An absent God?
Updated: Apr 21
“My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all day long, “Where is your God?” (Psm.42:3)
There are times when it seems like God is totally absent. Many believers can point to times in their lives (perhaps even now) when they found themselves asking, ‘Lord, where are you?’
Such times or events seem inexplicable and can be seriously disorienting and deeply discouraging, to say the least. To our minds a promise from God is a promise, and we were sure that we could rely on it come what may. Yet what we see before us seems to give the lie to all that. For all intents and practical purposes, the promise was not kept.
How can this be happening?
How can God say, for instance, that he is our provider but then we cannot find work or consistently do not have enough money to pay our bills, despite being faithful to him and prudent in our financial affairs?
How can God say that he is our protector but then we or some loved one has a serious car accident or is the victim of some crime or some act of injustice?
How can he say that he cares for us but then we lose our physical or mental health to the point where we live in constant pain or discomfort and are dependent on medication or others to survive?
How can he say that he is our guide when we plead with him for direction and seem to get none? Or we follow his direction, and it leads us into deep and complex trouble?
How can he say that he loves us and yet watches us struggle day after day with some weakness, falling into sin again and again and yet he never seems to intervene to give us the much longed for victory?
How can he be the author of marriage and yet allow his children to see their union end in heart-breaking divorce?
The questions could go on and on and on.
In such circumstances our minds boggle, fear enfolds us like a cold shadow, the earth beneath our feet seems to give way, and our hearts cry out, “How can this be happening?”
Lord, are you there?
In Genesis 16 we read of Hagar who was an Egyptian maid to Sarai (Abram’s wife). Realizing that she could not bear any children Sarai gave Hagar to her husband (a common practice at the time) with the understanding that when she conceived, Sarai would take the child as her own. Under the dual pressure of wanting an heir and wanting to please his wife, Abram agreed.
When Hagar conceived, her attitude to her mistress changed and she began to despise Sarai. Consequences soon followed as Sarai badly mistreated her to exact revenge. It became so unbearable that Hagar ran away, not knowing where she was going but wanting to escape from the indignity and torment of being under Sarai’s vengeful reign of terror.
It would not be unreasonable to ask where was God during all of this? Could he not have stopped Abram or Sarai from making wrong decisions or have prevented Hagar from conceiving, or at least somehow have shown her that she should not despise her mistress? Was he blind to the subsequent affliction that was meted out by Sarai on her defenseless handmaid? Was he in any way interested in this unfolding disaster?
As Hagar fled, she came to a fountain of water. Exhausted physically and emotionally, she had reached the end of the line, the limit of her strength and endurance. Now there was nowhere to go, no one to turn to, and no means to survive.
Seeing the God who sees you
Hagar had fled hopelessness and torment only to meet certain death with none but herself to witness her end. But she was about to discover that she was not alone. The messenger of Yahweh – the Son of God – appeared to her at that fountain, bringing gentle comfort, instruction, and even a prophesy about her yet unborn baby and his descendants. He told her to name the child Ishmael (meaning “God that hears”) “...because the LORD has heard your affliction” (Gen.16:11).
What a revelation to Hagar! God had heard her affliction – all of it. He had been there all along and had heard it all. Just moments before, she thought she was totally isolated, forgotten and unseen. Now “...she called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, “You-Are-the-God-Who-Sees” (“El Roi”).
She realized that not only was he the God who hears but also the God who sees. Indeed, the well itself where this meeting took place became known as Beer-lahai-roi, which means, “Well of the One Who Lives and Sees Me”.
Hagar was never the same again - she was a transformed woman. She went back to her mistress and submitted herself to her, bore Ishmael and weaned him.
God is there
Years later she again had to leave that household – forced out this time, and again (now with her son) she wandered in the wilderness, came to the end of all that she had and all that she could do, and simply sat down waiting for the death of them both. Yet once again the God who hears and sees made her to know that he was present, that he had heard and seen everything and was able to keep his word concerning her son.
Beloved, has God seemed absent from much of what transpires in your life? Does it appear that he has removed himself or closed his ears or turned away his eyes? Do you feel deserted, isolated, forgotten, unseen? Have you come to the end of your courageous battle to hang on - resources depleted, wandering in the wilderness, maybe waiting only for death as a way out? Then know this: El Roi is there!
God has heard your prayers and has seen your tears. He has seen your affliction and the unrelenting pressure. He sees your exhaustion and weakness and your efforts to try to keep trusting him even when everything in you and outside says you are a fool who should just “curse God and die.” He saw everything and heard everything, and he has come to meet with you here at this well - the “Well of the One Who Lives and Sees Me”. It is no coincidence that you are not reading this.
When he said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” he meant it, for “God, who cannot lie, promised...”.
He is NOT absent. He is not even distant.
God is FOR you (Psm.56:9), WITHIN you (1Cor.3:16), AROUND you (Psa.125:2), BENEATH you (Deu.33:27), BEHIND you (Isa.30:21), AHEAD of you (Joh.10:4).
Reject the lie of the absent God
Even if, like Hagar, you are partly responsible for some of the trouble you are facing, remember that when the Lord met Hagar
- there was not one word of condemnation
- he gently and lovingly dealt with her
- he revealed himself as the God who heard and saw all that had taken place in
- he directed her and transformed her through that encounter
- thousands of years later we are still talking about her today
Only God could take a low-born Egyptian servant who had nothing left, and make her a righteous example of his grace. Let him do the same for you.
An absent God? NOTHING could be further from the truth.
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psm.46:1)