The Presence of God
By The Revd Dr Peter Sanlon
There are times when a pilgrim feels God is distant – the Psalmist writes of seasons of God’s apparent absence due to suffering, turmoil, depression, fear, sin and opposition. When for any reason God seems distant from us, we should search our hearts and actions to see if any of the blame lies with us, and pray ‘Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.’ (Ps. 51:11) This seeking of the Lord and desire for His presence is part of the normal spiritual dynamic of a pilgrim.
We tend to get very upset at sensing the loss of God’s presence in changed or extreme circumstances. However perhaps we should be more worried at the common problem of pilgrims settling into a situation where they as a general condition, do not feel any personal genuine experience of God’s presence. Truths from the Bible can be affirmed at an intellectual level; church is attended; error can be corrected and superficial virtue practised – but God is not felt to be present and not overly missed. That is a serious problem for any pilgrim.
When we fall into a routine pattern of not feeling we need to sense and know God is near – then we should recognise an urgent need to ‘return to the Lord’ (Zech. 1:3).
Jesus warned the religious leaders of his day that there is a difference between knowing the continue to the Bible and actually coming to Him. ‘You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life … yet you refuse to come to me.’ (Jn. 6:39-40) God is actively seeking for people who will ‘worship him in Spirit and Truth’ (Jn. 4:23). The question is – when we feel God is distant from us, will we respond to his searching for us? Will we plead with God to draw near us and make Himself known to us?
It is difficult with all the pressures of daily life, but for some of us it may be helpful to set aside half a day or longer to turn off digital devices, meditate on scripture and give significant time to asking God to be present and near. As we journey through a world with much sadness and suffering, we all need to know God’s presence with us. ‘Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.’ (James 4:8)
Rev. Dr. Peter Sanlon is rector of Emmanuel Anglican Church, Tunbridge Wells: www.emmanuelanglican.uk