No, God Is Not Always There …

No, God Is Not Always There …

 

As controversial as it may be to reject the greeting card theology that God never leaves us, my own reality and my own sense of abandonment has, at times, compelled me to believe otherwise.

Somewhere in our Christian culture we have been inundated with the false idea that God never leaves us.  We somehow cling to the “footprints in the sand” concept that when it feels like we are all alone God was really there carrying us all along.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people emotionally declare with the utmost conviction that God will never leave us—he’s always there.  That’s fine for them, I suppose.  Yet I can’t tell you how hurtful it feels to hear someone say that when your reality is that you are completely alone, treading water in the middle of a stormy sea.  As controversial as it may be to reject the greeting card theology that God never leaves us, my own reality and my own sense of abandonment during my lifelong struggle with lung disease and life on a feeding tube, has, at times, compelled me to believe otherwise.  And yet I remain faithful.

If the father never takes off the training wheels on the bicycle how will the child ever learn to balance the bicycle on his own?

Anyone who has children and has tried to teach them to do anything in life knows that sometimes you have to step away and leave them alone. 

Anyone who has children and has tried to teach them to do anything in life knows that sometimes you have to step away and leave them alone.  You have to let them struggle.  If the child is always clinging to her father in the deep end of the swimming pool or wearing a life jacket, how will she ever learn to swim?  If the father never takes off the training wheels on the bicycle how will the child ever learn to balance the bicycle on his own?  If the toddler never lets go of his mother’s hand he’ll never learn to walk.  Of course God leaves us to struggle on our own best efforts at times.  Does that make him a cruel and merciless God?  Absolutely not.  Indeed, true cruelty is to molly-coddle us, never allowing us to experience true growth.

… one day a microburst wind blew in, toppling the giant tree in a matter of seconds

We have a family cabin near Yellowstone Park, Wyoming.  It sits in the midst of many tall, lodge pole pines.  For many years there was one particular lodge pole pine that seemed taller and straighter than the rest.  It was situated right on the bank of a small creek running through the property.  The waters of the creek provided constant nourishment for the tree and greatly aided its tremendous growth.  For dozens of years, perhaps more than a hundred years, this tree stood on the banks of the creek looking down upon all the other pine trees.  But then one day a microburst wind blew in, toppling the giant tree in a matter of seconds (and, unfortunately, causing it to land on our family cabin).

The tree was taller and straighter than the rest.

How could something so seemingly strong and resolute be taken down so suddenly?  How could something so seemingly superior to those around it be the one to fall?   It’s because in all its years of growth the tree was never far from its source of strength and nourishment.  The constant supply of water had actually weakened its root system.  Unlike all the other isolated pines around it, which were forced to dig their roots deeper for strength and nourishment, this stream bank tree grew upward but did not have to sink its roots downward, for there was a constant and cripplingly convenient supply of water right there on the banks of the stream.  The source of its strength had actually become its weakness.

Sometimes the greatest blessing that can come to us is to experience the true growth that results from being left alone to struggle through the deep end of life without parent or preserver. 

Like the strong trees that survived the microburst winds, strong people need to be left on their own.  Sometimes the greatest blessing that can come to us is to experience the true growth that results from being left alone to struggle through the deep end of life without parent or preserver.  What we learn about ourselves and the growth that we achieve in those moments of being “forsaken” can sustain us throughout this stormy life.

While I do not reject the idea that God sometimes carries us along unawares, to believe that God never leaves us to struggle and suffer on our own is sheer nonsense.  Yes, God will forsake us.  “God[] … trieth our hearts.”  (1 Thessalonians 2:4.)  God “chasteneth” and “scourgeth” us.  (Hebrews 12:6.)  In his great wisdom and mercy he sometimes leaves us alone.

Suffering is part of being a Christian.

Suffering brings you into fellowship with Christ.

Suffering is part of being a Christian.  “Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps[.]”   (1 Peter 2:21.)  In other words, we must suffer with Christ, which means we, too, will be forsaken as he was forsaken.  (Matthew 27:46.)  Thus, when—not if, but when—you are forsaken, you should “think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings[.]”  (1 Peter 4:12.)   Abandonment is a sign of spiritual progress.  It’s a sign you’ve made the big leagues.  It’s part of what brings you into fellowship with Christ.

This forsaking is a manifestation of God’s love.  It’s a token of his trust.  Mom and Dad won’t leave you home alone unless they think you can handle it.  With God it’s no different.  And yet, just as the father is never too far from the wobbling bike or the edge of the deep end, so, too, is our Father ever near and ever watching.  Though he, in his great wisdom and mercy, deliberately leaves you alone when he thinks you can handle it or, perhaps, when you need growth; to be forsaken does not mean to be forgotten.  He hears your cries for help.  But sometimes he ignores them for your own good.

He knows that if he dives in too soon or grabs the back of the bicycle you will never know the joy and freedom you are capable of attaining.

 

He knows that if he dives in too soon or grabs the back of the bicycle you will never know the joy and freedom you are capable of attaining.  He’ll let you wobble and even skin your knee (even though to us mortals a “skinned knee” may come in the form of lung disease or gastric paralysis).  He’ll let you struggle to keep your head above water and watch you struggle with all your might to make it to the other side of the pool.  And he’ll be there to embrace you in the end. Though you are, at times, truly “forsaken,” you are never forgotten.

For more ideas and discussion on this and other related issues, please read my books Gethsemamnesia and Built to Love, available now in paperback.

He’ll let you wobble and even skin your knee ….

 

5 thoughts on “No, God Is Not Always There …

  1. Dan, this article was perfect for me. I experienced a trial where I felt that God and left me and I also believed that he had forgotten me. I was beginning to wonder if he even existed at all or if I just made him up. I now realized that he just let go of me for a little while so that I can learn to swim. Right now I am in the middle of the swimming pool struggling to get to the other side, but I know he will be there when I truly learn to swim. Thanks for giving me hope and the faith to believe in God again. I also ready your other articles that were also very helpful to me. My family has a theme which includes the line Love god, love each other and love your neighbors. It’s time to put the family theme into practice. Keep up the good work.

    1. Larna, just keep swimming, just keep swimming!!! You’ll make it to the side of the pool and you’ll find rest. Thank you for your kind words. It’s so comforting to know that there are people like you who have felt the same way that I have felt. We’re going to make it! Blessings and love to you.

      Dan

  2. Sometimes the Lord forsakes us to help us learn to let go of things. I liken it to carrying a backpack up a mountain with our essential gear along with some useless rocks. When we become fatigued, we cry out for Him to help us carry the load. He doesn’t answer our prayers and in anger, we begin dumping out the rocks in order to lighten our load and continue the journey. When we get to the top we realize we didn’t need the rocks and we rejoice that the Lord’s forsaking was actually a blessing that forced us to let go of things that didn’t really matter in life.

  3. WOW, another super home run article, I love the story of lodge pole pine with its roots and the very near easy access water source. Add to this David Smith’s very insightful comment about letting go of what we can do without, and I feel I’ve just I’ve just had another booster shot of clear and authentic gospel teaching.

    Dan, I love your no-sense honest challenging of what I sometimes refer to as the Barney (the purple dinosaur) concept of God — in fact, I might be even more hard core. I certainly believe that God, our Heavenly Father is absolutely loving and caring and at times even involved in the smaller details of our lives and in that sense, I keep him in my heart and in my mind as a child thinking of a loving parent, which can be very powerful. But I also believe as you say that God is simply not always ‘there’ (in our space) or at least not in the sense as you said, that he’s still holding onto the back of the seat of our training bike.

    One of my favorite Netflix series was a show called ‘I Shouldn’t Be Alive’ and for those who haven’t seen it, the show is about real ‘life in the balance’ stories of survival. To get an idea of what the episodes are like I’ll use the example of Aron Ralston, the hiker who had to break, then cut off that part of his arm that had him pinned and trapped alone in a Utah canyon for 6 days. Talk about courage and letting go. This real-life drama inspired the film ‘127 Hours’.

    The link below is to a good write-up on Aron’s story;
    https://www.theguardian.com/film/2010/dec/15/story-danny-boyles-127-hours

    I thought a lot about God when looking at these stories and tried to imagine myself in place of some of the most courageous people that I’ve come to learn about and much more recently, about you, Dan and what you must deal with (again, remembering how much I like/need to eat food). I’ve come to the conclusion that even though my faith remains very strong, it won’t necessarily spare me from some brutal challenges of hard core reality/chaos, at least not always. I’m humbled by all these stories.

    My wife, Barb, who just walked in and read some of what I had typed and asked the ‘elephant in the room’ question, “Well, where do God and faith come in?” The best answer I could give, included a couple of things that you pointed out, ‘Suffering is part of being a Christian’, in fact it’s part of the reality of being a human or any creature on the earth. Some of us will suffer much more than others but I believe God is aware of all suffering, as he is of the sparrow falling out of the sky. Leaving us alone for a time is part of our mortal experience but sometimes it’s extremely difficult to accept when the suffering so great and terrible.

    Is there any point then, in praying and exercising faith — of course there is, but faith is also accepting that like Christ, some of us will have to bear being ‘forsaken’ even at our most critical hour as Jesus was for a short time as He hung in agony on the cross. His father had turned away for a short time but it didn’t mean He wasn’t painfully aware of the suffering of His Beloved Son.

    I’m of the belief that neither love nor faith can ever stand alone but must be backed up by raw courage, fortitude, incredible grit and perseverance even unto death . . . at least that’s what the best scripture and survivor stories seem to suggest. It’s still something of scary but fascinating mystery to me.

  4. Thank you Dan. You are an amazing, insightful man! I agree with your thoughts. (been there too, in my own way) Thanks for sharing. Love to you, your parents and family. ,Suzanne Moss

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