The Absence of God

The story in which God does his saving work arises among a people whose primary experience of God is his absence.  We are made to face this at the very outset of Exodus when we realize that these people have been in Egyptian slavery for over 430 years.  Where was God all that time?  Did not those covenantal words God made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob have any continuing validity?  Didn’t the providential Joseph years in Egypt leave a lasting mark?

We need this Exodus validation that a sense of the absence of God is part of the story, and that it is neither exceptional nor preventable nor a judgment on the way we are living our lives.

Whether the experience of the absence is measured in weeks, months, or years, for most of us it doesn’t fit into what is “normal” in our understanding of salvation.

But it is normal.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?

O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;

and by night, but find no rest.

Jesus hanging on the cross used this same prayer at the very moment that he was completing the work of salvation.  On Jesus’ lips this prayer validates the experience of the absence of God as integral to our participation in salvation.

…given our consumerist tendencies to shop for a god or goddess who will cater to our appetites for coziness and good feelings, they [witnesses to God’s absence] are necessary.  Necessary to keep us alert and attentive to the mystery of God whose ‘ways are past finding out.’  Necessary to prevent us from reducing God Almighty to god-at-my-beck-and-call.  Necessary to place disciplined constraints on our collective (especially North American) ‘spiritual sweet tooth.’  Necessary to enlarge our readiness for salvation beyond our carefully fenced in and devoutly tended backyard spirituality gardens.

~ Eugene Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, a conversation in spiritual theology. pp. 153-156.

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