And then I felt this pain again, revealed to me, and then the joy and delight, and the one and now the other, at different times, I suppose twenty times….this vision was shown to me to teach me – as I understand it – that it is helpful for some souls to feel this way; sometimes to be comforted and sometimes to feel failure and be left to themselves..and sin is not always the cause; for at this time I committed no sin for which I aught be left to myself. God wants us to know that he keeps us equally safe in sorrow and in joy..they come from the same love.Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love, Chapter 15, Long Text.
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and sustain me with a willing spirit.Psalm 51: 1-12
Ok, not an easy one this morning! Firstly, like Julian, I’m not so sure that it is always sin that results in us experiencing a time when God seems not at all close. I’m not saying that it cannot happen that way, but if it is the goodness of God that leads to repentance, surely at the times of our greatest weakness God is wanting to draw us closer and closer to him. If sin is committed out of a place of not knowing, trusting or receiving the love of God, rejection at this point would only compound the problem. Yes, Adam and Eve hid in the garden after their sin, but God came to find them. Nor am I sure that the sadness, depression and heart-ache that results from these periods of seeming distance is created by God, far more likely to be simply the human response to a perception of distance from the source of love himself.
Three months before Nicole and I were married we were both working in India on a short term mission program. She was a medical student working in a hospital in southern Bengaluru (what was Bangalore). I, on the other hand, has been assigned teaching work in the closed state of Mizoram, which is sandwiched between Bangladesh and Myanmar, only reachable by air. We had both flown direct to Bengaluru and then we had to part company, my taking a 778 km train journey north to conduct specialised training in prior to deployment. It was standing room only. I literally had to wedge myself in the door of the train for over 35 hours, all of the time wishing of course that I could be with Nicole. I was miserable!
We of course wrote to each other, however some of the letters were delayed and a bundle of hers only reached me much later, after we returned to the UK. By then we were married, and I’m afraid to say they were put away, only to be found a few weeks ago, some sixteen years later. When I read them, they were simply beautiful. They contained all of the encouragement and comfort that I had needed.
God never leaves us, but he does train us (if you will excuse the pun). He wants us to be able to trust and ‘know’ in all circumstances that he is there, cheering us on. Soldiers in combat often remark how, when coming under enemy fire for the first time, their training simply kicks in. If they were left to learn in the midst of their first fire-fight, they would probably not survive. It is when the waves are crashing the highest that we all need to know God’s presence, hence the story of the disciples in the boat with Jesus, just before he calms the storm. The sooner we can recognise and live in the truth that he will never leave us or forsake us, regardless of how we are feeling, the more easily we can deal with the challenges of life, so when the storm does come, we can allow him to quickly bring calm to our innermost being.