The Intimate, Faraway God


You had to be living under a rock to miss the brouhaha over Mother Teresa’s confessionary book detailing the profound absence of the presence of God in her life. Not only did the secular media sources jump all over that news, but so did the Godblogosphere.

While I apologize for being late to this news story due to situations here at home, I feel the need to comment nonetheless. Perhaps in the wake of this story’s looming obsolescence (as is common in today’s frenetic media environment) people have had a chance to ponder it a bit more—or forget it completely. No matter the case, I hope to add grist to the mill or refresh your memory.

You can read the original Time article here.

I appreciate Mother Teresa’s work in India to the extent that she cared for the dying. Few of us would be so dedicated in such a hellhole as the one she ministered in. In that regard, she’s a far better person than I am.

On the other hand, no evidence exists that she told dying, hell-bound people how to be born again in Jesus Christ. To have ephemeral earthly comfort without eternal spiritual comfort is no comfort at all.

So in the end, I have strongly mixed feelings about Mother Teresa.

If you cruise the Christian blogosphere, you’ll find all sorts of opinions about the state of her soul. Some would damn all Catholics to hell, saying Teresa’s crisis of faith was due to a complete lack of saving grace; she didn’t feel Christ’s presence because she wasn’t born again. Others sympathetic to the Catholic cause are more lenient, claiming she partook of Christ’s sufferings by enduring an incredibly long, God-ordained “dark night of the soul.”

I’ll let readers decide where they stand on that continuum. Seeing as Teresa ministered in one of the bleakest spots on the planet, the slums of Calcutta, I can see how she might tend toward that dark night. Still, for the purposes of this post, I want to make the issue less about Teresa and more about you and me.

The longer I’m a Christian, the more people I encounter who put on a brave face concerning their own encounters with Christ. If I had to choose a side, I would say that I know far more Christians who would confess in secret that they never experience the feeling of God’s presence in their lives. In that way, they understand what Mother Teresa endured because they feel the same disconnection. That experience nags at them daily.

Can we be honest here? For every one Christian who claims an intimate, uniquely personal encounter with the person of Jesus Christ, I suspect there’s ten who have not.

That’s not a figure we Christians like to trumpet. I think it’s the dirty secret we don’t wish to discuss–ever. Why? Because it calls one’s salvation into question, at least by the standard that some Christians use.

When we talk about having a “personal relationship with Christ,” how many people can claim that this relationship resembles in every way (and better) the kind of relationship one has with a spouse?

To some people, to even ask that question is nuts. “Of course a person doesn’t have a relationship with God, a spiritual being, in the same way as a flesh and blood human being,” some would say. Others would argue, “Anyone who doesn’t have that kind of kind of relationship isn’t really filled with the Spirit and may not be a Christian at all!” Still others would say, “The truth lies somewhere in-between.”

I’ve had some interesting conversations with men of late. More than once I’ve heard them say that God responds to their wives’ prayers in a way that they themselves do not experience. One even went so far as to say that when something he’s been praying for happens in his favor, he has to check to see if his wife was praying the same thing. If she wasn’t, then he can rest knowing that God answered him alone. A dry weary land without waterOtherwise, he fears that his prayers go unheard if they don’t overlap his wife’s. (I may unpack that fear in a later post.)

If I polled men here, I would suspect that some of them are squirming in their seats over hearing this revelation.

Given this, I suspect that a lot of the Godblogosphere’s most vocal proponents of the Gospel harbor a real dryness on the inside for that voice of God they never seem to hear. And given how readily some talk and talk about the little two-sided chats they have with God every day, you won’t hear those dry folks fessing up.

In the case of Mother Teresa (or those of you out there who share her lot), I can say without hesitation that no matter what we might say about her spiritual state, she did one thing right: she pressed on.

One of my favorite passages in Scripture puts it this way:

“Come, let us return to the LORD; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him. Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD; his going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth.”
—Hosea 6:1-3

Most of us know the last sentence, v. 3. I like the other two as well, for they are Messianic prophecies that also apply to us Christians. Sometimes it takes two days out of three before God revives us. In a life of 80 years, that may be a long time to be dry. But His promise is sure if we press on, isn’t it?

I know plenty of atheists who gloated over Mother Teresa’s dryness. “See, see!” they shouted. “If Mother Teresa can’t touch God, there’s no one’s up there in heaven.”

But the thing about atheists is they know nothing about pressing on. They gave up before the second day, before the rains came.

I know a little about the rains. We’re officially at 19″ of rain for the year in my part of Ohio. The normal? Oh, about 30″. Now combine that with the hottest August on record around here, with five days over 100. Folks, it doesn’t get drier than that. My property looks like a moonscape with all the craters of dead, scorched grass. But as someone who fancies himself a farmer, I don’t give up. Because I know some day the rains will come. Maybe not tomorrow or the day after that, but some day.

So we press on.

As the Scriptures say:

I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently find me.
—Proverbs 8:17

I believe that. I hope everyone reading this does.

I don’t know about Mother Teresa. I know about me, and I’m not always a fountain of refreshment. Still, the faraway God comes in intimate times and I find Him. Sometimes I find Him when I’m not pressing on. And sometimes I don’t find Him when I am. But He’s still there, and I take comfort in that knowledge.

I pray that you’re finding Him. If you’re not, know that you’re not alone. So don’t be discouraged; press on. If you simply can’t press on by yourself, enlist someone to press on with you. And don’t be surprised if you see in the one who helps you the very person of God.

Be blessed. And bless others.

19 thoughts on “The Intimate, Faraway God

  1. Thank you. I needed that. I’ve heard him, just seems to be kind of arid as of late. I just told a friend, I need a place that I can trust where I can just soak in the spirit for a while. My church isn’t safe for me anymore, and I honestly don’t know if I can bring myself to sit through 20 more dry churches. I’ve felt the anointing so thick you can’t move, and I crave that with every pore of my being…

    Oh Lord bring the rain!!!

    • Ronni,

      I think that all of us can find rain in our churches if we’re rainmakers.

      I will say that I believe it gets harder as churches become mega-sized. I’ve always felt that around 500 people is a great size for a church. Too few and there seems to be little traction for service and community. Too many and you get lost in the mix—and often, so does the Spirit.

    • Lincoln,

      Sorry! 🙁

      I’ve been off the Web for days and I still could not escape this story. The secular press was all over it, too. I just ran through my Bloglines list and nearly every blog had a comment on it.

      Oh well.

      Again, sorry.

  2. I once saw Richard Roberts on a local Christian program profess to be getting revelations from God that he was revealing to the camera. At one point in the “conversation”, he told God to wait. What arrogance. To profess to hear God so freely and then to put him “on hold”, smacks of blasphemy. How is that supposed to edify people who long to hear God’s voice?

    There are times, especially of late, where I would be satisfied to hear just one word. God spoke the universe into existence. Why won’t he speak one audible word into our situation?

    If we don’t hear from God, whether it be audibly, in our spirit, from His word or though others, is it just an extreme test of our faith?

    Could it be that we put ourselves in situations where we don’t have the capability to hear from God? Unconfessed and repeated sin separates us. Spiritual apathy separates us. I also believe that who we fellowship with separates, as was pointed out by Ronni and yourself.

    • Don,

      Some would argue that the Bible provides all the answers we need. But I think that each person’s situation is unique enough that we sometimes need the Lord to be near us in a special way during special times that call for special wisdom. It saddens me that many Christians never experience such a nearness, ever.

      As for hearing God, I believe the entire way we live in 21st century America prevents us from hearing God. Are we willing to change to fix that? Doesn’t seem like it, does it?

  3. marie

    I was just commenting to my husband the other day that it seemed that when my faith was not as strong as it is now, God made Himself known to me more. There were several different times He gave me a word that greatly increased my faith in Him. However, lately, I feel that as Don said, it is “an extreme test of my faith” that I don’t hear from God.

    I can’t help but believe it is a preparation time. The testing of our faith is preparing us for harder times ahead when our faith may be all we have to stand on. Right now we have crutches – money, things, comfort. Do we really love God? Do we REALLY love God? Do we really LOVE God?

    May we be found loving Him through it all. Steadfast. Persevering. Determined. Believing.

      • marie

        I hope what I said did not sound flippant! My not hearing from God could just as well be an indication that I am not listening very well!

        My husband and I have been through many a trial as well. He has lost two children, he almost died in 2003-04 from head and neck cancer (cancer free now!), he suffers with severe psoriatic arthritis (similar to rhumatoid), I was diagnosed last year with renal-cell cancer of the kidney (cancer free now!), a beloved nephew was sentenced to 13 years in prison last year for something he didn’t do….I could go on and on.

        Through it all, He has been with us. He has given the strength to go on when we wanted to give up. He has provided for us through friends and family when our bank account had bottomed out. He has loved on us through those close to us who know our trials. The Body of Christ has demonstrated His great love and faithfulness through many ways, some we will probably never know about.

        He is there. He is always there! Thanks be to God for His thoughfulness toward us.

        Dan, I do pray that a time of peace and refreshing will come to you and your family. I pray that His healing rain will fall on you and soak you with His joy and strength and deposit His faith in you as sustenance to carry you through. I pray that He will prosper you in spirit, mind and body!

        • BOB

          I’m happy to see your upbeat outlook and terribly sorry for the ordeals. This is a strange double edge sword to be thankful for crises that drives us closer to Him but at the same time saying, “You can quit testing me now,Lord; I’ve learned my lessons.”

          Instead going on and on, philosophizing and pontificating, can give you this funny quote I saw posted in a small town deli?

          It read:
          “This is not the life I ordered!”

  4. David Riggins

    There is a song written by Julie Gold called “From a distance” which has a line “God is watching us from a distance” and every time I hear it sung I want to smack the radio and say “He’s right here!

    But I digress…

    The long dark tea-time of the soul is an issue that could only be understood by people who, for whatever reason, know the difference between the nearness of God, and His seeming distance. I am convinced that for most Christians, it is not so much an issue of dryness, but a lack of experience that would allow for comparison. We simply do not know God well enough to know if He is near or far. For most, God is an aquaintance who is not missed in His silences.

    • David,

      A very astute observation about distinguishing nearness and farness. I completely agree. In many ways I think our generation got ripped off because the generation before us didn’t pass that wisdom down. I think it explains the dearth of discernment we see in all parts of the Church today.

      • David Riggins

        While our church ponders the process of getting a new pastor, there is much handwringing about what kind of ‘show’ we want to put on in order to attract people. The elders are coming up with all kinds of ideas about classes that would attract the various kinds of people that we need to grow as a body. I’ve made myself unpopular by bouncing the idea that we are more concerned about attracting people with the right kind of “cultural context” that we are not encouraging growth and maturity in individuals.

        How can people grow near to God with the kind of noise coming out of churches? How can we hear His voice with the christian cacophany existing today? It’s no wonder we lose whole generations when we try to pander to their wants and desires without ever telling them about God and letting them get to know Him. Like Mother Teresa in Calcutta, we are feeding physical needs, but are we ministering to the soul?

        • David,

          I once interviewed for a pastoral position at a large, influential church. The rest of the pastoral staff was not included in the interview, only the search committee. When the committee chair asked me how I defined “discipleship,” I gave a long and impassioned answer—only to be met with stony silence after I said the one thing I believed it absolutely was not: more people in the pews.

          When the very first question I got from the search committee was an accusatory “What do you mean it’s not more people in the pews?” I knew I was hosed. Worse, I knew the rest of the pastoral staff was hosed because they didn’t believe it was about numbers, either. They knew better. But the search committee didn’t. I knew then that the church was doomed because the pastoral staff had not been able to communicate their vision to the average Joe and Jane in the seats.

          Needless to say, I didn’t get a second interview.

  5. I’m convinced most people don’t hear from God because they really don’t want to listen to what He has to say. They “dissemble themselves in their hearts” much like the people did with Jeremiah, when they asked for a word from the Lord, and then when they got it, they accused Jeremiah of being a false prophet and did what they wanted anyway. If you’re not going to both listen and obey His voice, then what’s the point?

    “Today, if ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts….”

  6. Wow, encouraging post — both of those passages (Hosea 6:1-3, Proverbs 8:17) are quite refreshing for me right now †“ THANKS!!!

    On a side note:

    “More than once I’ve heard them say that God responds to their wives’ prayers in a way that they themselves do not experience. One even went so far as to say that when something he’s been praying for happens in his favor, he has to check to see if his wife was praying the same thing. If she wasn’t, then he can rest knowing that God answered him alone. Otherwise, he fears that his prayers go unheard if they don’t overlap his wife’s.

    If a husband does not feel like his prayers are being answered then a reflection on 1 Peter 3:7 might be a good starting place. I’m not implying this is a correlation to unanswered prayer, just a good starting place. Maybe love displayed as sacrifice to our wives is important?

  7. Steven S

    The timing of this is interesting. I am someone who normally does experience a close, intimate relationship with God. I know what it is like to sense both His presence and His leading in my life.

    However, the previous two weeks or so has been a very dry time for me. I prayed, worshiped and served; but had no sense of God presence or any direct guidance from Him. I spent some time taking an inventory †“ is there something God has asked me to do that I have not done? Is there some sin in my life that God has pointed out to me and I have not confessed/acknowledged? There was nothing I could point to that would account for the change, so I just went about my business, doing what I knew to do.

    Then this passed Sunday, as we were worshiping God in song, I (finally?) got a sense of God saying to me “Remember, I am just as close when you can not feel me as when you can. Your faith should not be in your feelings; but in my character.”

  8. francisco

    “I don’t know about Mother Teresa. I know about me, and I’m not always a fountain of refreshment”

    As far me I would repeat the words of John Newton: “I only know that I am a great sinner and Jesus Christ is a great Savior” and another quote that knocked my socks off: “There is more mercy in Christ than sin in us”

    Yes, press on. Pray, pray, pray. (I’m preaching to myself here too)

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