I saw a bumper sticker that read, “Feel Distant from God? Guess who moved?” The implication was that I had. Feeling distance from God was because of some movement away from God on my part. Sin, folly, and “quenching the Spirit”, certainly distances us from God. But are all experiences of spiritual dryness and distance from God because of some sin or rebellion in the Christian. No. Sometimes…maybe oftentimes, God draws back from a believer for reasons unrelated to our “sinning” or “being in the flesh”. Always, however, for our good. One reason God may “move” from us is so we will seek him and not “spiritual excitement”.
In Dark Night of the Soul, St. John of the Cross speaks to an immaturity in a believer who always craves spiritual excitement and the wise providence of God in withholding it:
These persons have the same defect as regards the practice of prayer, for they think that all the business of prayer consists in experiencing sensible pleasure and devotion and they strive to obtain this by great effort, wearying and fatiguing their faculties and their heads; and when they have not found this pleasure they become greatly discouraged, thinking that they have accomplished nothing. Through these efforts they lose true devotion and spirituality, which consist in perseverance, together with patience and humility and mistrust of themselves, that they may please God alone. For this reason, when they have once failed to find pleasure in this or some other exercise, they have great disinclination and repugnance to return to it, and at times they abandon it. They are, in fact, as we have said, like children, who are not influenced by reason, and who act, not from rational motives, but from inclination. Such persons expend all their effort in seeking spiritual pleasure and consolation; they never tire therefore, of reading books; and they begin, now one meditation, now another, in their pursuit of this pleasure which they desire to experience in the things of God. But God, very justly, wisely and lovingly, denies it to them, for otherwise this spiritual gluttony and inordinate appetite would breed innumerable evils. It is, therefore, very fitting that they should enter into the dark night, whereof we shall speak, that they may be purged from this childishness. (St. John of the Cross, Dark Night of the Soul, VI)
In letter 9 of The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis touches a similar vein:
…there is an even better way of exploiting the Trough; I mean through the patient’s own thoughts about it. As always, the first step is to keep knowledge out of his mind. Do not let him suspect the law of undulation. Let him assume that the first ardours of his conversion might have been expected to last, and ought to have lasted, forever, and that his present dryness is an equally permanent condition. Having once got this misconception well fixed in his head, you may then proceed in various ways. (C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, letter 9)
Dryness, thirst, and troughs are part of the normal Christian experience. In Psalm 42, David compared his thirst for God to a deer panting for the water. But when do we thirst with a panting thirst? When we haven’t had a drink, when we are drained through the sweat of exertion, when we are in the desert. David thirsted for God; not for the exhilaration of drinking. Sometimes God withdraws our sweet experiences of His presence to keep us from being saturated with the experience and to make us pant for Him.
On the cross Jesus uttered the remarkable words, “I thirst.” He spoke for all of us! His thirst went unquenched so we might have the living water.