The Absence of God

The absence of God is not just an idea to conjure with, an emptiness for the preacher to try to furnish, like a house, with a chair and sofa, heat and light, to make it livable. The absence of God is just that which is not livable. It is the tears that Jesus wept over Lazarus and the sweat he sweated in the garden and the cry he choked out when his own tongue filled his mouth like a gag… The prophets and the psalms all speak of the one who is not there when he is most needed – not to mention Noah and Abraham, Gideon, Barak, Samson and David, and the rest of them who, if they did not speak of their anguish, carried it around in their hearts and grew whiskers and wore robes and armor and ephods and stovepipe hats to help conceal it even from themselves.

Frederick Buechner
Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale

I think Christians too often try to make excuses for God’s absence. We try to mitigate it, explain it away, as if it’s our duty to perform damage control on God’s behalf. In reality, this absence should be affirmed. It should be spoken of, questioned, felt deeply. As Buechner points out, the Bible is full of people doing this exact thing: asking God where He is, desperate for Him to show Himself, almost demanding Him to make an appearance.

This divine absence is at the core of why I do trust Christ – because He, too, felt the emptiness of God’s abandonment on the cross. Through Christ, God Himself felt what it was like for us, forced Himself to feel it by failing to save Himself. He experienced the shadow of His own face turned away. It is a strange sort of masochism, when you think about it. God was determined to step into our shoes, to become a man at a man’s lowest point – and then go even further down. For none of us have ever been spiritually abandoned to the extent that Jesus was on Calvary: left to experience the depths of Hell on creation’s behalf.

If I despair at my Father’s absence, at not being able to feel Him, Jesus not only listens: He understands. He understands better than I do, because He went through it to a degree I will never have to.

I’m sure God could have rescued humanity in any way He chose. But He chose to become like me. He gave us Himself not just in death, but also in life. He chose to bridge the gap by living as I live and suffering as I suffer (uh, way more than I suffer, actually), so I can never say He doesn’t understand.

This is why I am certain of God’s love even when I do not feel it. Because Jesus remained certain of His love for me when all he could feel was emptiness.

This knowledge lights the darkness of God’s silence, and I will walk through it without fear because I know Christ walked through it before me.

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