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My time with God was especially rich today. I know this is only because so many of you have been praying for me. Yesterday, after the evening prayer service, a dear friend of mine had the courage to ask me how I was doing spiritually. Now this may not seem like such a big deal to most of you, but this is the first time in many years that I recall anyone asking this of me. Quite frankly, the question was exactly what I needed to be asked because it forced me to stop and think about why I have been unable to focus my thoughts on God lately. I thank God for friends who have the  discernment to recognize when I am at a spiritual low, and who have the courage to ask at the most opportune moment in time.

The pleasures of pain

You see, I have been struggling as of late to hold near to the presence of God. There is a battle going on this very moment in my mind. It has nothing to do with God’s goodness, but everything to do with the tension between His immanence and His transcendence. For the past few months I have been in tremendous amounts of pain, and the result was a closeness and nearness to God that I never knew was possible. For the past few months God had granted me a clarity and focus in my prayers that continuously drew me into His presence. It is the mystery of suffering. We experience the pleasure of intimacy with God the strongest when we are at the height of our suffering. God uses experiences such as these to draw us to Himself. Through our suffering, He teaches us that it is not about us, it is about His grace (II Cor. 12.9).

 The pains of pleasure

When our pain is taken away (be it through healing, medicine or diversion) we quickly lose sight of  the pleasures that our pain once brought us. Since starting my treatment about a month ago, my pain has been significantly reduced to a tolerable level. This sounds good at first, but it comes at a high price. It may be, in fact, a bargain with the devil himself. I have redeemed God’s gift of suffering for relative  painlessness and a dull mind (both being effects of the treatment). Mornings which were once rich in communion with God are now a muddled conglomerate of half-baked thoughts and petty prayers. Evenings which were once rich in communion with my family, are now spent in sleepy solitude and useless lethargy.


The mystery of God’s transcendent immanence

All of this has caused me to think about God’s immanence. After spending so many days near to God, I am now, due to my own sinfulness, far off from him. I know that He is near to us, but at times I do not believe it.  My first response to this was to reject my feelings as irrational (a well conditioned Neo-Platonist) and cling to the objective and more rational knowledge of God’s immanence. However, the more I observed my response, the more irrational it began to appear. Why am I so quick to dismiss God’s transcendence when I know full well that it is an essential quality of His being? God is, as Barth insisted, a being who is “wholly other” than us… and yet He graciously condescends to our level to become immanent to us. I cannot reject the notion that my feelings of  alienation from God are errant. We are categorically different than God.

 Rescue the perishing

These feelings of alienation are  a reminder of what life was like prior to my adoption as a son of God. This experience has given me a new appreciation for the emptiness that those without this salvation experience. Having experienced the nearness of God, I see clearly the horror of my alienation. Mine however, is temporary. I know that God will restore to me the joy of His salvation. This has caused my heart to ache even more for those who are without hope. You see, my hope is a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul (Hebrews 6.19). I have entered the inner shrine behind the curtain, and have seen the face of Christ who had entered before me as my high priest (vs.19-20). What horrors await for those who do not enter so boldly?!?


Wrapping it up

I know I that  have been all over the board in this post and that it may not make a lot of sense right now. Rest assured that it doesn’t make much sense to myself either. I am sorting through a lot of new feelings and thoughts right now and may or may not return back to normal- I am certain that my meds have something to do with that. Despite the psychological effects of my pain relievers, what I do know is that we serve a God who is near to us, even when we don’t feel like He is near. Likewise, we also serve a God who is wholly other, even when we are flooded with the joy of His salvation. The wonder of God is not His exclusive immanence or His exclusive transcendence; it is in the affirmation of both. It is in the realization that He has condescended for our sake and by doing so we have ascended to a position of glory. This realization is accompanied by joy, but also by fear and trembling.

5 thoughts on “Flummoxed

  1. Ryan

    I am glad that you finally wrote something again. I keep checking every day and have had to go back and start reading old stuff. I never thought of pain in those terms. You almost sound as if you are thinking that you were better off when you were in pain. I’m assuming that’s not what you are saying. Or is it?

  2. I agree that the pain thing is kind of weird Aaron. But it is nice to hear from you again.

  3. Ryan

    I didn’t mean to focus just on the suffering part. That was my initial comment since I only had a few seconds before I had to run out to buy groceries. This whole post is very deep and well written. It has been haunting me since I read it. But that is nothing new. You have been haunting me since I first met you! I can tell that you know God Aaron. Your writing cuts to the soul. There is no other explanation other than the truth that you have encountered God. Somewhere in your suffering you have met with him and he with you. I don’t know what I would do if I were in your shoes. I always thought that I would do whatever I could to minimize the pain. We are taught that pain is bad. But you have made me question this idea. You really need to be writing for the masses. I can honestly say that nobody in my seminary classes writes as clearly and truthfully as you. And I am studying with people who have more than 20 years experience in the pastorate! You have a rare gift. Have you ever considered writing curriculum for topical bible studies?

  4. I agree this is profound. It’s nice to hear from you again. Can we meet together this week? Maybe Wednesday? I need to spill my guts.

  5. Sorry for not responding to everyone. Life has been busy! Let’s see…

    Ryan: I haven’t quite figured out what I believe about pain yet. I do believe that our knee-jerk reaction to pain is to try to shun it… and this is, I suppose, very natural and probably good at times. However, I think that there is more to it than that. I’m still working through this conviction and I am not sure where I will end up.

    Anthro: it was nice to meet with you. Let’s do it again.

    Serena: I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on pain.

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