A Wyoming church planter recently asked me to write on the above question. Here is my response… I hope it encourages you in your own dark moments.
This is an excellent question that nearly every Christian asks multiple times throughout life. The simple answer to this question is that God is always present with His children (Matt. 28:20). He never leaves us! However, there are many times when we do not FEEL the nearness of our Father. Why? Here are two reasons…
1. The light of the Holy Spirit often reveals the dark places in our souls (brokenness, sin, etc). He does this so we will come to Him for healing. However, when the Lord shines on our dark places, we can only see the darkness, and His light seems far away. We experience the pain of our brokenness or sin, and we can’t discern His presence. Yet, He is with us, bringing us into the seemingly dark place for our healing. We must learn to view the pain of darkness as God’s loving hand. Like the pain of a tumor leading to surgery, darkness leads us to discover the sin or brokenness that God wants to heal. Let us pay attention to the cause of the darkness, lift up the issue to Jesus, and let Him heal us!
2. God wants to bring us into a deeper love with Himself. The early days of a Christian are marked with great joy and much evidence of God in us. Believing in Jesus is easy during these times as our senses are heightened so that we are very happy as we experience the emotional rapture of knowing God and His forgiveness! However, God wants to take us from the emotional milk of infancy and bring us into a profound spiritual relationship that is deeper than any human feeling. This deeply spiritual relationship will last through the challenges of the real world. Hardships may destroy our happy human feelings, but they can’t break our spiritual union with our Lord (1 Cor. 3:2).
In order to deepen our relational union with Him, God takes us through seasons when our elementary, emotional ways of relating to Him are not sufficient for the spiritual depths He is bringing us into. We are now in the spiritual realm and our human feelings are useless. In fact, they can get in the way because the deeper we go spiritually, the less they are able to sense God. Our feelings can grip us with fear and doubt perceiving that God abandoned them. I think this could be why our biblical heroes experienced such intense depression when God took them into deeply spiritual experiences with Him. If you find yourself in a dangerous place mentally or emotionally, get professional care immediately.
When we are in these deeper places with God, our emotional senses no longer give us the confidence we had in our elementary state because they are human and not spiritual 1 Cor. 2:10-14). Before, we knew Him with our physical and emotional senses such as seeing His blessings or enjoying emotional comfort (1 Cor. 3:2). God enlarges our experiences with Him so that we are moved past a purely sensual understanding of God’s presence.
Regularly relating to God deeper in our spirits means that we must learn a new ability. This is like exercising a muscle we have rarely used, or like learning a new language. Until we get more practice, we aren’t competent to relate to God on this spiritual level. However, once we continue to know Him in this way, we understand the nearness of His loving presence more than before because the experience is spiritual and not merely emotional. It is like entering a new dimension in our love with God, definitely worth walking through the darkness (1 Cor. 15-15).
Seasons of darkness continue through our lives as God may be identifying parts of our lives that need His healing, or could be taking us deeper into His love. Either way, learn to identify the dark times as evidence of His presence. Submit to God as these seasons approach. Invite Him in to do His healing work. Prayerfully expect Him to do significant things in you during these times. Life gets dark and extremely challenging, but God knows the glory that awaits you as you endure. Press on!