Jul 28

The Presence and Absence of God Quotes From Eugene Peterson

This past weekend I had the amazing privilege to preach at our main weekend services.  If you are interested in hearing it, or want to hear it again, you can find it here.  I have received a couple of requests for the quotes from Eugene Peterson that I used.  Here are the quotes and a portion of my message notes for some context:

Have you ever wondered why God is silent?  Why he doesn’t speak or act when we need him to, or when the world needs him to?  For some it is a big question that can cause a major hang-up about God.  In some ways we can say Justin Timberlake right; silence is awkward.  Silence can almost become paralyzing when we experience it in our life. What can we learn from Israel’s silent years about living about God’s silence ourselves?

In Eugene Peterson’s book, Christ Plays In Ten Thousand Places, Peterson talks about two things that can be helpful to us.  First, Peterson talks about the “presence of God”.  God had a definitive presence in history and in the people of Israel.  Everything that happened over the course of history happened in a world with God in it.  In the ancient world, there was no secular history, or history without God. God was alive, he was everywhere, he was at work in the world, and in the community of Israel.  History fit around the reality of God.

Peterson writes: History is the medium in which God works salvation, just as paint and canvas is the medium in which Rembrandt made works of art.”

God works through historical events for a greater purpose and plan.  God is not just creating a work of art about Israel, God is creating a redemptive work of art of all humanity.

But Peterson also talks about the “Absence of God”.  We find many instances in the Bible of people who experienced the absence of God.  In fact, when we read the first two chapters in Exodus, while Israel was in slavery in Egypt, we find another period of over 400 years where it seemed like God was silent. The book of Psalms was written by people who wrote and sang about their longing for God to return after a significant period of silence.  Jesus felt God was silent when he hung on a cross, and cried out, “why have you forsaken me?”

Peterson does not mince words about the absence of God.  Here is what he writes:

“Belief in God does not exempt us from feelings of abandonment by God.  Praising God does not inoculate us from doubts about God.  Meditating devoutly on God’s word does not establish us securely in the “arms of Jesus,” does not insulate us from all feelings of abandonment, darkness and aridity.”

In other words, the absence of God is a normal part of walking with God.  But why? Why does this have to be?  Sometimes life is hard, and while it may be hard to see at the time, growth comes through the silent times.  Just like a body builder grows through lifting a significant amount of weight, a runner grows through running extended distances, a great education grows out of hours of study, a deeper faith comes through trusting God through the times he seems silent.  We learn to be dependent on Him.  We long for him.

God does not give up his control or presence even when it feels like He is absence.  God’s absence means he is preparing us for what is to come.    And that brings us to this week’s storyline:  “When it seems like nothing is happening, God is preparing the next Chapter of His story and ours.”  God does not give up, walk out or become passive aggressive towards us, God is with us!