I need God and He is far away. That desolate, desperate cry is not some philosophical, poetic metaphor from ancient literature or the pitiful plea of the fundamentally fearful. It is my testimony for right now. The words from my lips. The echo of my heart. It is the true, simple, unadorned and undeniable condition of my spirit in this stage of my existence. I NEED GOD AND HE IS FAR AWAY. And interestingly enough, (to me at least) I can speak it without trembling emotion or paralyzing fear. To coin a phrase (again) it is what it is. I need God, simple enough. And He is far away, maybe not simple but certainly understandable.
For one thing, the panic is removed from that conditional announcement when I remember that I am not the first. Moses wandered and wondered on the “back side of the desert” before he had a close encounter with a burning bush. I do not know where the back side of the desert is but I have been there often in the last 2 months. Abraham may have felt that as he led the donkey full of firewood, and his son Isaac up the mountain to prepare a sacrifice. Have you ever felt like you were being asked to give up or let go of something so precious to you that sure God could only ask you by shouting from a far, far distance away? Of course, King David is the poster-child for abandonment issues and reactive attachment disorder. Listen to a few of his familiar laments. “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide Your face from me?” Ps. 13:1. “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me?” Ps. 22:1. In fact those words remind me that even Jesus felt this eternal, fraternal separation when on the cross He quoted David, “Elohim, Elohim, lama sabachthani.” My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Come on tell the truth, have you ever felt that? Maybe sometime in the last 24 hours? When the police call and say we have your son in custody? Or worse, you’d better come to the hospital? When the boss walks in with a cardboard box and a security guard and says, “Sorry, there have been budget cuts?” When the couple that lives next door that loved your kids and ate your barbecue pulls up in a U-Haul van and tells you they have taken a job in Alabama? When you’re cut from the football squad? Left off of the guest list? Given the cold shoulder at church? Unfriended on FaceBook? All of us at one time or another have known the pain of personal rejection and made the leap from the loss of a comfortable situation to the abandonment of God. Even if only for a moment.
If you have read my FaceBook Mom-Updates you will guess that my moments have come at 2am sitting beside the hospital bed in ICU. The night is anything but silent. It is punctuated by rattling bedpans, the incessant beeps of IV pumps, and the groans, the groans of a dozen people who perhaps deep in the recesses of their subconscious are asking, “Why have You forsaken me?” I have watched the spark of intelligence and acuity that was my mother flicker and almost go out over the last 2 months. I have felt her pat my hand and smile at me with the same smile she would give the waiter at Shoney’s or the boy who delivers her paper, asked her questions like my name only to have her turn away in embarrassed confusion. And I have asked God where He was in all of this. How far away? I need God and He is far away.
So what help is there in recognizing I am not alone in my dilemma. Is “misery loves company” enough to satisfy my detached heart? I don’t think so but I do find other solace in thinking through these examples of spiritual loneliness and isolation.
First, I recognize that sometimes the abandonment that I feel is a result of my own behavior and is necessary for my purification. Remember Moses. He rose up in anger and killed the Egyptian who was abusing a Hebrew slave. As noble as his motives may have been his action was wrong. Moses fled into the wilderness and spent 40 years letting God burn away the selfishness and control issues in him. Isn’t it possible that what was really burning in the middle of that bush were what we call in CR character defects? Moses felt far from God so that some of his hurts, habits, and hang-ups could be placed under grace and he could emerge a leader for his people. So, there are times that my separation from God is for my own healing and my own good.
Secondly, as with Abraham, God often has another plan. Who knows? Maybe His plan is even better? Let’s see. Go up the mountain. Build a fire. Kill my only, my dearly loved son and place his lifeless body on the fire as a gift to God. Or…look up and see a ram that God has snared for me, long before He even asked me to come up onto the mountain. So he closes the door on that job only to give me one closer to home. He allows my relationship to end and suddenly a new person, the right person comes on the radar screen. He tears me away from the First Church of Comfort and plants me in a place where His fire burns brighter in the eyes of people that I have ever seen. Many times the isolation I feel from God is a result of Him working behind the scenes to make something different, better.
And finally, like David I remember that He is not far away at all. My emotions get the best of me. It’s just that time of the month or that time of my life. I am fragile and frazzled, over stressed and under appreciated. I am a legend in my own mind and no one else seems to acknowledge that and God seems so far away. I am an emotional creature. God made me that way. And the more I can express my emotions, be honest about my feelings, the healthier I will be. But my emotions are not the metrics for the way things are. In fact, most of the time my emotions bear little correlation to reality. I feel what I feel and that’s okay but that doesn’t mean it is true. Listen, I feel like I’m going to shoot a 70 every time I step on the golf course. I feel like this is the year for Ohio State to beat the SEC and win the National Championship. (every year) I feel like one more MacDonald’s Sundae won’t cause me to gain weight. I feel like I can afford that new BMW I’ve had my eyes on. All of these feelings are real but the facts they point to are not true. (Well, except the ice cream sundae thing.) God is not far away. He has not moved. He is as close as my next prayer. And even when I cannot feel it I know He says, “I will never leave you or forsake you.”
Which leads me to the last thing, Jesus on the cross, seeming to decry the abandonment of God. “My God, my God WHY HAST THOU FORSAKEN ME?” Jesus knew the whole story. He knew about the incomplete sacrificial system and the holiness of His Father. He knew the demands of the law and the plan of God. He knew about the crucifixion but also about the resurrection. He knew that after Friday, Sunday was coming. His cry was the reflex response of His mother’s side of the family. It was His human nature identifying with our human nature. We will cry. We will feel lost and alone. We will struggle with abandonment and question our faith. We are human. That’s what we do. But that is not who God is. HE IS THERE. Even in the hospital room at 2am, He is there. He loves us with an everlasting love. He knows the plans He has for us. He will never leave us or forsake us. He invites us to come to Him when we are weary and heavy laden. He is there.
I need God and He FEELS far away. But He is not. That’s good.