I took this photo (full photo here) at Artist Point near Mount Baker. It’s a photo of Mount Baker. Do you see it? Neither do I. It’s there though, behind the clouds. A cloud is just a cloud, but a mountain is still a mountain – even if you don’t see it.
It’s impressive to me that something as massive as a mountain can be obscured from view. If it were being performed by a magician it’d be on TV for sure. Equally impressive is that it’s such a vaporous thing (a cloud) that is what prevents us from seeing the mountain in all its glory.
One of the Christian faith’s lesser known realities (a “dirty little secret”, if you will) is that everyone one of us will experience a time – or many times – when God is obscured from our view. To be clear – I’m not talking about guilt-induced separation that results from our sin. I’m talk about a period of time wherein in spite of His mighty power, wonderful love, and ubiquitous presence, we simply cannot “find” Him. We look for Him in familiar places– Bible study, prayer, Sunday worship – in a fruitless game of hide-and-seek. The things that once drew us close to Him, no longer do so. We call and cry out to him but prayers feel like mail that ends up in the dead letter office. Despite our efforts, God seemingly remains silent and remote – a glorious mountain hidden behind a blanket of clouds.
In Psalm 42 the psalmist expresses the frustrations, cries, and hopes of one choking on spiritual dryness.
“As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?”
He pants for streams of water because the water he once knew is no longer there. He longs to go and meet with God. And he experiences the pain and angst of a broken relationship.
I say to God my Rock, “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?” My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long, “Where is your God?”
In the midst of his anxious search for God he cries out, “Why have you forgotten me?” And the doubt-inducing words of his antagonist ring in his ear: “Where is your God?” Have you been through a time like this? Are you in the midst of one right now? If you haven’t, you will.
So, what can we do when we find ourselves in that place where the almighty is cloaked in blankness? Do we just have to “deal with it?” The Psalmist offers us a suggestion:
Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.
We need to admit and come to grips with our state – we are downcast. But to really grasp our situation we need to share it with someone else. Cold coal doesn’t ignite itself. Yet before we can share our condition with another person, we first need make it acceptable for someone to say, “I’m just not feelin’ it today” and to do so without fear of judgment. Without this permission we are likely to remain, not just downcast, but isolated as well. Can you do that? Can you accept a fellow believer who is feeling disconnected from God without trying to solve the problem for them? “Just pray about it,” “well, count your blessings,” or “just trust Jesus; he’ll get you through” are the words of those who’d rather solve our problem than comfort us with silent understanding. Instead, let’s be honest with each other and admit out loud: “sometimes, even though I believe in God and Jesus Christ, I don’t feel Him and I don’t know why.”
Once we can come to terms with the reality of our dryness, we can then put our hope in God. How? By sticking with the activities that have helped us connect with God in the past. That’s what the Psalmist did:
“These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go to the house of God.”
Do we connect with Him through Sunday worship? Then don’t skip church. Through silent prayer? Bow your head. Through journaling or something else? Don’t skip those. Until God shows us a new path, we should stick with the ones we know. What led us to praise God in the past is likely to do so again. Such activities remind our hearts that He is real and those things that prevent us from seeing Him are only temporary. Continue to live and act as if God is still there even when you can’t see Him. In time, the clouds will clear and we will see Him again.
After all, a cloud is just a cloud, but a mountain is still a mountain – even if you don’t see it.
Mark can be reached via email here.