I’m writing today to those of you who feel like God is far away. To those who are disturbed by the horrors in our world and are straining to locate any semblance of Divine intervention amidst the mayhem. To those who are wondering if God is even real. I have a hunch that might describe a lot of you.
You are on my mind because I, too, can relate. I am horrified by what is happening in the Middle East—the egregious violence against humanity, both Israelis and Palestinians. And this is only one of the many disturbing humanitarian crises that will be covered in tonight’s evening news. Closer to home, I’m also heart-sick for several people I know whose lives have been upended by cancer and other serious illnesses. And, frankly, we’re still a bit queasy from the jolt we felt during David’s recent health crisis.
While I can relate to your dismay over all the horrible suffering far away and close to home, I can also relate to the difficulty you have with locating the presence and work of God amidst these varied ordeals. Even during our own crisis, quite honestly God seemed far away. It was hard to pray, and when I did, it felt as though my prayers bounced like an email sent to a defunct email address.
To be clear, there have been many times in my life when it seemed as though God had receded into a far corner of the universe. Looking back, I don’t think God ever actually moved away, I simply wasn’t in the frame of mind to comprehend or receive how God was present to me.
So I’ve been thinking a lot about what is happening when God seems far away, and I have some musings I’d like to share in three or four blog posts, especially with those of you who are feeling the same way. I want you to know that you’re not alone, friend, and I plan to keep watch for the dawn of God with you.
Here is Part I of my musings:
#1: When God seems far away, it isn’t necessarily a spiritual issue.
It’s common to think that when God seems far away it must be a spiritual issue that needs resolved. (I.e. I need to have more faith, claim more promises from the Bible, or just keep my eyes on Jesus, etc.) As unhelpful as these suggestions can be, I think they are equally misleading. Instead of our sense of God being the result of some spiritual issue, it can often be the result of a neurological one that needs time to resolve. Let me explain.
I noticed early on during David’s health crisis a thrumming sensation in my own body. It felt as though energy was coursing through my veins, my body locked and loaded, ready to respond to any and all threats that presented themselves. I was on high alert.
I realize now that I was in “emergency mode,” my brain having downshifted into the amygdala, the lower region of the brain that alerts me to danger. (The fight, flight, freeze center.) I was ready to do whatever I needed to do to save my husband. To take care of him, rescue him, protect him so that he would survive this awful ordeal he was going through.
Unfortunately, the amygdala doesn’t have the receptors necessary to recognize and respond to the Divine presence. The parts of our brain that enable us to perceive God and relate to God step aside when we’re in emergency mode. Therefore, God seems far away.
In other words, when we don’t feel safe, our brain and body are simply responding to the way God created us to respond. But our amygdala, often called the primitive brain, will usually calm down once we no longer feel in danger so that our higher brain, the prefrontal cortex, can begin to call the shots and restore our sense of God-with-us. (I say “usually” because sometimes we get stuck in “emergency mode” because of unresolved trauma and need help from a therapist to get out of that mode.)
This is just one of several reasons why God can seem far away to us. I hope this is somehow reassuring. Don’t fret. This too shall pass...usually. Stay tuned for Part II.