There are all kinds of intricate theologies created to explain why we feel distant from God. As a pastor, I’ve observed that this is one of the most prevalent problems Christians face. If they are willing.
Some say God withdraws to discipline us. Or to test us. Or to punish us. Or it’s just a mystery. I want to make a series of suggestions:
- I claim our ideas of God are just that… ideas. The word, the idea, is not the thing. It is a sign, a symbol, pointing to that which it points to. What if this idea we have of God, this mental construct, is the highest that our minds can possibly conceive at this particular point in our life? It suffices for our level of maturity. Our minds have formed a container within which to conceive of God.
- There comes a point in our life when we realize that this highest concept our minds have conceived of God is deficient. It becomes obvious to us that our highest mental construct of God is bankrupt and even idolatrous. This may come through study or a gradual dawning of realization. But in my experience and observation, it comes through a crisis of some sort, usually physical or intellectual, when it becomes clear that our God is too small and even embarrassing.
- We then experience alienation from God because our mind has lost its concept of God. We may conclude that God has removed himself. Actually, our mind has concluded that its image of God is false and suddenly God disappears from our experience. God has removed himself because God is above and beyond what our minds can imagine. But really our mind realizes that it has always been remote from God because it could never imagine him rightly. It’s a mutual separation: we distance ourselves from our idolatrous mental image of God and our God distances himself from it as well. This creates a vacuum that creates a crisis. Enter a time of severe confusion, darkness, and even terror!
- This is when we have a choice: we either shrink back into a familiar and comfortable previous perception of God, or we push forward into our next level of conception. Our mind at this point formulates new and larger concepts for the suddenly larger God. Like moving a goldfish from a smaller bowl that it has outgrown into a bigger one, we allow our minds to provide a larger space for our God to fit in.
- Repeat steps 1 to 4 above.