The Presence In The Absence


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Lately, I’ve been acutely aware of both the presence and absence of God. There are days when God feels present in the whole thing, like I couldn’t escape Him if I tried. Other times, however, He seems aloof and nowhere to be found.

It’s like David Crowder once sang, “Sometimes you’re further than the moon; sometimes you’re closer than my skin.” How do we reconcile this feeling of nearness and distance? Partly, I believe, is a recognition that there is a presence even in absence.

There is this fantastic poem called The Dark Night of the Soul penned by the mystic St. John of the Cross. The dark night is known as many things–it’s depression, discouragement, loss, and anxiety. It’s the general feeling of isolation and loneliness. It’s believing that one has entered into a place of separation and darkness. It’s to be empty and depleted in our spiritual lives.

Ever been there?

Maybe you’re there now. You keep fighting for a “break through,” but things feel so heavy and oppressive.

I’ve often wondered where God is when we feel lonely. Indeed, there are moments where God feels closer than my skin. I sense Him in the tiniest things. My heart flutters with the feeling of His presence and guidance and this assurance of His proximity to me.

And then there are other times when He seems so far that I can’t detect Him, even if I try my hardest. I just feel hopelessly and utterly alone.

The good news is, it’s quite natural to feel this way. It’s normal to sense God, and then to not. It’s normal to feel Him so close, and then to wonder where He is.

This year has been a reminder of discovering His presence, even in the absence. Perhaps we could even say that His absence is an apologetic, for when we sense He’s gone, we remember that He was there before.

It’s kind of like the feeling of being cold. We go months during the summer where the feeling of being cold rarely (if ever) surfaces. In the middle of a sweltering August, one wonders if the feeling of cold is real. But just because we don’t have the feeling, doesn’t mean we forget it altogether. It lingers.

God’s presence lingers too– in us, in our lives, in our world. We might not always be able to sense Him, but that doesn’t mean He isn’t there.

The psalms help put this into perspective for us. We long for the nearness of God. We pray and strive and chase His presence. And at times, this is a fruitful endeavor. Other times, we sense we are making no progress at all.

The psalmist bemoans this reality, using emotive language to express this pain and confusion.

But maybe this isn’t about a feeling or a confirmation from our own efforts. Maybe there is something else we need to uncover. Maybe we need to open our lives to the reality of God, even when it’s not comfortable for us…even when it’s not what we want to hear.

Jesus seems pretty confident to say there are things the Father knows that we don’t, and that is a good answer to hold onto.

God knows us in all facets of our personality. He gets those areas that we wish the world didn’t know about. He understands the things that make us quake in fear, and those that set our hearts on fire.

This life is mysterious. So is God.  We are on a journey to unearth and uncover, to travel through the vast unknown. Sometimes we arrive at answers. Other times we don’t. Perhaps understanding God’s presence is like this too.

When the Pharisees question Jesus about His origins, He quotes the story of Moses encountering God’s name. This was a clue to the Pharisees. The name God shares with Moses is the name Jesus reiterates in the story. The name, of course, is Yahweh.

Jesus boldly proclaims He is “I AM,” the self existent one, the one with no beginning or end. The name Yahweh is a promise as much as it is a reality that we live in.

I AM is the one who is with us when we feel it, and when we don’t. I AM is the constant source of life in our world. And I AM, regardless of what feelings tell us, is the one who is moving and will continue to move in our lives. This is the presence, even in the absence.

I take comfort knowing that if I’ve felt God in me before, and then I’ve felt His absence, I know I will feel Him again.

If you are wandering through a dark night, if your soul is weary, hold onto the assurance of I AM.

Our God is both near and far. He is closer than your skin and further than the moon. Hold onto the truth that I AM is here. And hold onto the truth that He is present in a deeper more profound way–more than feelings or sensory comprehension.

Sometimes we have to walk through the dark night to find the light. Don’t forget that darkness doesn’t last forever. The light will rise again.

This is the presence, even in absence.


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