There are days, even seasons, when God feels more absent than present. If you’ve been a follower of Jesus for any length of time you’ve experienced this. I appreciate this extended counsel from Eugene Peterson about this common spiritual experience:
“The experienced absence or silence of God for the over four hundred years preceding the Exodus is a frequently overlooked but important element in the salvation story. This vast story of salvation is not a whitewash. There are stretches of time (400 plus years is a long time!) when nothing remotely like salvation seems to be happening. Donald Gowan observes, “Many commentators have noted that God is rather conspicuously absent from the first two chapters of Exodus, but no one has seen fit to make much of that.”‘ That they haven’t made much of it is unfortunate, for this seemingly unending stretch of the experience of the absence of God is reproduced in most of our lives, and most of us don’t know what to make of it. We need this Exodus validation that a sense of the absence of God is part of the story, and that it is neither exceptional nor preventable nor a judgment on the way we are living our lives.
Whether the experience of absence is measured in weeks, months, or years, for most of us it doesn’t fit into what is ”normal” in our understanding of salvation.” (Peterson, Eugene. Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2005, p. 153.)
Yes. We need to acknowledge the apparent absence of God at many points in the biblical story. We believe that God is always present, but God’s presence is not always perceived. There are times when the voice or the hand of God is quite clear and plain. There are other times when God’s voice is not heard and God’s action is not seen. We find God’s apparent absence disturbing. Of course we do. It doesn’t feel “normal” because we haven’t highlighted that as a common experience in the biblical story. But it is a common reality for many at many points.
I’ve found that experiences of God’s apparent absence have a way of exposing my assumptions and expectations about what God should or should not do. God’s apparent absence has a way of pruning these things away. My attachment to certain ideas about God, at least those that aren’t rooted in truth, wither and die.
Question: When have you experienced God’s apparent absence? Are you able to see any of the good fruit such a place might have produced in you?