As we already covered, God wants us to be honest with him. However, many people feel ashamed at how they feel sometimes. So we have to remind ourselves that…
2. Sometimes good people of faith can feel like God is not there
Sometimes we think Christians always have to be happy and have it all figured out. But the example of Scriptures shows that there are great saints that have gone before us have felt pain and anguish, confusion and even anger toward God, and they invite us to express those feelings to God. We miss that in the Bible.
In fact, in the book, The Day Metallica Came to Church, a pastor records how he once quizzed his congregation by giving slides from either the laments of the Psalms and Jeremiah or non-Christian, intentionally sacrilegious rock music. They were quizzed as to who could identify the lyrics of sacrilegious rock music from the Psalms. His congregation couldn’t tell the difference!
We covered some of them in the previous post, but consider also a passage that is often mistranslated in Jeremiah. Jeremiah is sent on his difficult errand to prophesy against his people. He sees his whole world turning from God and God turning to judge it, and he is overcome. He accuses God:
You deceived me, Lord, and I was seduced,
you overpowered me and prevailed.
I am ridiculed all day long;
everyone mocks me.
Whenever I speak, I cry out
proclaiming violence and destruction.
So the word of the Lord has brought me
insult and reproach all day long.
It is important to note that “You overpowered me and prevailed” are euphemisms for rape. Jeremiah feels raped by God, seduced into becoming the scorn of a nation.
Can you imagine yourself accusing God of raping you? I have been taught to think that is unthinkable. I would feel like I was blaspheming the sinlessness of God, but then again, it is not like Jeremiah didn’t know that.
We don’t recite these laments. We don’t sing enough lament songs. We feel sometimes like we should only be happy before God and that we can never doubt him or feel disappointed with God. And when we do we feel ashamed, like it is our fault. But the Psalmist are saying these things because they are spiritually immature, are they?
It fact, it is precisely sometimes because they are mature in faith that people experience these things. If is those that walk with God the closest that are reminded the most bitterly that this world displays the absence of God.
Job didn’t do anything wrong…He was doing something right!
In the drama of Job, Job is tested to see if he will truly love God selflessly, whether or not he will love God for no benefit, so Satan destroys all the good in his life, every reason he has to trust God. His livelihood is destroyed, his children die; he is stricken with painful sores. Satan hopes that Job will finally curse God and renounce his faith, but God trusts that his servant Job is a person after his own heart, who loves and trusts for no benefit to himself.
However, before Job is vindicated in the final chapters, Job hits a low point. Job is in such despair, he cries out wishing he had never existed. He is functionally suicidal. Most people don’t read this part in the drama. They only get to about chapter two and stop there, and sing lighthearted songs with lyrics like “you give and take away.” Little do they know that Job said this after. His words are chilling:
“May the day of my birth perish,
and the night that said, ‘A boy is conceived!’
4 That day—may it turn to darkness;
may God above not care about it;
may no light shine on it.
5 May gloom and utter darkness claim it once more;
may a cloud settle over it;
may blackness overwhelm it.
Or why was I not hidden away in the ground like a stillborn child,
like an infant who never saw the light of day?
“Why is light given to those in misery,
and life to the bitter of soul,
21 to those who long for death that does not come,
who search for it more than for hidden treasure,
22 who are filled with gladness
and rejoice when they reach the grave?
23 Why is life given to a man
whose way is hidden,
whom God has hedged in?
24 For sighing has become my daily food;
my groans pour out like water.
25 What I feared has come upon me;
what I dreaded has happened to me.
26 I have no peace, no quietness;
I have no rest, but only turmoil.”
His friends see this and are so mortified by his condition that they insist Job had to have sinned. Much of the book of Job is Job defending his innocence in the face of their accusations. God appears, and in the final chapters, Job is vindicated. Job in the face of his despair still refuses to curse God, defeating Satan’s accusations against God’s faithful. Satan suspected that Job would only love God insofar as God blessed him. Satan was wrong. In the moment, Job does not know what is going on, and he is in pain, and he thinks God is against him, but he still refused to curse him.
Dark Night of the Soul
Job did not do anything wrong. In fact, it is because he was righteous that calamity came on him. God used him to overthrow the accusations of Satan. What he is experiencing like other mature saints of the faith is what the Spanish mystic St. John of the Cross calls a “dark night of the soul.” He realized that there are times when we feel the absence of God and it is not because of our sins. It is actually because we are coming to grips with a deeper more authentic and more mature relationship with him.
Perhaps you are going through a dark night of the soul. Perhaps you wonder why you feel lukewarm yet you try you best to be faithful. This is important. Some of the greatest saints don’t “feel” God’s presence 24/7. Their faith is complex because life is messy.
The best example is Mother Teresa. One of the great saints of the last century often felt like God was not there. She experienced powerful visions early in life, which one day stopped. She turned to self-blame. She felt extreme anguish over not feeling God there.
“Jesus has a very special love for you. [But] as for me–The silence and the emptiness is so great–that I look and do not see,–Listen and do not hear” she wrote. In one of many dark moments she wrote,
If there be God –please forgive me–When I try to raise my thoughts to Heaven–there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives & hurt my very soul.–I am told God loves me–and yet the reality of darkness & coldness & emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul. Did I make a mistake in surrendering blindly to the Call of the Sacred Heart?
Yet, she continued to pray, to love, to serve the dying on the streets of Calcutta. When we look at her heart, we see the heart of Christ.
We sometimes have the expectation that the true saints have this perfect happiness and spiritual fuzzy feeling of God’s presence all the time, but then what do you do with the fact that one of the most common prayers in the Psalms, the prayer on the lips of God’s prophets, is the feeling like God isn’t there.
Notice something important here. Our culture (even our bad theology) tells us if we don’t feel God here, he must not be here, so give it up. The psalms do the opposite. If the psalmist did not feel God there, this drove them deeper into prayer. Where are you God? Why is this happening? Don’t reject us! How long O lord till you return to set this broken world right again?
What is important is that when we pray these things, something powerful happens. It happened to Job. When we pray wondering where God’s presence is, as faithful members of Christ’s body, the truth is that we are participating in that presence. We don’t feel it, but we do it. As we serve the least of these, as we pray for this broken world, for our brokenness too, as we pray and worship not for what we get out of it, but because we love as God loves in Christ, we are embodying Christ in dark places. Oddly, when we are in anguish wondering where the light is in darkness, caring enough to do something about it, we end up being the light in those dark places. We are like flashlights oblivious to our beam. Or better yet: we are like mirror blind to what we are reflecting.
You might not feel like you have light in your life, but as we walk with Christ, your light shines in the darkness.