Written by Paul J. Bucknell on October, 29, 2018
Feeling Distant From God
Life goes on but with a sense of withdrawal
- Purpose: A biblical treatment of how to deal with the sense of distance from God one feels which negatively affects one’s Christian life often causing one to withdraw from God.
In my experience, believers can go through times where it appears God has withdrawn from them. Though at times there might be great emotion, I am speaking of those times where there is little feeling for or against God. It can be the same with any relationship such as between spouses. The lack of feeling or repulse makes it especially hard to deal with. And though we focus on our relationship with the Lord, this seems to be true with all personal relationships.
This hardened or cold response makes it very difficult to deal with largely because of the hidden factors which give rise to the relationship. Fortunately, in God’s Word, we discover God patiently works with His people to draw us back to Himself. The Lord Himself declares that He “restores my soul” (Psalm 23:3).
I think it helps us to recognize that there are those who, based on their feelings, reject the existence of God. “If I don’t feel His presence, then He doesn’t exist.” That is a very radical statement built on faulty understandings. The Lord calls the person who says, “There is no God” a fool. “They are corrupt, they have committed abominable deeds; There is no one who does good” (Psalm 14:1). This is a path to steer away from.
Be careful not to follow the simple worldly explanations stating that one’s lack of feeling proves God does not exist. The evil one is a specialist trying to influence our minds during our very subjective moods. We should always look to God’s Word for accurate judgments of what is real rather than our feelings.
God’s Point of View
From the outstart, we should recognize that God has clear opinions about why we go through certain situations. Note these two lines from Isaiah 59:1:
“The LORD’S hand is not so short…”
“Neither is His ear so dull that it cannot hear.…”
God is involved in our lives no matter how we might feel. He is able and willing to help us. He hears our prayers even though it seems like nothing gets through to Him. It appears from Isaiah 59:1-2, at least in some situations, that this is because we sin.
Behold, the LORD’S hand is not so short That it cannot save; Neither is His ear so dull That it cannot hear. 2 But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He does not hear (Isaiah 59:1-2).
Our sins form a separation between God and ourselves leaving a gap. From my experience, there appear to be two ways to create this distance. One way is more familiar and visible while the other more subtle. We are more familiar with the defiant sin where we openly defy or resist God. These individuals usually stop going to church and get otherwise involved. In this article, I focus on handling the subtle class of sins, the ‘doubtful’ sins which, because of doubt, blindly cause us to withdraw from the Lord.
These saints feel weak, unsettled, teary, and isolated in their distant relationship with God. I am trying to be very sensitive to those going through such times. The Book of Job surely alerts me not to equate difficult times with judgment from God. But, it appears that this response is connect But, it appears that this response is connected to how a person thinks of God. Note that Job did not doubt God but kept his faith firm through the whole ordeal.
Doubtful sin, however, is characterized by relinquishing the biblical perspective of God when we no longer trust God’s good intention towards us. The Lord clearly states that our withdrawal from Him is due to some kind of sin. People sometimes can’t see how worry, fear or depression is related to sin. This is often due to the fact that they focus on their feelings rather than their distorted views of God and situation due to their lack of faith.
Consider how some believers quietly blame God for the hard situation that they have to endure. And so, although, they are humbled by their loss, they cannot bring themselves to stop being suspicious of the Lord’s good will. Their sin is not so obvious as stealing something or saying a lie, but they are still living in doubt of the living God, concluding that He is not loving and good. Their sin persists, thus, creating a sustained gap between God and themselves. These sins must be repented from and find cleansing from Jesus.
By stripping God’s goodness from God, we end up thinking of the Lord to be other than who He is—very good, which is an elemental part of the Gospel (i.e., Good News).
Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded (James 4:7-8).
In one way, James 4:7-8 says the same things as Isaiah 59:1-2—God is present but sin keeps us from being close to God. The elimination of sin stands as an ongoing obstacle to restoration, but there is something more important here.
At the foundation of this discussion, often going unstated, is the fact that God is there to restore the relationship. We are commanded to “draw near to God” and promised that “He will draw near to us” (4:8). This is an amazing statement of commitment to our lives. We would typically think that God would just desert us, leaving us to squirm in our own misunderstandings, but instead, He patiently works to restore our souls.
Trust is the key building factor for any relationship, even with God. There are two essential elements for trust to grow: (1) Belief that the relationship is good to grow, and (2) Mutual sharing/dependence enabling a friendship to develop. It is the first most fundamental statement that I refer to here.
People typically extend one’s service and love to another as long as they benefit from that relationship. If a person is somehow disenchanted over the potential of the relationship, he or she withdraws. The relationship might continue on, and yet, because one has pulled back his or her heart, there is no more excitement and growth as before. The two are no longer engaged in each other’s lives at the heart level. Job, though fully dismayed with his trials, fully engaged with God because he trusted Him during this time of testing.
It is not God who withdraws but ourselves. God states if we take a step towards Him, He will take a step towards us. “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded” (James 4:8). We might have doubts about God that we don’t dare vocalize and really wonder, even if we believe the Bible verse that speaks about God love for us. Wrong assumptions about God’s love can lead us to conclude that this would or would not happen. But that makes God a magic genie bidding our wishes, rather than revolving our lives around His good plan that enfolds us in His marvelous redemptive plan. As long as doubt exists, that distance between God and ourselves continues.
With All Your Heart
When we have doubts about God, they often stay below the surface. Physical and emotional symptoms typically appear along with the spiritual downcast, but we are not very clear as to what the underlying problem is. Here is an exercise.
The Scriptures repeatedly call us not only to seek the Lord but to do it with all our hearts.
“But from there you will seek the LORD your God, and you will find Him if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul” (Deut 4:29).
“How blessed are those who observe His testimonies, who seek Him with all their heart” (Ps 119:2).
“And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart” (Jer 29:13).
The “all your heart” calls attention to the different corners of our hearts where we might have set up reservations about fully trusting God. He does not want 80 or 90% of our hearts’ devotion but all of it. If we look carefully enough, these obstacles or gap-stoppers often will appear. Each of them points to some experience when we withdrew part of our heart (or never gave it to Him), leaving a less than whole devotion to the Lord. This is why we find ourselves attending church, reading the Bible, praying and yet have lingering doubt in our hearts.
Start seeking the Lord. “Oh, Lord, I want you and all you have for my life.” Even as we start praying this way, our hesitancy in trusting God on this or that matter might come to our mind. We don’t really want to seek Him. Why? That uncertainty is the culprit that needs to be isolated and repented from.
Despair and Hope
Please don’t misunderstand the above statements to conclude that your emotions are not real. Your emotions are genuine just as the dysfunctions of your spirituality provide glimpses into your relationship with God. Consider David’s words:
Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance, and my God (Ps 42:11, Ps 42:5, 43:5).
Note how, though he could be true to his feelings, he was being true with his life experiences and the scriptures. He knows God is good and yet his heart draws back. Tragedies, ongoing tugs on our hearts, etc., can be easily used by the evil one to have us conclude that God is not really caring about our lives.
Isolate your point of despair, dejection, distrust, depression, and discouragement as much as possible. Note how the Psalmist was true with observing his soul’s despair. Even with our advice, this process might take a while, but we can be confident we are on the right track. Be patient, insistent, and trusting. God is seeking to restore our souls.
Each believer needs to affirm that any good we have from the Lord is due to His abounding grace. It is undeserved. If for some reason, He withdraws that blessing, maybe our health, a companion’s death, etc., then we need to use our faith to trust Him—no matter how little it is. We might not see His blessing in our lives, but do not be like Job’s wife, get bitter and curse God. Jesus trusted the Father even though the Father’s plan required Him to give up His life experiencing a painful death on the cross.
If we have withdrawn our affection and feel dull and bored in our relationship with God, it is probably because we have withdrawn our full trust and delight in Him. And like David, we see the conflict between where we are and where we should be.
Our doubts along with our fears exacerbate our withdrawal from God, usually leaving us in Satan’s trap, believing God doesn’t care for us and does not seek our well-being. This is the reason false doctrine follows doubts.
In summary, here are some simple reminder points:
God’s Love Full Blossom
- Isolate your point of despair, discouragement, etc. as much as possible
- Objectively observe one’s despair
- Be alert to one’s feelings and real life issues
- Place confidence in God’s goodness (e.g., Job)
- Trust Him even in barren times (Ps 23:4 valley)
- Contrast where we are and where we should be
Hopefully, there will be one or more breakthroughs enabling the believer to retrieve his or her faith. Somehow, our confidence in God disappeared when wrong conclusions overtook with the truths of the scripture. People trust feelings more than truth and so one’s responses followed one’s feelings and fears rather than the truth. David clearly portrays how trust should lead us to exalt in God and His Word rather than mistrust of Him.
“Bless the LORD, O my soul; And all that is within me, bless His holy name.
Bless the LORD, O my soul, And forget none of His benefits” (Psalm 103:1-2).
Here are some love thoughts, reminding us of God’s constant love seeking our recovery.
“Bless the LORD, all you works of His, In all places of His dominion; Bless the LORD, O my soul!” (Ps 103:22)
- God always loves us. This love never changes even when we withdraw our heart’s trust from Him. His love is built on His grace and goodness.
- The Lord helps us rebuild our trust in Him. He will restore our souls (Psa 23:3).
- Persistently seek out any doubts found in one’s heart, isolating them and replace them with the truth.
- Make a thorough repentance for one’s doubts but end in praise, thanks, and expression of one’s affection for the Lord.
- Strengthen your trust in the Lord by reviewing His extreme grace where you are able to delight in your relationship with the Lord.
“Bless the LORD, O my soul! O LORD my God, Thou art very great; Thou art clothed with splendor and majesty” (Ps 104:1).
“Let sinners be consumed from the earth, And let the wicked be no more. Bless the LORD, O my soul. Praise the LORD!” (Ps 104:35).
A Final Thought
As much as we might suspect the Lord’s motives or fear His way towards us, we must, on the basis of the truth, go forward rejecting all falsehood and replace our lack of confidence with the truth about His trustworthiness. Below are some points highlighting key points to this process. Don’t worry about the duration of the restoration process but take confidence in diligently following these points that will lead you in the right direction where you can dismiss our fears.
Feelings, relationship, and restoration are sensitive points because sometimes we have been greatly hurt. In order to get through them, we need to persistently give more of our heart to Him until He has our whole heart. We must thoroughly delight in Him until He is our greatest joy. Our Christian lives, in fact, admit that we all are somewhere on this path of restoration, displacing falsehoods which rob us of our full delight in the great God of grace.
- Follow God’s restoring process
- Accept the time it takes—enjoy His patience
- Don’t forget to thank Him for progress
- Keep your goal in your mind
- Like target practice: hit the doubts
- Seek His refreshing hand in your life
- Respond to His abounding grace
- Seek the Lord “with all your heart”
- Delight in Him with “all your soul”
- Do you remember experiencing any distance between you and God? Retell your experience the best that you can.
- Share what happened in a relationship, with God or another, when you stopped trusting that person. How do you respond with you no longer trust someone’s good intention towards you?
- How do we know God loves us even if we don’t feel it?
- Explain how Isaiah 59:1-2 helps us understand what is going on in such strained relationships behind the scene.
- Make sure you do the exercises associated with “With All Your Heart” as needed. Write down any special insights gained.
- How easy is it for you to trust God even when things don’t go like you expect? Explain.