What to do when God feels absent

Sharing is caring!

I remember hanging with a mate one afternoon when I was in high school. We had arranged for his dad to pick him up at a certain time. Sure enough, his dad was late – not a couple of minutes late but around three hours late.

It turned out his parents had forgotten he came over to visit. They had assumed he was in his room. It was only at dinner time when they realised he was gone.

Being forgotten by a parent is never a one thing, but it is something else when it feels like God has forgotten you.

There are times when it seems as though God has forgotten us. It can be hard to see what God is up to in difficult circumstances.

The reality is that God has not abandoned you even when it feels like it. Wrestling with the intimacy of God and his absence is hard. The two are held in tension, and tension stretches us.

King David understood this tension. In Psalm 13 he writes:

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long will I store up anxious concerns within me,
agony in my mind every day?
How long will my enemy dominate me?

Consider me and answer, Lord my God.
Restore brightness to my eyes;
otherwise I will sleep in death.
My enemy will say, “I have triumphed over him,”
and my foes will rejoice because I am shaken.

But I have trusted in your faithful love;
my heart will rejoice in your deliverance.
I will sing to the Lord
because he has treated me generously.

I don’t know what situation caused David to write these words. Maybe this is why they are so powerful? The vagueness about the situation make these words easy to apply when I feel God has forgotten me.

Ask, Ask, Ask

David’s words are pretty blunt at the start of this psalm. He realises his circumstances are not the way they should be and calls God to act.

It is easy to believe that questioning God equals doubting God. But this isn’t always the case. God wants us to bring all of our concerns to him. Like David, there are times when bringing our concerns to God happen through questions.

God isn’t scared of our questions. The arms that bore the sin of the world are strong enough to handle our questions. And ask them we must. Never shy away from approaching God with honesty because it is through our questions that God reveals himself.

Seeing Clearly

What to do when God feels absent

I wear glasses to help with reading. I can see without them but the words are blurry. My glasses bring clarity. When I sense God’s absence, maybe it is because I don’t have my glasses on.

David understands his need for spiritual glasses. Even though his questions are very real, he turns his attention to what he knows about God. He knows God will lead him through his suffering. When things start to get blurry, David reaches for his glasses.

Wearing glasses doesn’t change David’s circumstances but allow him to see them differently. This is no small thing. It can be easy to dwell on our circumstances when God feels absent. Doing so consumes us and can make God feel even more distant. Changing the lens through which we see things help us to see clearly.

What to do when God feels absent

1. Look to the Cross

Choosing to trust God is the first way to see clearly. Most importantly, David places his trust in God’s faithful love. As followers of Jesus, God’s love is on display.

The cross beckons us to gaze at love personified when we can’t see clearly. It is a love that humbles itself by becoming human and bears the weight of sin on the cross. No other love is like this, and when our feeling tell us God is absent, his love calls us to see his presence.

2. Look Forward

David resolves in his present situation to rejoice in God’s deliverance. He is not going to sit back and dwell on his suffering, but look forward to when it will be relieved.

The Bible starts and ends with a garden. God’s presence is with humanity in Eden. The final image of the Bible is of the great garden city. This is a place where the fullness of God’s presence is realized. It is a place where everything has been restored, where all brokenness has been made right, where there is no sickness, death, pain or shame.

Crying out, ‘How long?’ acknowledges that even though life isn’t as it should be, we long for more. He longs to transform our brokenness into his glory, to make beauty from ashes. We need to balance our questions with seeing the restoration he has promised.

3. Look Backward

Remembering God’s past actions is one of primary ways we see things clearly. This is what David does. He remembers the way God has been generous to him in the past.

Where do you turn to remember what God has already done? The Bible is full of God’s faithful actions on behalf of his people. If God has been faithful to his people in the past, he is sure to continue.

Here are some ways that help us to remember what God has done in the past:

  • Keep a journal of what God has done in your life, or ways he has answered prayers.
  • Find places or activities that remind of what God has done. Communion is a sacrament where we collectively gather to remember Jesus’ work on the cross.
  • Step into community. We hear stories of what God has in other’s lives as we step into Christian community.

Sharing is caring!