At times I’ve called on God and my prayers hit the ceiling. At times I’ve called and the heavens opened. Is God fickle? What happens when He seems silent one day, then the next comes to me with a rush? Is God near now, but busy elsewhere next week? Does He feel sorry for me, then ignore me?
The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us... (Acts 17:24–27)
Paul speaks to the ungodly in these verses. He tells them God needs nothing from us, made us to seek Him, and yet, “He is actually not far from each one of us.” The difference in whether He hears me or not cannot be about God or His distance or willingness. The problem must be something about me, about my receptivity.
Sin is subtle, or at least the Liar who assaults me with temptation has a way of hiding it in what “seems good” and I miss it. In the past week, my theology course has focused on the Christian interpretation of sin. I read one article that was both devastating and liberating.
The topic was the root of sin. Is it pride: “I can do it myself” or is it idolatry: “I found another way besides God”? The author linked them saying sin begins with both. We are proud of ourselves, and our human hearts truly are idol-making factories, just as John Calvin said. While ancient pagans devised statues of wood and stone, and the more sophisticated invented mythical gods and goddesses, those idols and the idols of today boil down to that self-centered motivation that I will do life my own way.
It begins by thinking that God does not know what is best for me. This echoes the same lie the serpent told Eve in Eden. When believed, the next step is thinking that “I know what is best for me, therefore I will govern my life.” This thinking is both pride and idolatry, and it leads to sorrow and death.
Reading the above verses again, they say that God determines allotted periods and boundaries that I should seek Him. That is, God sets the limits to my life so I will find and rely on Him. He is in charge and He knows me better than I know myself. He created me to image Him, not to be Him. Just as an image cannot exist apart from the One that it reflects, I cannot do anything apart from abiding in Christ.
This week, I realized that at times I have “gone my own way” only to find that my own way is not working, but instead of dropping that strategy, I ask God to fix it, to make it work. No wonder He does not answer those prayers. My only defense at such foolishness is that the enemy had me hoodwinked. Those things I’ve prayed for Him to fix seemed fine, even in His will, but in my heart they were more about trusting me and my desires instead of Him.
God never walks away, but if He did, I can’t say I could blame Him. Instead, He is never far away and He is always doing things in my life so I will seek His face instead of seeking strategies and even His help to make my own way work.
God’s help is never limited by what I can feel or recognize. Feeling is not a reliable test, nor is my ability to see reality. Whenever it seems as if God has turned His back on me, it is not true. He is like the air around me and even if I thought the air was not there, I would not stop breathing, but gasp ever more deeply.
The truth is that I might turn from God, but He never turns from me. If I cannot see His face, I first must consider that I have turned my back. The enemy of my soul continually tries to blur whatever might be dividing us, yet these tactics work only as long as God allows it, teaching me to be alert, to watch out for his lies, but also to watch out for pride and whatever else might be on the assembly line in the factory of my heart.