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Keeping On When God Seems Absent

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Text:    Psalm 22

Topic: Keeping On When God Seems Absent

ETS:   The psalmist described his feeling that God had forsaken him and left him alone.

ESS:   The sense of God's absence is often a normal part of our spiritual experience.

OSS:   I want believers who are experiencing the sense of God's absence to be encouraged.

P.Q.    How can we respond appropriately to the sense of God's absence?

U.W.   CONSIDERATIONS

Introduction: My own personal experience in the fall of 1984 and most of 1985.

ETS   ESS

I am not speaking about the sense of the absence of God that comes because of unconfessed sin and broken fellowship with God.  I am speaking about those times in our lives when we sense that God is not there and we cannot discover any reason for the sense of His absence.

OSS  PQ    I want us to consider two reasons why we have this experience and how we can respond to it.  I also want to share with you from several sources which I think will help you understand how this experience feels.

I.       Often the sense of God's absence in our lives comes from circumstances in our experience.

A.  We often experience the sense of God's absence in times of personal affliction.

·         Simone Weil - Waiting for God
"Affliction makes God appear to be absent for a time, more absent than a dead man, more absent than light in the utter darkness of a cell.  A kind of horror submerges the whole soul.  During this absence there is nothing to love.  What is terrible is that if, in this darkness there is nothing to live, the soul ceases to love, God's absence becomes final.  The soul has to go on loving in the emptiness, or at least to go on wanting to love, though it may only be with an infinitesimal part of itself.  Then, one day, God will come to show himself to this soul and to reveal the beauty of the world to it, as in the case of Job.  But if the soul stops loving it falls, even in this life, into something almost equivalent to hell."

B.  We often experience the sense of the absence of God following a time of intense spiritual victory.

·         Consider the prophet Elijah following his great victory on Mt. Carmal.  We find him on the run, hiding in a cave, begging to die.

C.  We often experience the sense of the absence of God when faced with great tragedy or overwhelming evil.

·         François Mauriac, the Nobel Prize-winning Frenchman, writes these words in the preface to Elie Wiesel's book, Night.

"Let us try to imagine what passed within him while his eyes watched the coils of black smoke unfurling in the sky, from the oven where his little sister and his mother were going to be thrown with thousands of others:  [Wiesel writes], 'Never shall I  forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed.  Never shall I forget that smoke.  Never shall I forget the little faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky.  Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my Faith forever.  Never shall I forget that nocturnal silence which deprived me, for all eternity, of the desire to live.  Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust.  Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God Himself.  Never.'
[Mauriac continues] "It was then that I understood what has first drawn me to the young Israeli:  that look, as of a Lazarus risen from the dead, yet still a prisoner within the grim confines where he had strayed, stumbling among the shameful corpses.  For him, Nietzsche's cry expressed an almost physical reality:  God is dead, the God of love, of gentleness, of comfort, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, of Jacob, has vanished forevermore beneath the gaze of this child, in the smoke of a human holocaust exacted by Race, the most voracious of all idols. And how many pious Jews have experienced this death!  On that day, horrible even among those days of horror, when the child watched the hanging (yes!) of another child, who, he tells us, had the face of a sad angel, he heard someone behind him groan:  "'Where is God?  Where is He?  Where can He be now?'"

II.    The sense of God's absence may also be a normal part of our experience in growth toward a more mature spirituality.

A.  This time of the sense of God's absence has come to be know in the devotional writings as "the Dark Night of the Soul."

·         It is in some sense an intensification of the spiritual discipline of solitude.

B.  What, then, is the dark night of the soul?

·         Listen to how one writer describes it.

"What is involved in entering the dark night of the soul? It may be a sense of dryness, depression, even lostness.  It strips us of overdependence on the emotional life.  The notion, often heard today, that such experiences can be avoided and that we should live in peace and comfort, joy and celebration, only betrays the fact that much contemporary experience is surface slush.  The dark night is one of the ways God brings us to a hush, a stillness, so that He may work an inner transformation upon the soul.

"When God lovingly draws us into a dark night of the soul, there is often  a  temptation to blame everyone and everything for our inner dullness and to seek release from it.  The preacher is such a bore.  The hymn singing is so weak.  We may begin to look around for another church or a new experience to give us "spiritual goose bumps."  That is a serious mistake.  Recognize the dark night for what it is.  Be grateful that God is lovingly drawing you away from every distraction so that you can see Him.  Rather than chafing and fighting, become still and wait."   
                                    Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline (1978), pp. 90-91.

C.  The dark night of the soul is often a necessary step on the path to greater spiritual maturity.  In the dark night we walk by faith according to the light we already know.

III. This brings us now to the question, "What do I do when I find myself confronted by the sense of God's absence?"

A.  Realize that many will not understand your experience.

·         It may be that God has not led them in this experience.

·         The pop-theology of easy believism and good feeling knows nothing of the depths of spiritual experience.

B.  Do not expect to just "snap out of it."

·         It is not that kind of experience.  It is God who has brought you into this time, it is He also that will lift the veil.

C.  Seek the counsel of one trained in sensitive and thoughtful pastoral care or spiritual direction. 

·         Allow them to walk with you in the time of spiritual struggle.

D.  Go about the tasks of your life.

E.  Hold on to your experience of the presence of God like a shipwreck victim holding on to a piece of driftwood.

F.   Call on God faithfully until he afresh reveals Himself to you.

·         (Isa 50:10,b NIV)  Let him who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God.

G.  Know that God has promised never to leave you nor to forsake you.

·         Deut. 31:6
Conclusion - "It Is Dark" by Michael Quoist

Lord, it is dark.

Lord, are you here in my darkness?

Your light has gone out, and so has its reflection on men and on all things around me.

Everything seems grey and sombre as when a fog blots out the sun and enshrouds the earth.

Everything is an effort, everything is difficult, and I am heavyfooted and slow.

Every morning I am overwhelmed at the thought of another day.

I long for the end, I yearn for the oblivion of death.

I should like to leave,

            run away, flee, anywhere, escape.

Escape, what?

You, Lord, others, myself, I don't know,

But leave, Flee.

I progress haltingly like a drunkard

From force of habit, unconsciously.

I go through the same motions each day, but I know that they are meaningless.

I walk, but I know that I get nowhere.

I speak, and my words seem dreadfully empty, for the can reach only human ears and not the living souls who are far above.

Ideas themselves escape me, and I find it hard to think.

I stammer, confused, blushing,

And I feel ridiculous and abashed, for people will notice me.

Lord, am I losing my mind?

Or is all this what you want?

It wouldn't matter, except that I am alone.

I am alone.

You have taken me far, Lord; trusting, I followed you, and you walked at my side,

And now, at night, in the middle of the desert, suddenly you have disappeared.

I call, and you do not answer.

I search, and I do not find you.

I have left everything, and now am left alone.

Your absence is my suffering.

Lord, it is dark.

Lord, are you here in my darkness?

Where are you, Lord?

Do you love me still?

Or have I wearied you?

Lord, answer, Answer!

It is dark.

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