Question #12: Does God seem far away?
Do you picture God as distant or uncaring? Are you suspicious of His motives? Do you think of Him as too indifferent, apathetic, or disinterested to concern Himself with the things that matter to you?
When I was 17, I spent a week of summer break at camp with my church youth group. True to tradition, there was a campfire on Friday night, where we were given opportunity to recommit the following year to God. I was terribly conflicted.
After the camp fire, rather than going back to my cabin, I asked the speaker–Pastor Ken Rudolph, if we could talk.
Pastor Rudolph led me to a quiet place by the lake, and I tried to explain the conflicting emotions I was experiencing. I was a Christian. I still believed in Jesus. I didn’t want to leave the Church. But I also did not want to live my life for God.
The idea of giving up my whole life–or at least the coming year–was intolerable. It was my senior year, and more than anything else, I wanted to fit in at school. I wanted to be well-liked. I wanted to be included. If I followed Jesus, I was quite sure I would be excluded, and that thought filled my heart with dread.
Pastor Rudolph encouraged me. He said that he thought God wanted to do big, exciting things with my life. He could see how God might want to use me for His kingdom, but he also knew that God would not make the decision for me. would have to make it myself. He pressed me to make a decision by breakfast and let him know. Was I going to live my senior year for God, or for myself?
With My Ears Plugged
The next morning, I avoided eye contact with Pastor Rudolph. I avoided his table at breakfast. The bus pulled out, and I waved at Pastor Rudolph, knowing that I hadn’t answered his question out loud, but I had made my choice.
I wanted my senior year for myself. I would follow God afterward.
I spent that year with my ears plugged to the things of the Lord. I went to church, but I didn’t listen. I did not open my Bible. I did not pray. God seemed very far away and irrelevant to my life. I didn’t feel as though I needed Him. And I didn’t want Him messing up my plans.
I had always assumed that this was the way to be happy. Always before I had thought of myself as being “held back” from enjoying life, because I was trying to do what God wanted. But now, I was choosing based on what I wanted!
I didn’t go crazy. I’m not sure if anyone even noticed. It was an internal thing. I had set myself free from the burden of trying to please God. Yet surprisingly, this didn’t turn out to be the path to eternal joy. Rather than being happy and at peace, I was actually really angry.
I fumed at my parents and slammed lots of doors. I blew up at my little sister. I was angry at the whole world. Once, a random woman followed me home because in my anger, I had been driving recklessly. She stood in my driveway and lectured me about potential consequences, but I just hopped in the car, and drove away in even more anger.
I’ve talked before (and throughout Control Girl) about the correlation I see between control and anger. I didn’t see this, as a teenage girl, of course, but looking back I see that my anger stemmed from not being able to control the universe.
I couldn’t make certain peer groups invite me in. I couldn’t make a certain boy like me back. I couldn’t make the whole world bend to respond the way I wanted. No matter what I did to adapt or make myself more likeable, I was not ultimately in control of how things played out, and this realization made me mad.
A Distant God
If you had asked me about God during this time, I probably would have said that God seemed distant. I didn’t feel like God particularly cared about me. He certainly wasn’t giving me the things I wanted. But here’s what I failed to see: I was the one who had pulled away from God and created the distance between us; not the other way around.
It’s pretty logical that God would seem distant if we’re pulling away from Him, right? But we rarely think of it as our fault. We sulk, cry, pout, and shake our fist at heaven, saying, “Are you even there, God? Do you even care?”
Yet if we’re not opening God’s Word, which is the primary way He speaks to us, how can we expect to hear God’s voice or sense His presence? If we’re not on our knees in prayer, begging Him to reveal Himself, how can we expect to hear His response to our pleas? We’re like the woman who has moved out, changed her cell phone number, and gotten a restraining order against her husband, yet says, “Our failed marriage is all his fault. He’s just so distant and uncaring!”
Thankfully, our God is longsuffering and patient with us. Lamentations 3:23-24 says, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” No matter how long we’ve been hard hearted, or how far we’ve wandered, our God is always ready to welcome us back. James 4:8 says, “ Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.”
Seeking God is how we find Him. Taking control is how we ignore Him.
Thankfully, I was miserable trying to manage my life without God. During my freshman year of college, I began to do as James 4:8 says by confessing my sin and drawing near to God. I’ve written here about a moment when God leaned down low from heaven with undeniably providential timing, just to show a college freshman that He cared and He wanted me back.
Friends, if we believe that God doesn’t care or that He isn’t close, there’s no way we’ll give Him control. Why would we take a leap of faith, if we’re not convinced God is there to catch us? Why would we give Him the wheel, if we don’t believe that He will lead us somewhere good? Unless we believe that God is in control, and that this is good news for us, we won’t give Him the reins. Instead, we’ll keep them clutched in our own little Control Girl hands, convinced that it’s all up to us.
I don’t know what you’re going through today. You might be experiencing something that makes you say, “God, where are you? Do you even care?” But I beg you to consider that God has already answered those questions in His word. He says that yes, He cares!
“…casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” I Peter 4:7
And He says that yes, He is near!
“The Lord is near to all who call on him; to all who call on Him in truth.” Psalm 148:18
In closing, let me share a quote from page 32 of Control Girl:
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When I put God in charge of my Happy Ending, I concede what is true. He’s in control, and I am not.
I do have choices, but every contingency in my life is attached to an ending held firmly in God’s grasp. I’m not sure how this all works, but because God is kind and wise, this is good news. He is weaving together an ending far happier than anything I could construct.
If the ending were in my hands, I’d be in constant hysterics, trying to manage loose threads and snags. I’d surely be a frantic, obsessive Control Girl. But knowing that the last page of my story is settled gives me peace, security, and hope for the journey. If I start with the secure ending, then flip backward, it’s easier to give God control of the things that concern me today.
Even when my happiness seems to be unraveling, I am not undone, because I know that nothing has slipped from God’s hands. In all things, I can say with confidence, “Not my will buy yours be done.”
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Join me for a study of seven Control Girls of the Bible, who struggled with control in the same way we do: they pushed for their own agendas, tried to make everything turn out according to their plans, and made everybody miserable in the process. By comparing their stories with ours, we learn—in hundreds of ways and examples—that God is in control and we aren’t. And He invites us to live like it’s true.