The Eclipse of God

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A Lunar Eclipse

The Feeling of the Absence of God 

When persons of faith feel overwhelmed by evil and suffering, it may seem as though God were absent, that he does not care about a human beings with all of their problems. Even the biblical poet exclaimed,

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, and am not silent” (Psalm 22:1-2, NIV).

Similarly, on Good Friday, Pontius Pilate, the Governor of Judea, condemned an innocent person, Jesus of Nazareth, to death, ordering that he be executed on a cross. While undergoing the intense agony of crucifixion, Jesus cried aloud, repeating the words of the Jewish poet,

“‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’ — which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?'” (Matthew 27:46).

The Perception, Not Reality, of God’s Absence

However, the sense of the absence of God is a perception, which is largely shaped by a person’s feelings. Spiritually, he or she is experiencing – to borrow a phrase from the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber – “the eclipse of God.” In an eclipse, the sun is always there, always real, even though it is temporarily blocked or hidden by the moon. Similarly, God is real, always present, even though the awareness of his presence may be blocked by pain and emotional suffering, such as depression and anxiety.

The Deus Absconditus

In Christian theology, God’s presence is in both the light and darkness. Paradoxically, his hiding is an obscure way by which he reveals himself to human beings. He is, in theological language, the Deus absconditus , the “hidden God.” In the words of the prophet Isaiah, “Truly, Thou art a God who hides Himself, O God of Israel, Savior!” (Isaiah 45:15, NAS). God, then, is at work in human beings, even if they neither realize nor believe it.

The Nature of Emotional States

Feelings or emotional states are never permanent, for they are passive, coming to and departing from a person – much like the movement of clouds. That is why persons of faith must endure the feeling of the absence of God. Eventually, it will change, going away on its own.

To those persons undergoing pain or suffering, God appears to have withdrawn from them. He seems far away from their problems. But, in reality, God does not, in a spatial way, withdraw from a person in pain or agony, for he is, to paraphrase St. Augustine, Truth and everywhere present.1

Closer Than a Person’s Very Self

Where, then, is God in times of suffering? He is close “at hand.” Actually, God is closer to a person than he or she can possibly imagine. In other words, God is closer to a person than his or her very self or, to again paraphrase Augustine, God is more inward than my inmost self.2 At precisely those moments, then, in which God seems most distant, he is actually the closest to a person in his or her suffering.

Therefore, endure the “troubled waters” of life, for, eventually, they shall subside. Regardless of the feelings associated with suffering, trust in God, for he wants a person to have faith in him, not in feelings or emotions.

Endnotes

1. Cf. Saint Augustine, Confessions, Bk. X, Ch. XXVI, trans. R. S. Pine-Coffin (New York, N.Y.: Penguin Books, 1961, reprinted 1986), p. 231.

2. Ibid., Bk. III, Ch. VI, p. 62.

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