So runs the title of a David Crowder Band song from the 2005 album A Collision. The full title is appealingly quirky:
“O God, Where Are You Now? (In Pickerel Lake? Pigeon? Marquette? Mackinaw?)”
(Now that I check the liner notes, who should have written that but Sufjan Stevens! A pretty well-known guy in alternate/folk circles. Anyway…)
So sometimes God can feel very distant, stubbornly silent or rather inert. We feel as if we’d be glad for any kind of communication from God, even if it consisted mostly of rebuke. At least we would know where we stood.
The Psalmist would often regard this as a wilful policy on God’s part, and would ask, “Why do you stay silent? How long will you delay?” Others think that such silence and stillness is inherent to God’s nature. “I don’t believe in an interventionist God,” said Nick Cave in that ‘Into Your Arms’ song. I don’t know whether he’s leaving the door open for God’s existence at all, but the point remains. If God’s there, He doesn’t get involved.
That isn’t the biblical presentation of God, I feel confident in saying. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition,… present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6) presumes that God at least might act on the believer’s part. More boldly, Jesus says to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive…” (John 16:23-24, both NIV).
Hang on a sec, that’s not real life, is it? I’ve done a lot more asking than I’ve ever had answers, and done a whole lot more talking to God than I’ve ever heard in reply. What gives?
As a result of minding my middle child, a 12-year old son, as he takes part in the Australian Junior Chess Championships here in Melbourne, I have a few thoughts on why God, assuming his reality and presence, lays so low.
I’ve watched my son go in to play his games, knowing that a series of skilled and talented, and coached, opponents are ready to give him a pasting on the chess board. It won’t be easy for him. But even if I knew a lot more about chess than I do, and could coach him effectively, I can’t go in and fight his fight for him. It isn’t for any lack of care. It was tempting just to stand outside the window and stew for his sake, but what good was that doing? I had to leave and get busy doing something else so that I wouldn’t worry about it.
Could God think about us like a concerned parent? Deeply invested in our wellbeing, but by and large committed to staying back and let us learn our wisdom through inevitable experience? How would my son learn prudence and resilience if I intervened to shield him from every difficulty? How would any achievement or victory ever really be his?
I don’t think God can afford to intervene in our lives very often, if these lives we’re living are to be truly ours. Mostly, for our good, our development, God is going to have to stand outside the glass, watching us and sweating, and deliberately not intervening.
In Jon Krakauer’s book about the 1996 Everest disaster, Into Thin Air, he relates that high on the summit ridge, on the ‘Hilary Step’, the last great obstacle before the summit, another climber, trying to help, turned his oxygen valve to its fullest setting. He felt fantastic for a while, breathing a sea-level oxygen mix, and then ran out completely, having to complete the rest of the climb without any oxygen at all.
If we’re to get good, and tough, at this business of living on Earth, God has to ration his help. I think He gives us enough to get us by, a little here and there, but much of the time, precisely for our sake, rather than for any lack of concern, He has to stand outside the glass and watch us battle it out. We can’t have all the oxygen at once. That’s how it has to be, all the love of God notwithstanding.