I’ve been reading Eugene Peterson’s book, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, very slowly this Fall. The other day I came across a line that has been on my heart and mind ever since. He writes,
“The story in which God does his saving work arises among a people whose primary experience of God is his absence.” -Eugene Peterson
The quote is about the Hebrew people who were enslaved in Egypt for 430 years before the Exodus. While enslaved, they cried out to God for God to intervene for 430 years. That is a long time. Where was God during this time? Did God hear their prayers and their cries for mercy?
I’m going to hazard a guess that most of us have experienced what we might call the absence of God in our lives. The times when we go through trials and the painful parts of life and we wonder where God is; whether God hears our cries; and whether God cares about what we are going through. Peterson goes on to suggest that this absence, though painful, is a normal part of the salvation story contained in the Scriptures- and especially the book of Psalms. Peterson list many Psalms, Ps. 22:1-2, 10:1, 13:1, 42:9, 74:1, 89:46, just to name a few, which speak of the absence of God. Have you ever felt those emotions? Uttered those words?
There have been times in my life where I have cried out to God, wondering where God was in the midst of a trial or personal pain. God’s absence in those moments is not something we like or long for, but they are a reality. I have faith that God never leaves us- but there are times, like the Exodus, when God is quiet. It is in these times that our faith is tested by fire. Do we really have faith that God is present even when we can’t hear, feel, or see God? Even when we suffer? Even when relationships fail? It is in these times where it is possible that our faith can flourish as we trust God’s plan and God’s timing in our lives. It’s not easy. It’s not fun. But we have hope that one day God will bring salvation to His people. Peterson again writes,
“But given our consumerist tendencies to shop for a god or goddess who will cater to our appetites for coziness and good feelings, they [periods of God's absence] are necessary. Necessary to keep us alert and attentive to the mystery of God whose “ways are past finding out.” Necessary to prevent us from reducing God Almighty to god-at-my-beck-and-call. Necessary to place disciplined constraints on our collective (especially North American) “spiritual sweet tooth.” Necessary to enlarge our readiness for salvation beyond our carefully fenced in and devoutly tended backyard spirituality gardens.”
We are in the season of Advent- a season set aside where we wait on God. A season to build our expectation of Jesus’ return where he will restore Creation and sin and death will be no more. What is evident is that we wait. We long for the day of redemption. The day of restoration. We have hope, that even in a world full of sin and the effects of sin that God will again save His people through the gift of love and grace that is Jesus. As we wait our anticipation should built and we should get ready for salvation from God.
The holidays can be a difficult time for many; and even a time where we feel like God is absent. Don’t lose hope. Don’t lose your faith. God may be quiet, but God is present in our lives and moving us towards the day when we will be restored. O come, o come, Emmanuel!