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Purpose: A biblical treatment of how to deal with the sense of distance from God which negatively affects one’s Christian life often causing one to withdraw from God.
In my experience, believers can go through times where it appears God has withdrawn from them. Though at times there might be great emotion, I am speaking of those times where there is little feeling for or against God. It can be the same with any relationship such as between spouses. The lack of feeling or repulse makes it especially hard to deal with. And though we focus on our relationship with the Lord, this seems to be true with all personal relationships.
Video: Feeling Distant From God
This kind of ‘unresponse’ is very difficult to deal with largely because of the hidden factors which give rise to the relationship. Fortunately, in God’s Word, we discover God patiently works with His people to draw us back to Himself. The Lord Himself declares that He “restores my soul” (Psalm 23:3).
I think it helps us to recognize that there are those who, based on their feelings, reject the existence of God. “If I don’t feel His presence, then He doesn’t exist.” That is a very radical statement built on faulty understandings. The Lord calls the person who says, “There is no God” a fool.
“They are corrupt, they have committed abominable deeds; There is no one who does good” (Psalm 14:1).
This is a path to steer away from. Be careful not to follow the simple worldly explanations stating that one’s lack of feeling proves God does not exist. The evil one is a specialist trying to influence our minds during our very subjective moods. We should always look to God’s Word for accurate judgments of what is real rather than our feelings.
From the outstart, we should recognize that God has clear opinions about why we go through certain situations. Note these two lines from Isaiah 59:1:
“The LORD’S hand is not so short…”
“Neither is His ear so dull that it cannot hear.…”
God is involved in our lives no matter how we might feel. He is able and willing to help us. He hears our prayers even though it seems like nothing gets through to Him. It appears from Isaiah 59:1-2, at least in some situations, that this is because we sin.
“Behold, the LORD’S hand is not so short That it cannot save; Neither is His ear so dull That it cannot hear. 2 But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, And your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He does not hear” (Isaiah 59:1-2).
Our sins form a separation between God and ourselves leaving a gap. From my experience, there appear to be two ways to create this distance. One way is more familiar and visible while the other more subtle. We are more familiar with the defiant sin where we openly defy or resist God. These individuals usually stop going to church and get involved in other affairs. In this article, I focus on handling the subtle class of sins, the ‘doubtful’ sins which, because of doubt, cause us, often unknown to us, to withdraw from the Lord.
These saints feel weak, unsettled, teary, and isolated in their distant relationship with God. I am trying to be very sensitive to those going through such times. The Book of Job certainly alerts me to not equate difficult times with judgment from God. But, it appears that this response is connected to how a person thinks of God. Note that Job did not doubt God but kept his faith firm through the whole ordeal.
Doubtful sin, however, is characterized by giving up on the biblical perspective of God when we give up on God’s good intention towards us. The Lord clearly states that our withdrawal is due to some kind of sin. People sometimes can’t see how worry or depression is a sin. This is due to the fact that they tend to focus on the feelings that they suppose God is judging rather than the lack of one’s faith.
Consider how some believers quietly blame God for the hard situation that they have had to endure. And so, although, they are humbled by their loss, they cannot bring themselves to stop being suspicious of the Lord’s good will. Their sin is not so obvious as stealing something or saying a lie, but they are still living in doubt of the living God, concluding that He is not loving and good. Their sin still holds on, thus, creating a sustained gap between God and themselves. These sins must be repented from and sought for cleansing from Jesus if true healing is to be found.
By stripping God’s goodness from God, we end up thinking of the Lord other than who He is—very good, such an elemental part of the Gospel (i.e., Good News).
“Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded” (James 4:7-8).
In one way, James 4:7-8 says the same things as Isaiah 59:1-2—God is present but sin keeps us from being close to God. The elimination of sin stands as an ongoing obstacle to restoration, but there is something more important here.
At the foundation of this discussion, often going unstated, is the fact that God is there to restore the relationship. We are commanded to “draw near to God” and promised “and He will draw near to us” (4:8). This is an amazing statement of commitment to our lives. We would typically think that God would just desert us, leaving us to squirm in our own misunderstandings, but instead, He patiently works with us to restore our souls.
Trust is the key building factor for any relationship, even with God. There are two essential elements for trust to grow: (1) Belief that the relationship is good to grow, and (2) Mutual sharing/dependence enabling a friendship to develop. It is the first most fundamental statement that I refer to here.
As one sees benefit from the relationship, he/she can extend one life in service and love to another. If that one is somehow disenchanted over the potential of the relationship, he or she withdraws. The relationship might continue on, and yet, because the one has pulled back his or her heart, there is no more excitement and growth as before. The two are not engaged in each other’s lives. Job, you see, though fully dismayed with his trials, was fully engaged with God because he trusted Him during this time of testing.
It is not God who withdraws but ourselves. God states if we take a step towards Him, He will take a step towards us. We might have doubts about God that we don’t dare vocalize and really wonder, even if we know the Bible verses, whether God loves us. We sometimes wrongly assume if God loves us, then this or that would or would not happen. But that makes God a magic genie bidding our wishes, rather than revolving our lives around His good plan that enfolds us in His marvelous redemptive plan. As long doubt exists, that distance between God and ourselves continues.
With All Your Heart
Sometimes, when we have doubts about God, they stay below the surface. Often physical and emotional symptoms appear along with the spiritual downcast, but we are not very clear as to what the underlying problem is. Here is an exercise.
The Scriptures repeatedly call us not only to seek the Lord but to do it with all our hearts.
“But from there you will seek the LORD your God, and you will find Him if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul” (Deut 4:29).
“How blessed are those who observe His testimonies, who seek Him with all their heart” (Ps 119:2).
“And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart” (Jer 29:13).
The “all your heart” calls attention to the different corners of our hearts where we might have set up reservations about fully trusting God. He does not want 80 or 90% of our hearts’ devotion but all of it. If we look carefully enough, these obstacles or gap-stoppers often will appear. Each of them points to some experience when we withdrew part of our heart, leaving a less than whole devotion to the Lord. This is why we find ourselves attending church, reading the Bible, praying and yet have lingering doubt in our hearts.
Start seeking the Lord. “Oh, Lord, I want you and all you have for my life.” Even as we start praying this way, our hesitancy on trusting God on this or that matter might come to our mind. We don’t really want to seek Him. Why? That is the culprit that needs to be isolated and repented from.
Despair and Hope
Please don’t misunderstand the above statements to conclude that your emotions are not real. Your emotions are genuine just as your spiritual dysfunctions provides glimpses into your relationship with God. Consider David’s words:
“Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him, The help of my countenance, and my God” (Ps 42:11, Ps 42:5, 43:5).
Note how, though he could be true to his feelings, he was also being true with his life experiences and the scriptures. He knows God is good and yet his heart draws back. There are those tragedies, ongoing tugs on our hearts, etc., which the evil one uses to have us conclude that God is not really caring about our lives.
Isolate your point of despair, dejection, distrust, depression, discouragement as much as possible. Note how the Psalmist was true with observing his soul’s despair. Even with our advice, this process might take a while, but we can be confident we are on the right track. Be patient, insistent, and trusting. God is seeking to restore our souls.
Each believer needs to affirm that any good we have from the Lord is due to His abounding grace. It is undeserved. If for some reason, He withdraws that blessing, maybe our health, a companion’s death, etc., then we need to use our faith trust Him, no matter how little it is. We might not see His blessing in our lives, but do not like Job’s wife, get bitter and curse God. Jesus trusted the Father even though the Father’s plan required Him to painfully give up His life on the cross.
If we have withdrawn our affection and feel dull and bored in our relationship with God, it is probably because we have withdrawn our full trust and delight in Him. And like David, we see the conflict between where we are and where we should be.
Extreme withdrawal from God is usually exacerbated by combining our doubts with our fears, leaving us in Satan’s trap, having us believe God doesn’t care for us and does not seek our well-being.
Here are some simple reminder points:
• Isolate your point of despair, discouragement, etc. as much as possible
• Objectively observe one’s despair
• Be alert to one’s feelings and real life issues
• Place confidence in God’s goodness (e.g., Job)
• Trust Him even in barren times (Ps 23:4 valley)
• Contrast where we are and where we should be
God’s Love Full Blossom
Hopefully, there will be one or more breakthroughs enabling the believer to retrieve his or her faith. Somehow, it was lost when wrong conclusions collided with the truths of the scripture. The feeling was trusted more than truth, and one’s responses followed one’s feelings and fears. David clearly portrays where trust leads us.
“Bless the LORD, O my soul; And all that is within me, bless His holy name.
Bless the LORD, O my soul, And forget none of His benefits” (Psalm 103:1-2).
Here are some love thoughts, reminding us of God’s constant love seeking our recovery.
• God always loves us. This love never changes even when we withdraw our heart’s trust from Him. His love is built on His goodness.
• The Lord helps us rebuild our trust in Him. He will restore our souls.
• Persistently seek out any doubts found in one’s heart, isolating them and replace them with the truth.
• Make a thorough repentance for one’s doubts but end in praise, thanks, and expression of one’s affection for the Lord.
• Strengthen your trust in the Lord by reviewing His extreme grace where you are able to delight in your relationship with the Lord.
“Bless the LORD, all you works of His, In all places of His dominion; Bless the LORD, O my soul!” (Ps 103:22)
“Bless the LORD, O my soul! O LORD my God, Thou art very great; Thou art clothed with splendor and majesty” (Ps 104:1).
“Let sinners be consumed from the earth, And let the wicked be no more. Bless the LORD, O my soul. Praise the LORD!” (Ps 104:35).
As much as we might suspect the Lord’s motives or fear His ways towards us, we must, on the basis of the truth, go forward rejecting all falsehood and replace our lack of confidence with the truth about His trustworthiness. Below are some points highlighting key points to the process. Don’t worry about the time it takes to be restored, but take confidence in diligently following these points—he or she is going in the right direction and need not fear.
Feelings, relationship, and restoration are sensitive points because sometimes we have been greatly hurt. In order to get through that, we need to persistently give more of our heart to Him until He has our whole heart. We must thoroughly delight in Him until He is our greatest joy. Our Christian lives, in fact, admit that we all are somewhere on this path of restoration, displacing falsehoods which rob us of our full delight in the great God of grace.
• Follow God’s restoring process
• Accept the time it takes—enjoy His patience
• Don’t forget to thank Him for progress
• Keep in your mind your goal
• Like target practice: hit the doubts
• Seek His refreshing hand in your life
• Respond to His abounding grace
• Seek the Lord “with all your heart”
• Delight in Him with “all your soul”