The Absence of God

A story I’ve told elsewhere and believe to be true is of how a Jewish person scratched with their fingernails on the wall of the gas chamber as they were dying the following words: “There is no God”.

Their sad but completely understandable conviction surely resonates with everyone who has ever suffered, especially when that suffering is great and unsolvable, such as parents facing the illness and death of a young child. And while we religious folk maintain that God has spoken through Jesus, through the Bible, through holy men and women through the ages, and still speaks through the signs of the times, through the natural world, and through our own conscience, it is nonetheless important to acknowledge that for all practical purposes God appears to be absent in our world and in our lives.

It really doesn’t do to try and fudge this issue, and no amount of pious sermonising and religious ritual will persuade decent people who have cast off any pretence at belief in a god. Words, as they say, are cheap. And yet a blog fundamentally depends on words, so what can I say here to honestly address the seeming absence of God?

The first aspect should be to attempt to answer the question: why, if God is supposed to be all-loving, does He hide from us? Why, if He truly is all-powerful, does He not intervene to convince and even to heal?

The answer touches the very nature of love, and it may sound counter-intuitive but God is absent precisely because He loves us! We are created in radical freedom, and this necessitates that God must stand back and allow us choices. Even God cannot have it both ways: either He steps outside of human life and allows us to be ourselves, or He is present and compromises that radical freedom. And so, the absence of God in this life is the very touchstone of His great love and the very guarantee of our great dignity as free beings made in His image. I don’t think there is any getting around this ‘fact’ of life and death.

I believe that God loves all creation, and not just human beings but the entire universe. I further believe that this life is but the momentary preparation for the real life, the eternal life, where choice will no longer be an issue, and will no longer engage and torment us with its complexities and consequences. That eternal life will be fully redeemed and healed, and is where God desperately wants us to be, with Him forever. In that life to come, we achieve our full potential, and there will be no more sin, no more suffering, no more goodbyes, and no more death. We cannot begin to conceive of such a world, and if we but knew a fraction of it we would be enthralled and desirous of arriving at our true home. And full of joy.

So a wonderful future lies ahead of us – but… we have no proof of this. No one has come back from the dead to confirm this, and even the claim that Jesus has risen from the dead cannot be proved. Where does that leave us?

The unavoidable truth is that we need faith. Faith is not irrational. It is not believing in fairy tales. In fact, everyone lives by faith – even atheists and agnostics, since no one can one hundred percent guarantee that what we take in with our senses is in fact reality.

Faith honours mystery. And mystery is not nonsense – it is the limit of our understanding. Faith, based on a judicious evaluation of reality, is actually the honest path – the true way of human life in this world. And as regards faith in God, the revelation of Jesus resonates with what we can discern in our hearts – an inner truth that is common to all humanity.

God appears absent in this life. God will not ‘descend’ in a cloud and sort us out! We have therefore to accept this and work to understand the meaning behind our existence. Ultimately however, it is not formal belief in God that will see us home to our eternal destiny – it is quite simply love.

“He who lives in love, lives in God, and God lives in him.” 1 John 4: 16

For God is love,