The answer to the question ‘Where Is God?’ is that He is both everywhere and here with us. But it can be really difficult to believe God is near to us when we do not feel His presence. One of the hardest things we face as Christians is a sense of abandonment, a feeling that God is not with us, that we are alone. This is often called ‘the dark night of the soul’, a phrase coined by St John of the Cross in the 16th century in a poem he wrote describing the anguish he felt at what he perceived to be God’s absence. Almost anything is bearable if we can sense God’s presence with us and can glimpse something of His plans and purposes for us, but there are times when we can struggle with a sense of meaning in the world, when life seems to be purposeless and we don’t feel God’s comfort and presence.
Mother Teresa wrote of the silence of God and the emptiness she felt in letters that were only published after her death. She wrote, ‘In the darkness . . . Lord, my God, who am I that you should forsake me? The child of your love — and now become as the most hated one. The one — you have thrown away as unwanted — unloved. I call, I cling, I want, and there is no one to answer . . . Where I try to raise my thoughts to heaven, there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives and hurt my very soul. Love — the word — it brings nothing. I am told God lives in me — and yet the reality of darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul.’
We may be surprised to hear these words, for people very often don’t talk about these feelings for fear of rejection or simply because they feel so forsaken. Outwardly, Mother Teresa was the very model of what it means to be a Christian, revered by everyone as a saint. Inwardly, she struggled to ‘feel’ the presence of God with her. That did not stop her, however, from serving God and from loving Him and the world. The key to Christian life is to understand that feelings don’t have the last word.
Feelings are often a most unreliable guide to reality, because they are essentially subjective, as Eugene Peterson remarks, “Feelings are great liars. If Christians worshipped only when they felt like it, there would be precious little worship. Feelings are important in many areas but completely unreliable in matters of faith.” (‘The Journey’, Eugene Peterson) As Casting Crowns put it:
What we have to do in those times when we don’t ‘feel’ God’s presence is to align ourselves with the truth of God’s word. In essence, we say (as Mother Teresa did) that it doesn’t matter what we feel; it doesn’t matter what we see. What matters is that God has told us He is near, that He is always with us, and therefore we will continue to walk by faith and not by sight. (2 Cor 5:7)