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Making sense of God’s absence

I recently read a fabulous article reflecting on lament and hope in a COVID-19 world. Cathy Ross draws on the books of Lamentations and 1 Peter to wrestle with how voicing pain can be a path to healing. This means that lament can actually be a way of keeping hope alive.

She quotes from Kathleen O’Connor’s analysis of Lamentations about the nature of God’s silence:

God’s silence in Lamentations leaves wounds festering, open to the air and possible to healing. The benefit of exposed wounds is that they become visible and unavoidable. Left exposed, they require us to see, acknowledge, and attend to them.

Reading this helped me to see what I was doing when I reflected on God’s absence in the first Advent after Red Twin died. I wrote:

It’s like God is shielded from me at the moment. Like I am in a fog, and He could be standing right in front of my face and I would not see Him.

Without putting too finer point on the difference between silence and absence, I’m intrigued by this idea of God’s silence as a grace, that it might make space for the difficult work of healing, how He is paradoxically Life Giver in the silence.

In my grief counselling, I learned how important this work is to do. You have to go through the swamp to get to the castle; there is no detour. The tunnel might look dark but it is not a cave; there is an exit on the other side. These lessons gave me courage to face the feelings rather than pushing them away.

Now I’m adding a new dimension, thinking about God’s role in this process.

Where previously I have been familiar with the idea that God is there, we just can’t see him, this idea of God’s silence as grace validates the sense of God’s absence. In this is not abandonment but purpose, a giving of space which can be healing, even life-giving. Where I have been used to emphasising God’s immanence, this kind of thinking brings God’s transcendence into the picture, that is, his bigness and wisdom which is far greater than ours.

I know the times when my children have been hurt in some way, when words of comfort or even validation actually make things worse. Their need is not for words but for space to let the feeling run its course. It’s an imperfect analogy because of the physicality of the presence of a parent, different from what we experience in our relationship with God. But there’s something I recognise there too.

So with these new thoughts, I’m asking myself

  • Can I be thankful for God’s absence (even if this only existed in my perception)?
  • Are there parallels here with the mystery of the cross as Jesus himself experiences forsakenness?

Categories: Written by Tamie

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Tamie Davis

Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.

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