When God Feels Distant
Written by Phylicia Masonheimer | February 4, 2016
If you grew up in the church, chances are you’ve been in a Bible study, youth group or other gathering where someone spoke about God’s influence in his or her life. “I just knew God was telling me this was the right thing to do,” they might have said. Or perhaps, “The Lord helped me see what decision to make during my quiet time this morning.” And as they talked, you watched and wondered: Why don’t I hear from God like she does? Why does God feel so distant?
If you’ve felt that way, you aren’t alone. God’s “distance”—both in space and spirit—is exactly what makes our walk of faith a challenge. But how is it that some people talk about God as if He’s right in their living room, while others struggle to sense His presence at all?
There is no easy answer or quick fix when you feel distant from God. But there is a way to close the gap in your relationship with Him.
The first thing to note is that God no longer communicates to us in an audible voice as He often did in the Old Testament. Shortly after Jesus ascended, God’s Holy Spirit came to earth to dwell in every believer, providing the wisdom, presence and “voice” of God to guide us into holy lives. In this way, we have an amazing advantage and blessing that the Old Testament saints never experienced! But it also presents a challenge: In order to hear God, we must be willing to listen.
James 4:8 says, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” One of the reasons we feel distant from God is because we haven’t slowed down enough to hear Him. We come to God in 15-minute increments, expecting Him to speak to us in our limited time frames and schedules—treating Him in ways we wouldn’t even treat our friends! Relationships take time and intentionality, and our walk with God is no different. To hear from God and sense His presence, we have to slow our schedules and still our hearts.
But even in seeking God this way, there will be times when He seems silent. In Genesis 16 and 17, there is a 13-year season of silence (as far as we can read from the text) in God’s communication with Abraham. This season started shortly after Abraham distrusted and disobeyed God, having a son by his wife’s maidservant instead of waiting on God’s promise to provide a child through his wife, Sarah. Because God is sovereign, His distance is sometimes unexplainable. Perhaps, in Abraham’s story, He was bringing Abraham to a new level of trust following his disobedience. And perhaps, in His silence in our lives, God is doing the same for us.
Whatever the circumstance, our faith must rest on the firm foundation of who God says He is. In order to continue trusting God in the silent times, we must remind ourselves of His character: God is the very epitome and essence of love. His quietness will always point back to His character, drawing us near to Him so He can draw near to us.
1 John 4:16 says, “We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” It is not enough to know God loves us; we must also believe it. When we truly believe that God loves us and live in that love, the presence of God resides with us no matter how quiet He seems. This assurance encourages confidence, and motivates us to persevere in prayer and seeking God even when we don’t feel like it. To give up on God means giving up on the One who gives us purpose and eternal destiny. No amount of silence is worth that route.
Yes, God’s silence can be difficult. But it also leads to greater spiritual maturity and a depth of faith. Like Abraham, we must choose to be faithful even when we don’t hear from God at the present time. As we walk in faith that God is still with us, persevering in prayer and devotion, we will find rest in the presence of God.