Why Does God Seem Far Away?

great-questionsAs a follower of Christ, I’ve often asked, “God why do you seem far away from me?” If you’re not a follower of Christ that may not be a question you’ve ever asked; but for those of us who are, we wonder, “Why does God seem far away?”

Here’s a question to consider, “Have you at some point in your life believe that you’ve felt the presence of God?

I asked some people recently, “If you’ve felt the presence of God, how do you know when you feel God’s presence?”

One person said, “I got a tingly sensation!”

Another said, “I was overcome with emotion and I cried in response to what I believe is the presence of God.”

One person said, “There’s a presence of something that is bigger than myself that I can’t describe”

I believe that God can give you any of those feelings and infinitely more feelings than we can ever even describe. But the truth also is, even though God can make you feel tingly, so can sitting next to a girl you like in a movie theatre. Even though God can make you cry, so can cutting onions! Just as God can give you a warm sensation, so can going to the bathroom in a swimming pool!  It doesn’t mean I’ve done that because everybody knows that if you do it the water will turn blue around you! At least that’s what they told me when I was growing up.

If you don’t always feel God’s presence; you’re not alone.

Believe it or not the writers of the Bible express this frustration with raw and real feelings.  There are many different verses in the Bible about this topic, but here’s one from Psalm 88 that is particularly strong,

13 I cry to you for help, O LORD; in the morning my prayer comes before you.
14  Why, O LORD, do you reject me and hide your face from me?  Psalm 88:13-14 (NIV)

 The first shocking fact, the author of this psalm is a worship leader!  He’s devoted his life to worshiping God and leading others to do the same. He’s praying in morning.  He’s is crying out, “Why can’t I feel you God? Where are you when I need you? I don’t sense that you’re near God, why is it that I can’t feel your presence?”   Later in verse 18 he says, “Darkness is my closest friend.”   Now that’s an honest expression to God. I hope you can be that real in conversation to God.  He can handle it, let it out.

Let’s wrestle with this question, “why does God sometimes seem far away?” I won’t be able to give a specific reason for everyone.  What I would like to do is to ask you five different Biblical questions that I ask myself.  They may also be for you reasons as to why you might not feel the presence of God.

The first question,

  1. Do I think God’s presence must be super sensational?

For me, on my faith journey in college there were times when I thought God’s presence had to be super sensational.  When I was 21 years of age I went with some friends to a charismatic church.  For those of you that aren’t from the church world, a charismatic church is typically a church where people are really excited about God! Sometimes they speak in tongues or they’re jumping up and down, and some of them have their own little dance or a banner they run around with. It’s like everybody drank two cans of Red Bull before they came to church! I was very intrigued by this. There was something about their excitement that I’d never experienced in my Baptist Church growing up.  We sang verses one, two and four of Hymns, everyone was stiff as a board, you never raised your hands and dancing was a sin!

Because I wasn’t used to moving and expressing myself in the ways people at a charismatic church did, I began to question if God was really working in my life. What’s interesting is that God had been clearly speaking to me through His Word, in bible studies in churches I attended. But because I didn’t respond like others at a particular church I questioned, “Do I really experience God’s presence?” Or is something missing for me?”

Like I did at one time, perhaps you’re looking for something really big and dramatic to move you.  Or maybe you think you need some massive sign from God. “God, if this is really you, may lighting strike right now so I’ll know that you’re leading me to do this!”

This isn’t uncommon. We can see it in the New Testament when the crowds of people were asking Jesus in John 6:30,

“What miraculous sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you?”

Some people define God’s presence with something they either see or feel in big way.  “Oh God, do something big, help me see it!” Shake the room and give me, the James Earl Jones voice:  “I am your father!”

Maybe you’re still waiting for a “quiver in your liver” or some electrical charge to come over you.  I believe that sometimes God’s presence will be very strong. Other times it may calm you with a peace that goes beyond our human ability to even understand.

A passage that I love about God’s presence is found in I Kings 19:11-13.  The prophet Elijah was looking for God’s presence. “There came great and powerful wind that tore the mountains apart, but God was not in the wind. There was an earthquake, but God was not in the earthquake. Then a fire, but God was not in the fire.  After that came a gentle whisper.  God spoke in a gentle whisper.”

Why don’t I always feel God’s presence? Maybe like I me, you have thought God’s presence must be super sensational like an earthquake but he’s actually in the gentle whisper.

For David, God was there “in the valley of the shadow of death”- Psalm 23:4. Jonah experienced God, “when my life was ebbing away” – Jonah 2:7.  Job experienced God’s presence went he lost everything.

I think when I am hurting and broken hearted, I experience God’s presence the best.  “ The LORD is close to the brokenhearted.” Psalm 34:18 (NIV)   It’s gentle not sensational.

I no longer need a big miracle to believe in God, His presence in my hurt is enough, His whisper through His word is all I need.  Sometimes I may not feel him, but that’s okay too, it doesn’t mean he’s not there.  I pray that you experience God’s presence whether it’s super sensational from time to time or just a gentle whisper, “I love you.”

In the next post, we’ll examine the next four questions about why we don’t always feel God’s presence.

Darrell

For more about the series, Great Questions please visit, www.RidgeFellowship.com

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Why Evil and Suffering? Part 3

great-questionsHave you ever asked, “Couldn’t God have foreseen that evil was going to happen?  The answer to that is, “of course.”  So why did He go ahead and create the world as it is?

I think the answer is, using an analogy, is like those of you that are parents.  Niki and I have three children.  When you were pregnant you probably knew that there was a very real possibility that your child would endure suffering in their life, some pain and some hardship.  That your child would have some disappointments in life, some failures in life and that they may even reject you.  You child may walk away from you and cause great hurt to you.  And yet knowing the very real possibility of that you went ahead and had kids anyway.  Why did you do it?  Because you also knew there was also the very real possibility the potential for tremendous joy and a loving relationship and a deep meaning in that relationship that you would have with your child.  If you knew the problems and pain would be a part of life would you have that child anyway?   I would and we did!

And the same thing is true with God.  He knew that we would rebel against Him.  But He also knew that many people would choose to follow Him, would choose to love others, would choose to spend eternity with Him in heaven.  And it was all worth it for those people even though it meant for Him the suffering and the death of His Son Jesus Christ on the cross.  The third point of light is this:

  1. Evil Is Temporary And Each Evil Deed Will Be Judged.

 The day is coming when evil will be judged.  A lot of times you hear people say, “If God has the power to eradicate evil and suffering, why doesn’t He do it right now?  There are people suffering in this world this very moment.  Why doesn’t He come back right now and cause suffering to cease and to judge evil?”  The answer, I believe, is just because He hasn’t done it yet does not mean He’s not going to do it.

To criticize God for not coming back yet or not taking care of every case of evil immediately is almost like taking a John Grisham novel, reading the first third of the book and then throwing it away and say, “What a stupid book!  He didn’t tie up all the loose ends of the plot.”     The book’s not done and God promises the day is coming when He will consummate history and then evil will be judged.

We think of a child being murdered such as Jon Bennet Ramsey and what a horrible thing – an innocent child murdered and somebody’s apparently gotten away with murder.  They haven’t gotten away with murder.  God will judge that person and they will be held accountable for the crimes they’ve committed.  They’re not getting away with murder.  Even in our courts and judicial system we have what’s called “due process.” Can’t God work in His time table or are we going to tell him how and when to do things?

Why doesn’t God come back now? Why does’t God judge evil immediately? Because of His love, that’s why.  When God ends the world, it’s over! When He brings judgement that’s it.  Are you ready for judgment now?  Are your loved ones, friends and neighbors?  Our memory verse reminds us:  2 Peter 9:3, “The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise as some understand slowness.  He is patient with you not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”

I’m so thankful God has been patient with me!   I have walked away from Him and said, “I want to live my own life!”  If people said they were praying for me, I would say, “Don’t pray for me, I want to do things my own way, not Gods.”  But God never gave up on me.  He was patient and I’m so glad.

What is this verse saying?  God is saying, “I am holding back the curtain of history, holding back the consummation of history.”  Why?  Because of some of you, some of you don’t know God yet, he waiting.  He’s patient.  And if God were to come back at this time you would be shut out of knowing Him.  You’d be shut out of heaven forever.  You would be judged for every evil deed.  But when you trust and receive Christ, he took the judgment that was due to you and it was put upon him.

 24  He took our sins on himself, giving his body to be nailed on the tree. 1 Peter 2:24 (BBE)

 5  But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.
Isaiah 53:5 (NIV)

God says, “I love you so much I’m going to hold back the curtain of history knowing that some of you may very well make that choice saying, ‘God, I want to turn my life over to You.  Take my sin.  It’s paid for on the cross. I want to spend eternity with You in heaven.’”  The reason God hasn’t come back yet is an expression of His unbelievable love for you.

Have you received him?  If you want to do that just pray this prayer: “God I’ve chosen in the past to do my own thin. Today I choose to follow Christ.  Come in my life, forgive me of my past and help me follow you.”  In Jesus name Amen.

God doesn’t give us the answer to “why,” but does give us His presence. He promises:

 8  The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”   Deuteronomy 31:8 (NIV)

 Though I walk through the valley of the shadow death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.”  Psalm 23:4

 “And surely I am with you always, even to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:20

When I ask the question “why is there evil and suffering?” I don’t always get the answer I’m looking for but am given Christ who will be with me.

Darrell

For more about the series, Great Questions, please visit us at

www.RidgeFellowship.com

 

 

 

 

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Why Evil and Suffering? Part 2

great-questionsHave you ever driven in heavy fog and you can’t see anything in front of you?  For me, besides just pulling off the road and giving up, my only hope is for the fog to lift or someone to pull in front of me with fog lights that knows where they are going!  Then I  can see their tail lights dimly and I can follow them!

In a similar way, that’s how our understanding of why there’s pain and suffering in this world works.  We may not be able to make out all the peripheral answers in terms of why.  They still may be enshrouded by our limited ability to understand.  But there are some key biblical truths that are illuminated to us through scripture.  I want to share three. And if we keep our eyes on those three points of light – just like the taillights– I believe they will take us to a place of understanding where our hearts and our minds can be satisfied.

 1. Evil and suffering are NOT GOD’S doing.

“God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.”  I John 1:5

The Bible says a lot about God’s character and one thing he is not is evil.

Another common question: “Why didn’t God create a world where there was no evil and suffering in the first place?”

And the answer to that is, He did.  Genesis 1:31 says, “God saw all that He made and it was very good.”  So here’s the question.  If God is not the author of evil and suffering and if what He created is good, then where did it come from in the first place?  The answer to that has to do with the fact that God, in His wisdom, decided to give human beings free will.  Why did He give us free will?  Because the greatest value in the universe is love: To love God and to love other people.  Love is the highest value.  And the only way that highest value of love can really be attained is if we have free will.  Then we can make the choice to love or not to love because true love must involve a choice

When our youngest daughter Danielle was born, a friend gave us this little stuffed dog that was programmed to say her name.  It would say, “I love you Danielle.”   Petty clever, but does that stuffed dog really love Danielle?  No, it’s programmed to say it.  It has no choice.  It must say it.  So it’s not love.

For me to really express love I must be able to make that choice.  I must be able to make the choice NOT to love in order for my expression of love to be true.  And God, knowing this, created a world in which He gave human beings that free will.  The problem is we’ve abused that free will and we’ve rejected God.  And we’ve walked away from Him.  This is why we meet on Sunday’s to encourage you to choose Christ.  Choose to KNOW him in a relationship.   It’s our choices:

2. If Evil is Not from God, Then, why does Evil exist?

 a.  Because of OUR CHOICES.

   Have you ever made a choice that hurt you or someone else?  I have!  Our choices cause problems.

God tells us to “choose” over _200_ times.   

 When God gave Moses the precepts his people were to live by he reminded them:

 “I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live  Deuteronomy 30: 19

God is begging us to choose life for ourselves and our children! What is your choice?  Follow God or not?  I’m tired of making the wrong choices, I have decided to follow Jesus.

It’s why we have church and teach the bible.  We can learn about the right choices and with God’s help make them.   Its why we have Growth Groups.  Sign ups are now!  To sign up go to http://ridgefellowship.com/growth-groups.  Get involved with a group of people, be encouraged to choose right for your family, marriage, kids.  Learn the bible and how to make choices that honor God.

 “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way”  Isaiah 53:6

We’ve all done things out of our free will that have resulted in hurt to ourselves and to other people.  I read recently, I believe it was from author Lee Strobel who estimated that 95% of the suffering in this world is the result of bad choices from us or other people.  For example, people look at the famines that take place in Africa and say, “Where’s God in all this?”  People are dying of starvation.  How does He allow this famine to take place?

The truth of the matter is we produce enough food on this planet to give every man, woman and child three thousand calories a day.  But it’s because of our own selfishness our own irresponsibility, corruption and misplaced nationalism that people are starving when there is plenty of food in the world to go around.

Another way to look at this is to consider your hand.  You can say, “I can either take this hand and pick up a gun and shoot and kill someone or I can take this very same hand and feed someone who’s starving to death.”  It’s my choice.  But it isn’t really fair if I pick up a gun and shoot someone and then say, “Why does God allow evil and suffering?  Why is there evil in this world.” You’ve made the choice to pick up the gun and pull the trigger.  It’s like the old cartoon:  “We’ve seen the enemy and he is us.”

 b. The second reason we have evil is because of the ENEMY’S INFLUENCE

Who is the enemy?  He is called “Satan” in Hebrew- to slander or “Diabolos” in Greek – to slander.  We’ll have an entire message coming up on Satan in the coming weeks, but quickly, he’s a liar and was from the beginning.  In Genesis we read about “the fall of mankind.’  It was a combination of the enemy’s lie and our bad choice.

 “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Genesis 3:5

Sin is not completely Satan’s fault.  We are still held accountable for our choices.  He just makes the bad look good.

His plan is to “steal, kill and destroy”  (John 10:10)  What the enemy does is become a parasite of what is good.  Think of something good like sex:  God created it to be great and it is.  But what the enemy does is twist something good like sex into evil: Rape, abuse, prostitution, pornography, affairs, broken hearts, venereal diseases addictions and the list goes on.

Where did he come from?  We learn from the scriptures: He was a created being, an angel.  He is not God or equal to God. God gave him a choice and he chose to rebel.  God removed him from heaven and he lives on earth.   The prophets Ezekiel and Isaiah describe these truths about our enemy:

You were anointed as a guardian cherub. You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created till wickedness was found in you.  So I threw you to the earth;” Ezekiel 28:14-17

 “How you have fallen from heaven, O Lucifer! You have been cast down to the earth!  You said in your heart, “I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.”  Isaiah 14:12-14

*So let’s make one thing really clear as we begin this exploration.  God is not the author of evil and suffering.  It is true that He created a world with the potential for evil and suffering to take place.  Why?  Because it was the only way He could create a world with free will so that the greatest value of love could be experienced by you and me.

Some people say, “Couldn’t God have foreseen that this was going to happen?  That people would rebel against Him.  That the enemy would influence people to chose wrongly? Couldn’t He have seen that in advance?”  The answer to that is,  “of course.”  So why did He go ahead and create things?

I think the answer is, using an analogy, is like you being a parent.  Niki and I have three.   When you were pregnant may probably knew that there was a very real possibility that your child would endure suffering in their life, some pain, some hardship.  They will have some disappointments in life, some failures in life.  They may even reject you.  They may reject you as a parent – walk away from you and cause great hurt to you.  And yet knowing the very real possibility of that you went ahead and had kids anyway.  Why did you do it?  Because you also knew there was also the very real possibility the potential for tremendous joy and a loving relationship and a deep meaning in that relationship that you would have with your child.  If you knew the problems and pain would be a part of life would you have that child anyway?   I would and did!

And the same thing is true with God.  He knew that we would rebel against Him.  But He also knew that many people would choose to follow Him, would choose to love others, would choose to spend eternity with Him in heaven.  And it was all worth it for those people even though it meant for Him the suffering and the death of His Son Jesus Christ on the cross.

In the next post we’ll wrap up with the last point of light, until then,

Darrell

For more about the series, Great Questions, go to www.RidgeFellowship.com

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If God is Good, Why is There Evil and Suffering?

great-questionsHave you seen any drug commercials lately on TV?  I was watching the Texas Aggie football game vs. UCLA last Saturday and a commercial came on for a drug to lower blood pressure. In these commercials they try to paint this wonderful picture of this drug; then I guess they’re required by law to talk about all the side effects.  I couldn’t believe my ears or eyes as they went through these!  I even went to their site just to be sure! Here they are:

This drug they advertised may cause serious side effects, including:

  • Ketoacidosis(increased ketones in your blood or urine). can be life-threatening and may need to be treated in a hospital.  Call your doctor right away if you get any of the following symptoms: nausea, vomiting, stomach-area pain, tiredness, or trouble breathing.
  • Kidney problems. Sudden kidney injury has happened.
  • Serious Urinary Tract Infections: may lead to hospitalization and have happened.   Some people may also have high fever, back pain, nausea, or vomiting
  • Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). Signs and symptoms of low blood sugar may include: headache, drowsiness, weakness, dizziness, confusion, irritability, hunger, fast heartbeat, sweating, shaking, or feeling jittery.
  • Broken Bones (fractures):Bone fractures have been seen in patients.
  • The most common side effects include: vaginal yeast infections and yeast infections of the penis; changes in urination, including urgent need to urinate more often, in larger amounts, or at night.

No thanks! I’d rather take my chances.  Also, it’s crazy to me that a drug for low blood sugar can cause low blood sugar!

It struck me as I was watching those commercials that life ought to come with warnings about side effects:

*Every baby when they’re born ought to have a little tag on their foot with the warnings or the side effects of life on this planet.   On one side it would talk about all the wonderful things about life.  Life can be full of wonderful adventure and joy.  Then on the other side it would mention the side effects.  There are side effects to life.  There is pain.  There is suffering.  There is heartbreak.  There is disappointment.  There are broken relationships.  There is crime.  There is victimization.  There’s abuse.  There’s even death.

In fact, Jesus did warn about this.  In John 16:33 He said, “In this world you’re going to have trouble.  You’re going to have tribulation.”  Did Jesus say, “we may have trouble?” No, it’s not optional, but a certainty.  “You will have trouble.”  But Jesus didn’t address the question of Why.  And that is the question that has been on peoples’ minds since the beginning of time.  Why is there pain?  Why is there suffering?  Why do bad things happen to good people?  It’s gone back to the beginning of time.  We can see it in the Old Testament.  That was the cry on the lips of Job.  “Why is there suffering?”  That was the cry of the psalmists as they wrote.

Some people say that we are “evolving” as a race or becoming “more civilized” if that’s true then shouldn’t we have less evil and suffering?  The truth is we have more.  In the last 50 years we’ve seen a world war, the holocaust, and continued war all over the planet with Viet Nam, Korea, Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria to name a few.  Not to mention the devastating famines that took place in Africa, the emergence of AIDS, the genocide in Rwanda and ethnic cleansing in Kosovo.  We’ve seen all this and we want to know why.  Why pain, why suffering?

George Barna who’s a public opinion pollster sort of like George Gallup did a study, a national scientific poll, in which this question was given:   “If you could ask God one question and you knew He would give you an answer, what would you ask?”  And when he gave the results the number one issue on peoples’ minds was, “Why is there evil and suffering in this world?”  With the huge compilation of all the statistics I did find one interesting statistical quirk.  It showed that people that had teenagers in their house were much more likely to want to know why there is so much suffering!

But seriously, this is a very real issue.  You like me have gone through pain.  Maybe its the loss of a child or an illness.  You’ve had suffering.  Like me, you’ve seen loved ones who have gone through pain.  And I really wish I could give you the perfect answer from God on this issue but I can’t.  What I can do is give a little bit of light on this subject.

1 Corinthians 13:12 says “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; Now I know in part; then I shall know fully.”   Like stepping out of a shower and the mirror is all foggy, its a “poor reflection.”   If we desire to see our reflection in the mirror we have to wipe off the fog.  The problem is that in this world at present we can’t wipe away the fog that shrouds our understanding about certain issues like. “why is there pain and suffering?”  It’s important for us to understand that, “now, I know in part.”   Continuing with the fog example, Have you ever driven in heavy fog and you can’t see anything in front of you?  For me, besides just pulling off the road and giving up, my only hope is for the fog to lift or someone to pull in front of me with fog lights that knows where they are going!  Then I  can see their tail lights dimly and I can follow them!

In a similar way, that’s how our understanding of why there’s pain and suffering in this world works.  We may not be able to make out all the peripheral answers in terms of why.  The answers may be hard to see by our limited or foggy ability to understand.  But there are some key biblical truths that are illuminated to us through scripture.  I want to share three.  And if we keep our eyes on those three points of light – just like the taillights– I believe they will take us to a place of understanding where our hearts and our minds can be satisfied.

In the next post we’ll examine these three points of light.

Darrell

For more about the series, Great Question please visit: www.RidgeFellowship.com

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