What are the best things to do when you feel far from God, besides praying and reading the Bible? I’ve been going to church my whole life, but it was three years ago when I actually asked God to be my personal savior. I used to be on fire for God—but lately, within this past year, I don’t really feel him. For some reason, I’ve sort of started to feel as if what the Bible is saying is confusing me.
I’ve prayed about it, and talked to trusted Christian friends; they say it’s normal for Christians to feel far from God from time to time. It truly amazes me how some people seem to be so passionate for God; I don’t know how they do it. I wish I could feel that way. But instead I feel more spiritually numb.
Is there a difference between believing in something, and just admiring the idea of believing in something? I do love God—but for a bit I have wondered if I actually do love him, or if I just love the idea of loving him.
More than anything, I don’t want to have any doubts about him; I want to become stronger in my faith. I don’t want to just survive—I want to actually live and truly embrace and enjoy the life God has blessed with me. I’m trying to reach out to him; but I still feel like I can’t quite reach him.
By the way, I’ve read your articles on your blog and they all inspire me. I learned some valuable, significant things that I haven’t known before. Keep up the good work!
Thanks for the kind words! I appreciate that.
So here’s the thing. In the whole of the religious experience, emotion certainly has its place—as we see, for instance, in Bernini’s iconic and downright refreshingly ribald masterpiece, The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa:
So there we have Teresa, either experiencing some seriously overpowering emotions, or suffering from a sinus attack. Only Bernini knows for sure.
But the point is that emotions pass. That doesn’t mean emotions aren’t signficant, or anything to be ignored. Just the opposite is true: emotions—and especially powerful and/or persistent emotions—are the most dependable source we have for directing us towards important things in our lives that need our attention. (For a bit more on this, please see my When Bad Emotions Happen to Good Christians.)
What’s also true about the religious life, though, is that in a very important sense emotions have squat to do with it.
I believe in God. I believe that God is real, and everywhere informing and sustaining our lives in ways we can’t begin to fathom. Well, to me, that’s just a fact. It’s almost boring it’s so … fait accompli. It’s got as much to do with any emotions on my part as does the fact that one year lasts 365 days. That’s just … life. That’s the system we’re in.
So, relative to the relationship between emotions and the belief in God, the question is: Where does God stop, and my personal emotions begin? In other words, where am I responsible for my emotions, and where is God responsible for them? Which are caused by me, and which by God?
Which of my emotions, in other words, are the result of me trying to tell myself something about God, and which are the result of God trying to tell me something about himself?
How do I know if I’m only echoing my own emotions back to myself, or if it really is God trying to tell me something?
What great questions! I’m glad I asked them!
And I think that’s what you’re asking, too. You’re saying, “What happened to my emotions about God? I used to be so on fire about God. Now I’m … barely smoldering!”
My vote is that you’re just confusing your own emotions with facts: you’re confusing how you feel about God, with what you know to be a fact about God. You know that God exists, but that knowledge isn’t engendering in you the kind of emotions you want or expect it to—and that lack of responsive emotions on your part is making you question whether or not God really does, in fact, exist.
Your brain is telling you that maybe your heart has a point: that maybe nobody really is home up there.
What I hear you actually saying, though, is that, three years into it, your relationship with God has matured. A person positively enthralled with passionate over their all-consuming relationship with Jesus Christ is 99.999% guaranteed to be immature—on that issue, anyway. That’s simply an immature response to the divine. It’s wonderful, and real for that person, and nothing in and of itself at all problematic or worthy of disdain or dismissal. But it is immature.
Think of it this way: the passion you feel in a new romance isn’t the same passion you feel after being married for three years. What you feel about a committed relationship you’re in three years down the road isn’t inferior to the passion you felt back when that relationship was new; it’s not a degraded version of the emotions you used to feel. It’s just an entirely different set of emotions. It’s more subtle. It’s more complex, more nuanced. It’s more mature.
It sounds to me like you’re simply maturing in your relationship with God. I don’t think you’ve grown further from God; I think you’ve grown closer. But that means that God now feels more like you to you, and that can be kind of … not as exciting as when God was for you all … new and over there.
Hang in there. I think that if you basically shed your old paradigm about how God is supposed to make you feel all the time—if in that pretty limited sense you stop expecting so much of God—and start instead simply living into the reality that God is now wanting to communicate with you in myriad ways that in the past you’ve been too excited and impassioned to notice or appreciate—you’ll become aware that your relationship with God is everything you could want it to be. What you’ll come to see is that now it’s simply less about the fireworks, and more about the sky.