Do you have a place for important things? Throughout my life I have wasted countless time looking for essential things when I needed them the most. I hate looking all over the house for my keys when I am running late. As I have grown older, I have decreased my anxiety by having a place for these things so I know where they are when I need them.
I sometimes wish I could create a similar space for God.
A lot of times Jesus feels the farthest away when we need him the most. That can feel so discouraging. Like, Jesus, I really need you right now. Why aren’t you here the closest?
When we get this feeling, it is such an attack on our faith. It is such a blow to what we have been taught about Jesus being closer than a brother, or closer than our breath, or that he would never leave or forsake us.
Can we be honest about these feelings? Can we admit that in these times we know all the right answers, but they don’t line up with what we are experiencing? We cry out to God asking what He is doing? We are asking why He isn’t doing what we need Him to be doing. We graciously tell God, “We really appreciate when you were there in the worship service making me feel all warm and fuzzy but what I really need from you is a miracle in this situation right now!”
If we are honest, it feels like somewhere in our struggle, the living Jesus died.
This all sounds very reasonable because we have been taught that the key to the good life is to let Jesus come be part of the journey. We are taught that Jesus is just waiting for our permission to unlock the door to the promised land for us and once that happens, we are living carefree in the land of milk and honey. The problem is it just isn’t true, and it may work for a season but it won’t work for ever for everyone.
At the end of Luke, we read about some guys walking down a road in this very state of confusion. The man called the Messiah had done great things but in the end, the living Jesus died. They didn’t realize it but these guys went on teaching the living Jesus about their imagined dead Jesus.
According to their story, it was all over. God did not come through. Hope was lost. Rome and its oppression won again. We thought we were come out victorious but it was another setup. Confusion replaced expectancy and there was nothing left but doubt.
What these two sojourners failed to understand is what we fail to understand; the unseen person in our conversations about God’s abandonment is the living God himself. He is not put off by our confusion, fear, hurt, and feelings of abandonment. He is right there in the midst of the conversation helping us to understand what it is He is doing, teaching us that we are not at the end of the story.
On that road, the God who wrote the story was showing these two seekers that they are in fact right in the middle of the God story they were writing with God.
In short, Jesus was right there with them the whole time.
As the story goes, they communed with Jesus and He disappeared from their sight but He did not disappear from their lives. They left the encounter with both the understanding of their place in the Jesus story and an indwelling of the Spirit that sealed that presence as a promise of their eternal fellowship with Him.
I don’t know what abandonment, pain, hurt, and confusion you are walking in today. I don’t know who you are going to for advice on how to deal with those feelings. Many people are out there giving an interpretation of your pain that concludes with the death of who you knew Jesus to be.
Let me offer a different conclusion. He is alive in ways you never knew. The story as you understood it may be dead but the living story of Jesus is being perfected by the living God who is still there with you.
Jesus is alive. He is with you. The pain you are experiencing is real. The abandonment you are feeling is valid. But perhaps what is dying is not Jesus but the false promises of religion and the empty deceit of a false gospel.
Stand with God. Continue to hope. And most importantly, commune with Jesus. Let him redefine what the presence of God looks like in this struggle.
Standing firm will be a wellspring of life and will result in a communion with the cloud of witnesses who proclaim that their hearts were strangely warmed by the presence of God.