Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Opposite of Presence

Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Jill Carattini

Though many would like to say that the majority of our lives have been spent searching for God, perhaps it is more accurate to say that we have been sought. Even so, like the children in Levertov's poem, time and again I know I find myself bereft of his presence. Sometimes it just feels like I am sitting in the dark.

One of my seminary professors once told me that God's presence is not the opposite of God's absence. At first glance this didn't seem the least bit encouraging. And yet, maybe I have seen this notion lived out after all. For even when I am most stirred by God's nearness—when God's presence seems an undeniable truth—am I not also simultaneously stung by the ache of longing to be nearer or the reality of not quite yet being at home? In our best encounters with God, presence and absence remain intertwined. What might this then mean for the moments when I am feeling tormented by God's absence?

The Christian Scriptures seem to suggest of the dark what children learn of their parents. Namely, the dark does not imply the absence of a caring person. "Though an army besiege me," says David, "my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then will I be confident" (Psalm 27:3). David's confidence was not in the absence of darkness, but in the character of the one who watched over him in the dark. "I am still confident of this," he concludes. "I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living" (v. 13).

Though we struggle when God seems far off, perhaps it need not be without hope. When the land was dark with the death of Christ weighing on its shoulders, God exhaustively sought despairing hearts in the thick of that darkness. And the risen Christ is still today the certainty of God's nearness and the promise of his care in the dark. "Thus," writes Os Guinness, "Christians do not say to God, 'I do not understand you at all, but I trust you anyway.' That would be suicidal. Rather, they say, 'Father, I do not understand you, but I trust you'—or more accurately, 'I do not understand you in this situation, but I understand why I trust you anyway.' It is therefore reasonable to trust even when we do not understand. We may be in the dark about what God is doing, but we are not in the dark about God."(2)

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image by milena mihaynova

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