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What About When God Seems Absent?

If you’ve grown up Adventist like me, chances are you’ve been taught the great stories of the Bible several times in your life. That’s a good thing. Unfortunately, though, there is a danger to hearing the same stories over and over and over again for many years. For many, myself included, what happens when these stories are “normalized” is a lost depth of character.

Let me give you an example: Joseph is one of the “heroes” of the Old Testament. He is a man of faith who was betrayed by his brothers, sold into slavery, wrongly accused, but God was with him and he would eventually be given second-highest authority in all of Egypt through God’s working. It’s easy to breeze through those details, and depending on the size of your Bible, it’s easy to perceive this story as taking place practically overnight when you can flip through an entire story in 20 minutes.

The true timeline doesn’t always sink in. Pause for a moment: have you really considered the pain, abandonment, and trust issues Joseph may have struggled through during this period of his life? Do you know he was wrongfully imprisoned for seventeen years, not just a few weeks or months? Perhaps now his struggle might relate to you a bit more if you’ve struggled with those emotions, or been wrongfully put in circumstances you did nothing to deserve.

I can imagine there were many nights Joseph sat up, staring at the sky, wondering where God was and if He would act. For Joseph, it may have been difficult to see where God was leading, or how God was even moving. Seventeen years is a long time to wait in silence and pain. Joseph’s story, like many others in Scripture, has been so normalized that we often totally forget the pain and patience Joseph had to experience. We see the beginning on page 10 and we can skip to the end on page 15 where God pulls through.

What happens when this happens? We begin to expect the same of God in shorter time periods. We look at stories like Joseph and say, “You did it for him! Why aren’t you doing it for me? Why am I still hurting?” We do this for issues we may have only been experiencing for a few days, weeks, and months, maybe even a few years, forgetting that Noah had to preach for 120 years before he would see God act and Israel would wait entire generations before they were saved from Egypt.

This leads us to a faith that is not only expectant of God’s action, but that is also dependent on it.  When God doesn’t act for us like we perceive Him acting in Scripture, we get mad, blame God, and either conclude He doesn’t exist, or that if He does, He surely doesn’t love us. We forget that Peter, an apostle who was so faithful his literal shadow could heal people, died a horrific death as a martyr. We forget that the biblical heroes often had to fight through similar emotions to us, and in many cases had to wrestle with situations far more complicated than ours. You aren’t the first to wait on God, and you won’t be the last.

So what do I do? How do I continue believing when it seems like God is absent or inactive?

The first thing is to acknowledge that He isn’t absent or inactive. Even if you can’t see His moving, He is at least with you always. Remember Romans 8:28, that God is working in all things for the good of those who love Him. That work often takes time, and not even the Bible heroes you and I look up to were exempt from that time.


The second thing you and I can do is this: dissociate your faith from your circumstances. Either God exists or He doesn’t. If I choose not to leave my apartment one day, it doesn’t mean I don’t exist anymore. In the same vein, if God chooses not to act the way you want Him to, it doesn’t mean He doesn’t exist.

My favorite quote in all of Scripture about faith comes from the story of Shadrach, Meschach, and A-bumblebee–I mean, Abednego, sorry. When faced with Nebuchadnezzar’s fiery furnace, they looked straight at Nebuchadnezzar and said, “ If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us[c] from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up” (Daniel 3:17-18 ESV).

Did you catch that? “God, I believe you can save me from this, I believe you will save me from this, but even if you don’t…” This is the true statement of faith for every believer. It is an expectant faith hopeful of God’s action that remains steadfast regardless of those actions.

The last thing you can do: wrap everything in prayer and wait. Don’t give up! Psalm 23 reminds us that there is no shortcut around the valley of the shadow of death, but that when we must walk through it, we are not alone. So keep moving forward, confident in the Savior who is with you, fighting on your behalf, and working for your good. Press on, for you are not alone.

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