Lent for the World- God's Absence

Post date: Apr 9, 2014 2:35:36 PM

Lent Reflection: God’s absence

Personally, my favorite season of the church calendar is Advent. Why? Because it announces the arrival of Immanuel- God with us. We are liturgically reminded that God has shown up in the muck and dire of our world. It means a lot to me to know that God is with us, and that thick or thin, God will show up.

But…. We are in Lent, a time in which we reflect on the rigors and tough realities of living a life of discipleship. And so during Lent we have to take serious and not overlook those times in which we struggle to live faithfully. Such experience may lead us to feel as though God has not shown up. Life hits us with pain, disappointment, and struggle. We expect God to be our savior. But what do we do when the struggle continues after crying out to God time and time again? It is appropriate for us reflect upon our struggle, the struggle we share with Christ who cried out from the cross: “My God, my God, why have you left me?” (Mark15:34 C.E.B.)

As people of faith, we don’t always do a great job talking about such things. We have a tendency to gloss over pain and a perceived absence of God. We want to say things such as “Just have faith!” or “God has a plan!” While those statements may not be false, they are not the things to say to someone who feels like they are in the middle of a storm. It is a very real feeling to reach out for God, only to keep reaching because you are not embraced or to pray and cry out, only to get the deafening response of silence. Believe it or not, this feeling has its roots in our holy text: the Bible.

For example, Jesus’ cry from the cross. This sentiment is rooted in Psalm 22 (Common English Bible):

My God! My God,

why have you left me all alone?

Why are you so far from saving me—

so far from my anguished groans?

2 My God, I cry out during the day,

but you don’t answer;

even at nighttime I don’t stop.

3 You are the holy one, enthroned.

You are Israel’s praise.

4 Our ancestors trusted you—

they trusted you and you rescued them;

5 they cried out to you and they were saved;

they trusted you and they weren’t ashamed.

6 But I’m just a worm, less than human;

insulted by one person, despised by another.

7 All who see me make fun of me—

they gape, shaking their heads:

8 “He committed himself to the Lord,

so let God rescue him;

let God deliver him

because God likes him so much.”

9 But you are the one who pulled me from the womb,

placing me safely at my mother’s breasts.

10 I was thrown on you from birth;

you’ve been my God

since I was in my mother’s womb.

11 Please don’t be far from me,

because trouble is near

and there’s no one to help.

The Psalmist recognizes his/her plight, but then also remembers why he/she has faith. While it feels as though God has left the Psalmist, the Psalmist continues to cry out because he/she has experienced God’s care in the past. Another great Psalm is Psalm 42.

Just like a deer that craves streams of water,

my whole being craves you, God.

2 My whole being thirsts for God, for the living God.

When will I come and see God’s face?

3 My tears have been my food both day and night,

as people constantly questioned me,

“Where’s your God now?”

4 But I remember these things as I bare my soul:

how I made my way to the mighty one’s abode,

to God’s own house,

with joyous shouts and thanksgiving songs—

a huge crowd celebrating the festival!

5 Why, I ask myself, are you so depressed?

Why are you so upset inside?

Hope in God!

Because I will again give him thanks,

my saving presence and my God.

6 My whole being is depressed.

That’s why I remember you

from the land of Jordan and Hermon,

from Mount Mizar.

7 Deep called to deep at the noise of your waterfalls;

all your massive waves surged over me.

8 By day the Lord commands his faithful love;

by night his song is with me—

a prayer to the God of my life.

9 I will say to God, my solid rock,

“Why have you forgotten me?

Why do I have to walk around,

sad, oppressed by enemies?”

10 With my bones crushed, my foes make fun of me,

constantly questioning me: “Where’s your God now?”

11 Why, I ask myself, are you so depressed?

Why are you so upset inside?

Hope in God!

Because I will again give him thanks,

my saving presence and my God.

The Psalmist tries to urge himself to faith and is doing all he can to hope, even though he is admittedly depressed, upset, and feels forgotten. But the Psalmist holds onto his experience, not just the depression but also the joyous celebration of experiencing God’s goodness that the Psalmist remembers in v. 4. This doesn’t take away the pain or the depression. But it does allow the Psalmist to carry on with hope that God might eventually show up, because God has been known to do such things in the past. Some might argue that to question God’s motives, or to wonder if God even cares or is present represents a lack of faith. I think this is bull. To continue to seek God and attempt to hold God to what God has promised amidst our own depression and despair is one of the purest expressions of faith.

Theologian Jurgen Moltmann expresses the sentiment that in the crucifixion of Christ, God identified with all of the God-forsaken of the world. Christ was truly incarnate, experiencing all that we feel. I didn’t write all of this to provide a solution for this problem- because I don’t have one. I just want you to know that you’re not alone. You’re not alone as a person of faith, for the Psalmist and even Jesus experienced this. You’re not alone in your church, because I often experience the “dark night of the soul” where God cannot be found. Even when you feel as though God has left you, you’re not alone.

Prayer: Lord Christ, help me to remember and to see that you are in solidarity with me in my pain. When I cry out to you, assure me that I am not alone. Amen