In a poem titled “Moments of Joy,” Denise Levertov tells the story of an old scholar who takes a room on the next street down from his grown children—”the better to concentrate on his unending work, his word, his world.” And though he comes and goes while they sleep, his children feel bereft. They want him nearer. But at times it happens that a son or daughter wakes in the dark and finds him sitting at the foot of the bed, or in the old rocker—”sleepless in his old coat, gazing into invisible distance, but clearly there to protect as he had always done.” The child springs up and flings her arms about him, pressing a cheek to his temple and taking him by surprise: “Abba!” the child exclaims, and Levertov concludes:
“And the old scholar, the father,
is deeply glad to be found.
That’s how it is, Lord, sometimes;
You seek, and I find.”(1)
Though many would like to say that the majority of our lives have been spent searching for God, perhaps it is more accurate to say that we have been sought. Even so, like the children in Levertov’s poem, time and again I know I find myself bereft of God’s presence. Sometimes it just feels like I am sitting in the dark.
One of my seminary professors once told me that God’s presence is not the opposite of God’s absence. At first glance this didn’t seem the least bit encouraging. And yet, maybe I have seen this notion lived out after all. For even when I am most stirred by God’s nearness—when God’s presence seems an undeniable truth—am I not also simultaneously stung by the ache of longing to be nearer or the reality of not quite yet being at home? Even in our best encounters with God, presence and absence remain intertwined. What might this then mean for the moments when I am feeling tormented by God’s absence?
The Christian scriptures seem to suggest of the dark what children learn of their parents. Namely, the dark does not imply the absence of a caring person. “Though an army besiege me,” said David, “my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then will I be confident.” David’s confidence was not in the absence of darkness, but in the knowledge of the one who watched over him in the dark. “I am still confident of this,” he concludes. “I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.”(2)
Though we might struggle when God seems far off, perhaps it need not be without hope. When the land was dark with the death of Christ weighing on its shoulders, God exhaustively sought despairing hearts in the thick of that darkness. And the risen Christ is still today the certainty of God’s nearness and the promise of his care in the dark. “Thus,” writes Os Guinness, “Christians do not say to God, ‘I do not understand you at all, but I trust you anyway.’ That would be suicidal. Rather, they say, ‘Father, I do not understand you, but I trust you’—or more accurately, ‘I do not understand you in this situation, but I understand why I trust you anyway.’ It is therefore reasonable to trust even when we do not understand. We may be in the dark about what God is doing, but we are not in the dark about God.”(3)
Perhaps you have spent much of life bewailing the one who stood silent as you cried, disoriented in the dark and desperately reaching for something to make it better. What if God was there all along? Perhaps there is reason to be awed by the God who says, “Follow me!” and expects us to trust that we won’t be left or forsaken. Perhaps we should fear the one who won’t let go, whose persistence we might even find exhausting and whose faith in us we find terrifying. Perhaps there reason to be humbled by the God who refuses to leave despite the words we shout in unawareness and our unrelenting waywardness. And perhaps we do better to marvel at the God whose hand we can see clearly through the blinding pain of life. Though uncertainty may surround us and the darkness bid us to see that no Father is there, perhaps we can trust Him nonetheless.
Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
(1) Denise Levertov, This Great Unknowing: Last Poems (New York: New Directions, 1999), 60.
(2) Psalm 27:3-13.
(3) Os Guinness, Unspeakable (New York: Harper Collins, 2005), 150.