Truly, you are a God who hides himself, O God of Israel, the Savior. Isaiah 45:15
If God loves me, he is going to "show up," right? Maybe not! In fact, it is God's absence that may reveal his love more than his presence.
In The Art of Pastoring, David Hansen writes,
There is an experience of the Spirit of God hovering over the chaos of our lives when we know that God is there to listen. . . . We do not feel God's presence as such, we do not hear it, and we do not sense it in any normal way. In this event of divine graciousness God comes to us as a profound Absence.
I'm not sure how you feel about God's absence as proof of God's grace (much less his presence), but frankly it does not sit well with me. That's not because I don't think God "hides," for he does. Isaiah makes that crystal clear. Watching the life of the saints also gives us a front row seat to God's disappearing act. What's more, our own lives provide countless times when God does not seem present -- well, my life does at least.
In one sense, this should not surprise us. There is a reason why we "walk by faith and not by sight" (2 Corinthians 5:7). My challenge is that I am cut from the same cloth as Philip. It was Philip who pined,
"Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us" (John 14:8).
Philip's request makes perfectly good sense to me. Give me one good glimpse of God. Let the shekinah of Jehovah envelope me like it did Moses -- just one time -- and I am good-to-go.
Yes, I admit it. I am a touchy-feely Christian at times. I tend to walk by sight and not by faith. But Hansen is teaching me that it is just those times when God seems to be playing hide-n-seek that he is most graciously present.
How so? God's graciousness is expressed in the way he is using that perceived sense of absence to create space to listen to us. Listening in love is what God does for us:
"I love the LORD, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy" (Psalm 116:1 NIV).
What precedes hearing? Love. The hearing that draws speech out of us is an act of love from the hearer to us. Love precedes hearing, because all intentional listening that desires to hear is an act of love and therefore an expression of love....We come to believe in the existence of loving persons because they listen to us in love.
The other day I was reading Psalm 116: "The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me" (Psalm 118:6).
God is on my side. What an amazing thought! Read that verse again. You will notice there is no asterisk there. He does not say God is on my side . . . some of the time, or when I can feel him, or at those moments when his presence seems so real, or when I experience his provision. That is because he is always on my side -- even when it seems he is hiding.
The next time I don't sense God's presence I could complain to God, but a better response would be to talk with God. For in that quiet space God is listening and listening is always a mark of love.
Does God seem silent in your life? Speak up!
"There is an experience of the Spirit of God ..." from The Art of Pastoring by David Hansen. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. 2012. Page 116-117. "What precedes hearing?" from The Art of Pastoring, page 116.