O Lord, why do you stand so far away? Why do you hide when I am in trouble? (NLT)
I love the Psalms because of their raw honesty. The Psalmist will regularly praise God and thank him for his presence and help. Then again, he will also wonder out loud whether God is really there at all. He both rejoices in his presence and laments his apparent absence.
This is very much like our life of faith. We can testify to times of great healing and comfort and yet also admit that we sometimes figure our prayers just bounce off the ceiling. The Psalms remind us we are not unique in this experience.
God is never absent in the sense of withdrawing from his world and taking a break. Or in the sense of being sick and tired of our constant requests and ignoring us. He is no will of the wisp who appears and disappears according to his whim. The problem is not with him but with us. We cannot always discern his presence, we cannot always identify his promptings, we cannot always grasp the responses he gives to our prayers.
And God does not despise us for this very human limitation. He knows our frailty, our spiritual blindness and deafness. He accepts the lament of those like the Psalmist who reckon he has taken leave of absence. He understands our misunderstanding.
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In times of testing and crisis, we can both cry out to God wondering where he is and at the same time deep down acknowledge he hasn’t deserted us. He is apparently absent, but actually present.