I am somewhat envious of people who experience God differently than I do. I hear about all kinds of experiences that are once or twice removed from me and say a silent prayer in the back of my head, “Why not me Lord?” Whether it be through worship, through quiet fellowship filled with God’s felt presence, or the dramatic conversion experiences, I don’t know what they are like except through the testimony of others.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not complaining. I am not even expressing a spiritual vitamin shortage. At least I don’t think I am. But the fact is that I have been a Christian all my life and when people tell me the dramatic stories of their subjective encounters with God, I don’t know how to relate. I just have not had them. I have never heard God’s voice, never had a dramatic life changing dream, never “felt” the presence of God in my room (even during prayer), never spoken in tongues, never gotten a “word from the Lord” (not even for this blog), and never had a sin dramatically taken from me. In fact, most of my spiritual life does not come easy. It involves wrestling with the Lord through prayer. I find it very difficult to stop sin, change bad attitudes, keep from forming bad habits, and to stop from hiding from obligations. In fact (though this may come across as blasphemous to some), the “peace that passes understanding” is something that is more often than not quit far from me. Sure, I do have peace in the ultimate things. Salvation, truth, the Lord’s love, and the truths of Scripture bring me “meta peace.” But as far as the day-to-day battle, the peace that I experience is very understandable, being absent most of the time.
I don’t like any of this stuff. I don’t like to wrestle. I don’t like that I don’t have any dramatic stories of change and deliverance. But these are the facts of my life as they stand today.
I was listening to a testimony of someone today. His life was filled from top to bottom with the presence of the Lord. Sure, mine is too. But his was one of those stories where God’s miraculous intervention, “sweet presence”, and constant deliverance from sin was always within his grasp. It was all very nice. I actually like to hear these stories so long as people don’t try to make them out to be the normative Christian experience. I get very discouraged when I feel as if people are judging others based on their own spiritual experiences.
When people experience God in such a way, though it is quit foreign to me, I don’t look upon this with skepticism. Well, at least not most of the time. In fact, I feed off their experience. I love life change testimonies. I love those who experience God in ways that I don’t. I love when people have a sixth-sense of spiritual things.
I was in conversation with a young man a few days ago who was very discouraged. His Christian life began with a dramatic sense of the presence of the Lord. He described his time with God in ways that made me salivate and celebrate at the same time. As he put it, the truths of Scripture would jump off the page. God’s direction and guidance for the details of his life were always available. “God was just there,” as he would put it. He felt his presence. Sin was easy to conquer. However, he is going through a significant time of doubt and discouragement. Why? Not because he is doubting the truths of the resurrection. Not because he is encountering objections to his faith. No intellectual reasoning behind his discouragement at all. He is discouraged because “God has disappeared.” The description of the departing of his faith is as vivid to him as the description of the coming of his faith. “I felt God leave me,” he said.
I don’t seek to legitimize this man’s (or anyone else’s) experience. That is not my purpose today. I am sure that much of what people feel is true and from the Lord. However, I am concerned when people base their faith on such things. Better, I am concerned when people suppose upon the Lord the perpetual reality of subjective encounters.
God, with regard to these type of things, does “go dark.” No, I did not way AWOL. I said “dark.”
God works with people differently. It is his right. I know, I know. Sometimes it is the individual’s personality that is at play. I know, I know. Sometimes it is medication. I know, I know, sometimes it is sin. I know, I know. Sometimes it is nothing more than a lack of sleep. But sometimes it has nothing to do with these things. It is simply that God goes dark. It is at these times that the faith of those whose spirituality has been so dependent on these things gets tested. What a hard test it is too.
Some of you know all too well how to identify with David when he says:
“My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? Far from my deliverance are the words of my groaning. O my God, I cry by day, but You do not answer; And by night, but I have no rest. (Psa 22:1-2)
During this “dark days”, no matter how long they last, please take courage and bring back up the flag of hope knowing that God’s absence is only apparent. I cannot tell you how long it will last or exactly what the Lord is doing and why. Maybe he wants to strengthen another aspect of your faith. Maybe he is building a new foundation. Maybe he is helping you to identify with others. Maybe he is humbling you. Maybe he is simply testing your faith. Whatever the cause, God going dark is not the same as God going AWOL. David’s words here, while meant to bring comfort, do not express reality. In other words, this Scripture is not trying to teach that God does actually forsake people. This Psalm, like so many others, is there to bring you comfort. It is here to let you know that God does sometimes go dark in the our lives.
Don’t stop creating ladders to my faith. While often foreign to me, I love that you know the presence of the Lord differently than I do. I will have to be content to stand on your shoulders when I can’t sense God the way you do. However, when your ladder comes down and God goes dark, don’t be afraid to climb another ladder and stand on someone else’s shoulders for a while. Most of all, understand that God works with us all uniquely. There is no one all-together normative spirituality that we should expect or enforce.