The Absent God

Posted on August 27th, 2008 by Cam.
Categories: Let's talk.

So back to the prayer where I was asking God to show up while I was away. Before I left home, I also took down one of my favourite books, if not my favourite, Reaching Out by Henri Nouwen. I was just reading chunks here and there really and came across talking about the absent God.

“In Prayer, God’s presence is never separated from his absence, and God’s absence is never separated from his presence. His presence is so beyond the human experience of being together that it is quite easily perceived as absence. His absence, on the other hand, is often so deeply felt that it leads to a new sense of his presence”

There are so many references throughout the bible, people begging God to ‘show up’ in ways that are tangible and meet their expectations of meeting together. It is easy to see why people get fed up with God not ‘being present’ when we expect him to be present the way we are use to people being present. Nouwen goes on:

“When God himself in his humanity became part of our most painful experience of God’s absence, he became most present to us. It is into this mystery that we enter when we pray… Although at exceptional moments we may be overwhelmed by a deep sense of God’s presence in the centre of our solitude…, more often than not we are left with the painful sense of emptiness and can only experience God as the absent God…The mystery of God’s presence, therefore, can be touched only by a deep awareness of his absence. It is in the centre of our longing for the absent God that we discover his footprints…”

Now I can understand that this may sound like an explanation by some theologian to cover for God not showing up, like parents who make up excuses to explain why Santa couldn’t hang around and chat Christmas Eve. But in the context of the rest of the book, in the context of our limited expectations, it does begin to make a little sense. It is comforting for me knowing that the absent God is not just my God, but he has seemed absent at times to many.

I did not really know how I wanted God to be present to me over the week either. Was I expecting he would make me a cup of tea while camping or spell my name out in the clouds? It would have freaked me out even more than Bigfoot if he had appeared as a being incarnate able to talk face to face. In many ways, I think by matching up with my expectation of how I thought I wanted him to be present would have not matched up with who he is and who I ultimately want him to remain – with that distinctive attractiveness of powerful mystery. The cloud thing would be cool though.

So how did God show up for me while away? Well, I think I came to some conclusions about the direction of my life that I didn’t want to come to, and I believe God was in that. Instead of trying to work some things out for myself I know that I need to have some serious changing going on, or transformation if you like. The concept of God changing someone can be underrated or even disregarded sometimes. But without it, I can promise you that there are parts of my life I will not survive, all sickness aside.

There is an awareness of urgency in my life at the moment, and it wasn’t really there before diagnosis. I was traveling with reasonable contentment before – you know, work, play, socialize, yada, yada. But there are parts of your personality that can die off when they don’t get dealt with, when they don’t get developed, when they don’t get fed. If I do have limited time, I want to experience this life to the extreme. If I do have limited time, it makes me no different from anyone anyway. I believe we were created for relationship, so that is where I want to experience my extreme. Since most extreme sports will be out for me for some time, I have to get my kicks somewhere.

I hope that this change takes place and I hope that I experience this depth in relationships. A deeper understanding of God will come through it, and that is where his presence counts for me at the moment.


A familiar hometown scene.



Comment on August 28th, 2008.

Mmm, good thinking brother. It has also been a long held belief of mine that God’s ‘absence’ is sometimes a prelude to his magnificent presence. Kinda like the “ssshhhh……SSHHHH…sh…shhhh” as the lights darken before a theatrical performance. The perceived silence and absence is part of his arrival. I think the absence is also about us becoming free from distractions and sitting still to look in the right direction.

How many more of those fantastic fire photos do you have up your sleeve? LOVE ‘EM.


Comment on August 28th, 2008.

Ooo I may have a few. You know how I like fire.

little rosemary

Comment on August 30th, 2008.

…just like most of our family

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