didn’t he answer the prayers of the faithful Jews during the Holocaust? Or of the faithful Christians who also suffered torment and death at the hands of the Nazis? If God is concerned to answer my little prayers about my daily life, why didn’t he answer my and others’ big prayers when millions were being slaughtered by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, when a mudslide killed 30,000 Columbians in their sleep, in a matter of minutes, when disasters of all kinds caused by humans and by nature happened in the world?”
God’s Hiddenness is real.
How do we cope with God’s Hiddenness?
It may be depressingly difficult to offer an answer to this highly complicated question if this theme was not addressed in the Bible. The Bible, speaking about God’s Hiddenness is tantamount to God acknowledging HIS hiddenness from HIS people.
A loving, gracious, merciful and a just God who acknowledges HIS hiddenness from HIS people will always reveal HIMSELF to HIS people. In other words, HE will not let HIS people down.
The key attribute in finding God during our pain and misery is patience. But godly patience is the fruit of the Holy Spirit. So those who remain in Christ even during their trials and tribulations are more likely to be patient.
How long do we have to be patient for? I have not the least iota of an idea.
The Bible says, “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” (2 Peter 3:8b, NIV).
Giving God an ultimatum to show up need not work always. Let not man dictate to God as to when HE should show up. This attitude does not work. This attitude will always be to man’s detriment.
There is also another possibility – a precarious one at that.
God may never show up. Even that is within HIS sovereign prerogative. It does not violate any of HIS attributes such as justice, love, mercy or grace.
The Bible addresses this situation as well.
Prophet Habakkuk professes faith in God regardless of his circumstances. He affirms his faith in God even if God should allow more suffering and misery, “When the fig tree does not bud, and there are no grapes on the vines; when the olive trees do not produce, and the fields yield no crops; when the sheep disappear from the pen, and there are no cattle in the stalls, I will rejoice because of the Lord; I will be happy because of the God who delivers me! The sovereign Lord is my source of strength. He gives me the agility of a deer; he enables me to negotiate the rugged terrain.” (Habakkuk 3:17-19, NET).
Trusting in God even when we do not find HIM during our trials and tribulations is indeed a glorious faith. By trusting in God regardless of our circumstances we echo this wonderful verse, “Will not the judge of the whole earth do what is right?” (Genesis 18:25b, NET).
Thankfully, Phil Schneider’s blog offers the context and the lyrics for this song: https://www.philschneider.net/2014/he-giveth-more-grace/
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