Why am I not surprised when people have a need to feel, touch or sense God in some tangible way? Part of it probably has to do with my church experience consisting of denominations that place a fairly strong emphasis on some form of tangible, experiential expression of God. We wanted to hear from a prophet's lips “the exhortations of God.” We needed the Holy Spirit to be present, so we might get a sense of being “taken up to heaven.” I can see both a curse in that desire and a blessing. It might be considered a blessing because in that desire for a "sense of God", is a desire for God and that's good. We want to know God is with us and for us and protecting us, but some want the surety of a tangible expression of that knowledge. It's good that we want God. The problem is when some don't "sense" a presence. For many of us, we just don't get that and it's not because we don't want it or lack faith in Christ.
For some it's difficult when there's no touch or tangible presence of God. Part of the reason is the language of people around us. For every, "God showed me in a dream...", "God told me during prayer..." Or, "I just got a sense of God bathing me in His presence about...", there are those who are crying out to God with a, "why is life so hard?" or a, "Lord, please answer..", and are left with silence. They see "answered" prayers around them and heaviness overtakes them. They see people “hearing” from God and they grow weary with a feeling of solitude. This was me and this is still me sometimes. It's still me, because I still hear way too much about how much effort we should put into connecting and hearing from God. I still see people make much more out of having tangible markers in their lives as a way to gauge God's involvement. We want to know for sure we're plugged in and the way to do that according to many is sensing or feeling God’s presence.
The flip side to not feeling "plugged in" is the idea that if we don't feel something, we need to do something to get it. We don't need anyone to tell us or coach us in this. We have enough (unintentional?) peer pressure around us to tell us that. I have to seek more, try harder to feel, be still, expect His presence. This has never been my experience. I've tried and prayed and hoped and yelled for it.
"PLEASE GOD, TOUCH ME!! LET ME KNOW YOU ARE NEAR AND YOU ARE FOR ME!! SHOW ME SPECIFICALLY WHAT I SHOULD DO!!”
These were regular cries of mine to God. I was pleading for the same tangible expression from God that I desperately need from my wife and friends at times. How frustrating is it when the only "feeling" you get, is the feeling of being alone or unheard.
In this swirl of feelings and non-feelings this is all I have left: Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." -John 20:29
We are encouraged to believe and have faith in Christ, without something physical to grab hold of. Thomas was encouraged to touch Christ's wounds, but Christ then calls those blessed who don't. It makes me wonder why we then do we tie everything to some tangible feeling or presence? It doesn't mean that God isn't working and doesn't show himself in real ways or that doesn't answer prayers at times in some manifestation of miraculous occurrences. No, the problem is when we look to those occurrences as proof of him "showing up" in our lives. Our faith is in Christ and we pray, “God's will be done.” Whether He answers how we want Him to our not, We trust in Him, period.
We don't have to ignore our hard feelings. Even King David cried out in desperation and loneliness. The Psalms are littered with desperate heartfelt cries. Job was assailed by feelings of being deserted by God and did nothing to deserve it. God didn't strike him down, when he spoke either out turn or with poor words. We need not be afraid or ashamed to do it either. My own tears are those of a ragamuffin, sometimes clothed in sin, crying out to God. And we have Him, though maybe not in the way we like or expect sometimes. We are looking for these things within us that let us know God is for us. We want a sensation of feelings or of peace in our circumstances to be our surety for God's nearness to us. I won't begrudge someone that experience, it just hasn’t been mine. So, please don't begrudge mine when I tell you this is how God meets me and reminds me He is there. These are all the experiences I and so many others have. We're not saying there are times, we wish we'd have a little more, but this is what we have to hold onto and I would encourage anyone in those moments of darkness, those times of aloneness and desperation, when you think God is far from you, consider these things and know He is near.
We have the Word of God. We have words written down for us. Words that comfort in our pain, encourage us in our struggles and gives us hope in many of His promises. We read these words sometimes and forget it IS the voice of God and though it isn't audible, these words are loud and clear. If we feel far away from God, we still aren’t. We are as close as His words on a page. It is a grand gift that we have and sometimes forget and take for granted.
We have a Savior. As real and as tangible as any human was and is. When we feel far from God, know that He rectified this once and for all by the work of His Son. Jesus left heaven to live for us, to die for us and to rise for us. We can feel as far away from God as we want, but that cross, that empty tomb calls our feelings out on the carpet and calls them lies from the pit of hell. God has restored us by Christ's work. He is always near. He is always close. He is always present. You don't have to feel it, but you can know it by looking to Christ and trusting it by faith in his finished work for you.
We have a baptism. Wherever you are on the Christian spectrum, this may be a new thought for you or you may need to be reminded of its truth. You have been washed by God in the waters of baptism. God didn't need your public proclamation of faith. God washed you when you stepped into that baptismal pool as an adult. He washed you, as a man of God held you as a child and sprinkled water on your head. He sealed you for himself. Adult or child, at baptism he washed you as a father washes his child. Know He is near, because He loved you enough to wash you clean.
We have our Lord’s Supper. God gives you a Communion that is more than just symbolic. It is a tangible, (we want tangible, right?) expression of the work of the Gospel. A supernatural act of God that when we don't feel near Him, He gives himself to us. He give us the body and we take it and know it was broken for us. He gives us the blood and we drink it and know it was poured out for our sake. Everything God gives us is outside of us. He gives it to us to settle us, to comfort us and to strengthen us.
We have the Holy Spirit. God gives us His Holy Spirit. He is our helper, our comforter and our encouragement. How does he do these things? Does he give us the “warm fuzzies” so we know God has entered the building? Does he slap our hands away from the cookie jar when we’ve had one too many sweets? What's his main job? It’s to bring our focus back to Christ. It’s to remind us of Christ's finished work. When we don't feel close, when we’re feeling lonely, lost and ready to cash it in, he is reminding us of all Christ has done. He is helping us wrestle with that truth when we feel so disconnected.
So, there are many ways to know that God is never far from us. By His Word, through His Son, by the work of the Holy Spirit and by the Sacraments. All these things are given to us to remind us that God is never far. We trust and believe in these things by God’s greatest gift to us, Faith. Faith that was given to us by the Grace of God. Faith that knows God holds us in his hands and never lets us go. Be sure, by the gift of faith he has given you that God is never far from you. He is always near. Trust these things more than any feelings. You are His through Christ and He will not let you go.
A theological misfit landing in the area of Lutheranism, Dominick has come to deeply appreciate the truth of scripture as defined by the distinction between Law and Gospel. He has found freedom in knowing that Christ is his substitute on even his worst days. He has been for the course of his church life everything from chair-stacker to men's ministry leader. He is blessed with a wonderful wife and two great young men, which he can say without a doubt, he doesn't deserve. He counts among his favorite things: Star Trek, classic superhero comics, movies, Yankees and yes, he admits to it, the Knicks. He enjoys a good conversation and good food. Finally, he is grateful for the opportunity to share the message of God's Grace among all these great teachers, pastors and theologians and hopes he doesn't mess up big time. But then again, that's what grace is for, right?