When God Feels Distant: Nurturing Faith in the Absence of Answers

This world is messy and often confusing. How do you handle things when life is difficult? Sometimes you’re not seeing any answers to your prayers. Can your faith continue, or perhaps even grow? Do your struggles bring you closer to God or move you away from Him? All of us experience times when God feels distant. What then?

You may have prayed, “Please heal me” or “Please heal my loved one.” Your heart may have cried out, “I need food! I need money! I need a job!” Perhaps it’s “Please take away my desire for porn, or same-sex attraction.” Or maybe it’s “Please bring me a spouse!” If you’re married it might be “HELP! Save me from this destructive marriage!” Or, “Why is this happening to me?”

Perhaps it seems too late, and your cry is “Lord if You had been here my . . . would not have died!” (See John 11:21, 32) What died might have been your loved one, but it might also have been a dream, your marriage, or something else precious. Couldn’t God have kept that from happening? Why did He not come when you called?

Followers of Jesus have wrestled with these kinds of questions for millennia. Any short article like this can only briefly address these matters. But all of us face moments when God feels distant and our prayers seem empty or unheard. Here are some ideas that have helped me and others walk through such difficult seasons and grow stronger in the process.

The Right Category

Understanding categories helps. A useful prayer may be, “Jesus, help me understand what’s going on here.” That category might be:

  • Consequences of sin. Ultimately everything bad is because of sin, but our choices and the choices of others may have direct consequences right now. You’ve sinned, and you’ve also been sinned against – sometimes with almost unspeakable harm.
  • Immaturity or lack of skills. A child getting a skinned knee falling off a bike is not sin. Sometimes we need to grow up, or learn something. My circumstances may change if I learn better communication skills, how to manage money, or what kind of care my body and mind need.
  • Living in a fallen world. War, natural disasters, gross injustice, etc. cause grave harm, and God does not enjoy such things. And God often calls us to work to set things right in our specific sphere of influence. But we don’t always get a simple answer as to Why, at least not yet.
  • Spiritual warfare. Not everything is spiritual warfare, but evil exists. Satan hates God and those who align with Him with a virulent hatred, and we at times get direct fallout from the kingdom of darkness.

This list is not exhaustive or simple. But asking Jesus for clarity will help you feel less crazy and know where to put your energy. The first step may be learning to hear God’s voice.

What HAS God Promised?

Some Christians have talked as if God has promised “your best life now.” But that’s not the Biblical witness. The early followers of Jesus often had a worse life according to most worldly standards. We must not call people to something Jesus did not call His followers to.

We are told to bring all our requests to God. That honors Him as our Heavenly Father! But God is not a heavenly genie; put in a prayer, get out a blessing. So yes, ask Him to heal your body, to bring you a job, to help you find your glasses, to make your garden grow, to heal your marriage, to bring you a spouse, or anything else you desire. Jesus often asked, “What do you want?”

But then hold your request with open hands.

God doesn’t promise that the consequences of our choices or others’ choices will be removed – yet. He doesn’t promise we will not have trouble, even persecution. Your bank account, physical health, or material popularity or success are not a measure of your standing with God. In the faith hall of fame some experienced dramatic miracles and some experienced the worst kind of distress. Same faith! (See Hebrews 11:33-38)

Jesus promised His followers two things: tribulation, and peace. (See John 16:33) That peace is not the absence of troubles, but an assurance that in the midst of the storm, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

And of His presence you can be 100% certain, whether you can feel Him or not.

What to Do? 

So how do you navigate those times when God feels distant, when your feelings don’t give you any sense that He is with you? A few points.

  1. No Spiritual Bypass. Spiritual platitudes or Bible verses quoted superficially only rub salt in an open wound. To yourself or to someone who’s hurting, it’s important to fully acknowledge the hurt and how it’s affecting you. Don’t run away from how bad it is.
  2. Connect with Others. Pain is isolating. Most (not all) people tend to isolate and keep others from truly seeing their pain. Don’t do that. Choose wisely, but do the hard work of finding your people and connecting with them, even if it’s messy.
  3. Do the Next Right Thing. Nurse your wounds for a time if you must, but don’t park there. Get up and do something. Just do the next thing that’s in front of you to do. That might be something simple such as take a walk or eat some food. It might be reaching out to a friend, doing some internal hard work, or praying.
  4. Keep Running To God. Yes, the praying bit. Don’t run away from God; run to Him. If your internal picture of God needs some work, do that. Your questions don’t make God turn away; bring your questions to Him. You won’t make Him mad, and His shoulders are the only ones big enough to carry it anyway.
  5. This is Not the End. Remember that in comparison with eternity this present life is incredibly short. God will not stop until everything, everything, is made right. Keep eternity in mind; you’ll need to do this to make it, as Jesus did. (See Hebrews 12:2)

Pascal wrote, “Our imagination so powerfully magnifies time, by continual reflections upon it, and so diminishes eternity … for want of reflection, that we make a nothing of eternity and an eternity of nothing.”

Let your imagination magnify eternity. It will help you make it through today.

Your Turn: How do you handle things when you don’t get what you pray for? When God feels distant? Which of these steps might be helpful for you right now?  Leave a comment below.

Want more? You can watch or listen to this week’s podcast episode with Chuck and Ashley Elliott about loss, relationships, and making it through.

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