Questions People Ask the Church: Where Is God?
Over 25-years ago, Judy Blume wrote a children's novel entitled, Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret. The book contains 19 prayers and the narrative thoughts of a sixth grader honestly expressing her growing pains to God.
She prays when she is afraid of moving. She talks to God when her father cuts his hand. She is worried about the changes of her slowly developing adolescent body and she tells God about it. She prays about her religion, and openly wonders whether she should be Jewish or Christian. She prays for forgiveness when she does something wrong.
Margaret's theology is pretty good. She never takes God for granted. She approaches God with reverence, and she prays honestly and in her own words. She prays for herself and for the others around her.
But there comes a time when Margaret must deal with fragile faith and what seems like a distant God. She asks that fateful question, "Are you there God? It's me, Margaret."
Margaret is in good company. Others have asked the same desperate question. Jacob, Elijah, Jeremiah, David, and even Jesus had those times when they echoed Job's forlorn statement in the third verse of this morning's text, "Oh that I knew where I might find him!"
Many of the heros and models of our faith passed through or got stuck in dark and lonesome valleys, where they found themselves looking and listening for God. And we do too. And they all knew that the way out is always through. Remember what David said in his 23rd Psalm? Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me, (Psalm 23:4).
Going through the valley means that we will be honest with God.
I. THE QUESTION WHERE IS GOD?' DOES NOT IMPLY A LACK OF FAITH
- in reality, it is more a cry of faith than unbelief
- the question itself assumes the existence of God and suggests a longing for a closer, deeper relationship with Him
A. THE QUESTION WHERE IS GOD?' COMES IN MANY FORMS
- we hear it in the voice of the person who says, "I'm just not as on fire for God as I used to be."
- we hear it in the voice of the person who says, "I feel spiritually empty."
- we hear it in the voice of the one who admits, "I just don't seem to have any spiritual direction."
- we hear it in the voice of the one who says, "I just can't seem to pray any more."
- these people have all lost the depth of spirit they once had
- God just doesn't seem close
B. THE QUESTION WHERE IS GOD?' IS OUR HUMAN WAY OF EXPRESSING ANGER AT GOD
- I've had some Christians tell me, "Oh pastor, you shouldn't get angry at God!"
- and I say, "Why not?"
- anger is a normal human emotion and part of any normal relationship
- we sometimes get mad at people, and we sometimes get madest at those we love the most
- in vv. 1-7 Job sensed that God's hand of affliction was upon him
- now, we know from chapter one that it was really Satan's hand of affliction that was giving Job so much trouble
- why God allows the devil to sometimes bring misfortune and distress into our lives is another sermon for another day
- Job complains to his friends that, "Even today my complaint is bitter; his hand is heavy in spite of my groaning." NIV
- Job feels that if he could only find God and plead his case before Him that God would surely find him innocent and his troubles would be over vv. 4-6
- it's obvious that Job is experiencing a spiritually dry time in his life
- he feels as if God is no longer present
- Job has searched in all directions for God, but in vain: "But if I go to the east, he is not there; if I go to the west, I do not find him. When he is at work in the north, I do not see him; when he turns to the south, I catch no glimpse of him," (Job 23:8-9) NIV
- he is bitter over his situation and angry
- when those times of spiritual dryness come, we often blame God for not being there when we need Him
- we feel like God has somehow let us down
- we feel like the church is being deficient or the pastor is failing us
- behind the questions and denunciations lies the bedrock issue: Where is God?
- it is a prayer that begs an answer or at least an affirmation that the question itself is legitimate
- the question does not imply a lack of faith, but a longing for God
II. THE QUESTION WHERE IS GOD?' IMPLIES A WILLINGNESS TO ACCEPT THE REALITY THAT AN ANSWER MAY NOT BE FORTH-COMING IMMEDIATELY
- what were people like Jacob, Elijah, Jeremiah, and David saying when they asked the question, "God, where are you?"
- were they saying, "God, solve my problem or else I'll become an atheist!"
- no, honestly asking the question, "Where is God?" is more a plea for spiritual companionship in our earthly struggle
- I suspect that most people who ask such a question do not see God as a puppet or as a magician
- they simply want to know that God is involved
- the question demonstrates a certain courage and implores God's companionship in our pilgrimage
- Job's story is one of exploration in which he begs God for companionship instead of easy answers
- but God is silent
A. GOD'S SILENCES DO NOT NECESSARILY MEAN HIS DISAPPROVAL
- I've had times in my life when it seemed like God was silent for a long time
- even though I prayed and studied the Scriptures, it seemed as if God was mute
- it seemed as if the doors of heaven are shut and the "Out to Lunch" sign is hanging on the door knob
- you've propably had that experience, too
- some will immediatly assume the reason is some sin in your life
- that's what Job's friends assumed and let's be honest that's always a possibility
- but Job kept insisting that as far as he knew, he was on right terms with God
- when God is silent and we know that it's not due to unconfessed sin, it usually means that God is getting ready to bring a greater revelation of Himself into your life
- when God is silent in your life, live expectantly
III. THE QUESTION WHERE IS GOD?' OPENS THE DOOR TO THE REALITY THAT GOD IS NOT AS DISTANT, SILENT, OR UNINVOLVED AS WE MIGHT SUPPOSE
- ILLUS. You've probably all heard a version of the following story: A man dreamed he died and went to heaven and there he was met by Jesus Christ. The man had lived a long Christian life and it had not been without times of great trial and tribulation as well as those times of joy and victory. And as he met with Christ the man was given a panoramic review of his life all the highlights and low periods. And in the review of his life one of the things that continued throughout were his footsteps along the sands of time, and accompanying his, the footsteps of Jesus. The man noticed that at those times in his life when it had really been rough there was only one set of footprints not two, as in the good times. The man turned to the Lord and said, "Lord, I don't understand. You promised to be with me always and yet when I look back now I see that during those really tough times there was only one set of footprints. Lord, why did you leave me then?" The Lord looked at him, smiled and said, "Leave you, I didn't leave you at all. Dear friend, if you'll look carefully at those single sets of footprints you'll notice they're a little deeper than the others. Those were the times when I was carrying you."
- our inability to see and hear God may not be God's absence as much as our own condition under stress
- our sense of God's absence may be our own lack of spiritual perception and not God's abandonment of His children
- Job did not understand what had happened to him even after his life was restored
- neither did he ever find answers to his questions about God's presence or involvement in his disastrous situation
- his growth came in recognizing the mysterious nature of God, who is present and trustworthy
- ILLUS. Over the years, I've met many believers who have gone through difficult circumstances: death, crisis, divorce, disease, financial difficulty, and loss. Many of them talk of groping their way through the darkness which they've often interpreted as God's absence. What they discover as they come through the valley of shadows is that God is more real and more present in their lives than he ever was before.
- of course not
- the experience made them more sensitive, pliable, and spiritually perceptive
- but like Job, it's hard to see or hear this in the middle of the darkness
- the gift of God's nearness had to be revealed gradually
IV. APPLICATION: IMPROVING OUR AWARENESS OF GOD
- how do we improve our awareness of God?
- we grow by asking the question
- we grow by seeking others to ask the question with us
- this is what Job did
- how does the church help?
- first, we validate the question
- when people are hurting, they are going to ask the question, "Where is God?"
- we need to tell them it's OK to ask the question: Doing so does not imply a lack of faith or unbelief
- second, we validate the person
- when people ask the question, "Where is God?" we must be willing to sit with them through the night watches and semi-darkness until the light of God breaks through in their life
- in spite of all of their faulty theology, Job's three friends were there for him
Conclusion: When God is silent, and you find yourself asking the question, "Where is God?," you can respond in one of two ways: 1) you can go into depression, feel guilty, and condemn yourself, or 2) you can have an expectation that God is about to bring you to a deeper knowledge of Himself.