There is an interesting dilemma that many experience in the gospel. They are taught of a God that is ever-near, full of compassion, and able to be petitioned for one’s daily needs. These are beautiful and encouraging thoughts, ones that the inner soul desperately craves for.
However then there is this matter of a God unseen. Initially it can be hard to resolve the notion of an ever-present Father with the reality of never directly perceiving this entity. God appears to be lurking just out sight, only able to be guessed at, and never truly known.
It would seem that we have been consigned to a state of frustration, ever wanting to know God more, but lacking the capacity to have our fill of Him. And yet Jesus promised that we would, in fact, be able to be filled and never left wanting again. I have found this statement to be true, though it frankly surprised me that it was.
With this study I would like to explore how God discloses Himself by degrees to those that come seeking Him, and how He does so in unexpected ways. We will consider how He is able to meet our need for divinity, even while remaining behind a shroud. Finally we will seek to understand the reasons behind His methodologies, exploring the reasons for His perceived absence.
Doctrine and Covenants 29:40-41, Alma 42:7
Wherefore, it came to pass that the devil tempted Adam, and he partook of the forbidden fruit and transgressed the commandment, wherein he became subject to the will of the devil, because he yielded unto temptation.
Wherefore, I, the Lord God, caused that he should be cast out from the Garden of Eden, from my presence, because of his transgression, wherein he became spiritually dead, which is the first death.
And now, ye see by this that our first parents were cut off both temporally and spiritually from the presence of the Lord; and thus we see they became subjects to follow after their own will.
Wherefore, I, the Lord God, caused that he should be cast out from my presence, because of his transgression
Our first parents were cut off both temporally and spiritually from the presence of the Lord
We feel a separation from God and we feel frustrated by it. The first thing to understand is that this is perfectly normal, in fact our instincts are exactly correct, because we do have a very real divide from God. Ever since the fall of Adam and Eve, mankind has been cut loose from the direct communion that was once our daily pleasure.
There is a direct analogy in this to a newborn having its connection to the mother, the umbilical cord, cut at birth. Of course, there yet remains a form of sustenance available to the baby through suckling, but can any of us blame that infant for mourning its sudden separation? Neither should we be blamed for mourning the very real absence of God’s direct presence. We were made to be in His presence, and now we are not and we feel that absence deep in our souls.
Like a newborn, we do learn to move on, and with the rest of this study we will examine how. But I just wanted to pause here at the start and appreciate that our perplexity is very real, and we need not be ashamed for feeling it.
Romans 6:23, John 14:6
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.
For the wages of sin is death
Previously we examined how we are all cut off from direct connection with God. This sort of severance is called a spiritual death in the scriptures. It falls on us universally, both because of the Fall of Adam and Eve, and also because of our own failure to keep God’s commandments perfectly. Thus, twice-fold, the wages of sin truly are death, and we would forever be cast off from God if there was no intervention.
But the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord
Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me
I am a Christian, because I believe that this separation from God can only be overcome through Jesus Christ. I therefore call him my Savior. There is a more generic term that can be used, though, that of the Messiah. Messiah is a title which means one who saves or reclaims a people, and it turns out that belief in a Messiah is present in many world religions.
The Jews are waiting for a yet-unnamed Messiah, one who will be king of Israel, born from the royal line of David. Several branches of Islam await the coming of one Mahdi, who will finally reunite all people under one faith. Maitreya is a figure in Buddhist teaching, who will come and renew the teaching of pure dharma after the world has forgotten it.
Thus the major world religions might respectfully disagree on the exact identity of the Messiah, but they do agree that one exists. I find it very telling that this idea is so universally accepted. We all agree that we have come to a darkness, and that someone will come to bring us the light. Someone must close the divide and bring us back to the throne of God.
2 Nephi 2:24-25, Matthew 6:8
But behold, all things have been done in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things. Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.
Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.
All things have been done in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things
Your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him
We have already discussed how in this fallen world we feel a strange strain, one where need God’s presence, but lack the ability to commune with Him directly. Not only this, but also we are a soul divided, some parts of us craving for divinity and others for debauchery.
It is natural to wonder why are we divided so? Why is our spirit so willing, but our flesh so weak? Why do we search for God but do not see Him? Why can’t it all be more straightforward?
It is a strange, fallen world we live in, but perhaps we can take solace in the knowledge that this is how it is supposed to be. God simply would not have let us come here unless it was for our own good. God knows what we need even before we do, and provides what is good for us.
Perhaps we cannot fully understand why. Perhaps we do not need to. In the end all that we need to do is accept that God god “knoweth all things,” and that what He has orchestrated has been “done in wisdom.”
Romans 8:24-25, James 1:3-4
For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for?
But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.
Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.
But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.
But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it
We have previously noted that God would not have put this divide between us and Him unless it was for our own good. One of the good qualities that this brings about in us is patience.
Patience is a virtue that is too easily forgotten. We all know that faith is supremely important, but there cannot be any faith without patience. Faith is putting trust and confidence in a yet-unrealized good, it is anticipating a blessing that we do not yet hold. By necessity, there is a period of time between us establishing our faith and our receiving the fruits of it. But we won’t be able to get through that period unless we are willing to wait…with patience.
But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing
Patience is both a means and an end. By exercising it we stop demanding that we be given things right now, and so we become content, “wanting nothing.” But then, having become a patient being, we receive all, and thus are “wanting nothing” in an entirely different sense.
We long to see our Father, it is a desire ingrained in our infinite soul. What better way to teach us patience than to remove the possibility for that very thing? We have to make our peace with living incomplete. But if we have made our peace, then we are complete. And then, being complete, we are ready to receive the Father.
James 4:8, Doctrine and Covenants 67:12
Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
Neither can any natural man abide the presence of God, neither after the carnal mind.
Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you
Neither can any natural man abide the presence of God
We have examined how we feel a divide from God, one that can confuse us and even frustrate us. We have also considered how this separation is appointed to us by divine wisdom, to aid us in developing godlike attributes like faith and patience.
However, I cannot claim that all separation from God is according to His divine plan. Because if I’m being honest, most of the times that I have felt a lack of God’s presence, it was because I was living a life where His spirit could not abide. I actively made choices to keep him at bay. I didn’t want Him to get too near because of my shame.
Absolutely I believe that God is willing to work with the sinner…but the sinner also has to be willing to work with Him. You don’t have to be perfect to hold God’s hand, but you do need to be reaching. If ever you feel that God isn’t as available as you wish, you might consider whether you feel right in your conscience.
Acts 17:27-28, 2 Kings 6:16-17
That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us:
For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring.
And he answered, Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them.
And Elisha prayed, and said, Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.
The Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire
There is no question that at times we feel very far from God. And it is important for us to acknowledge that this is a very real frustration and to admit that it weighs us down.
But though every emotion we feel is real, the facts that we base them upon are not necessarily so. So yes, we feel God’s absence, but that is not proof that He is, in fact, absent. It might be that we are just as the servant of Elisha, not yet having had our eyes opened so that we can see the presence of God all around.
Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see
He be not far from every one of us
For in him we live, and move, and have our being
The more I look for God, the more I find Him. Once I did not see Him anywhere, but now I know that He is everywhere. I think part of what makes recognizing Him so difficult is that very same prevalence. Does a fish even know that it swims in water, or is it so ubiquitous that it does not discern it?
God’s presence in our life does not change, only our capacity to perceive it. Once the change is made inside of us, then we see that He is in “all life, and breath, and all things” (Acts 17:25). Or as Martin Luther put it “God writes the Gospel not in the Bible alone, but also on trees, and in the flowers and clouds and stars.”
My previous study was about needing to make time for God. As I was writing it though, I wanted to address the times where I have wished that that process was simpler. Because at the outset, coming to God often does not appear to be very straightforward. It is understandable to get frustrated by this perceived divide.
One of my reasons for writing this blog is to not only explore spiritual epiphanies, but also the spiritual frustrations that precede them. I think we are mistakenly afraid of being blasphemous if we admit that following God was, at times, aggravating.
But saying that something is aggravating is not the same as saying that it isn’t worth it. All relationships come with friction and frustration, but in them we also derive the greatest joy. And that includes our relationship with God. Do I wish that things were easier…a part of me wants to say yes, but a part of me knows it just couldn’t work that way.
We Are Twice Divided From God
When we are in the womb we maintain a direct connection with our nurturing mother. No effort is required for us to maintain sustenance, we acquire it freely. After birth, the mother’s body continues to provide nutrition for us, but the direct tether to her is severed. We can still be nourished, but now, and forever after, we’re going to have to work for it.
I do not believe that there is any coincidence for how well this reflects the separation from God brought about by the fall, and the effort now required of us to now reconnect with Him. It is our common lot as humankind.
But that only accounts for one of our separations. The second is that which we bring upon our own selves. Guilt and shame that have nothing to do with what Adam or Eve did, but rather what sins we, ourselves, have chosen to commit.
Romans 6:23- For the wages of sin is death
Alma 42:9- Therefore, as the soul could never die, and the fall had brought upon all mankind a spiritual death as well as a temporal, that is, they were cut off from the presence of the Lord, it was expedient that mankind should be reclaimed from this spiritual death.
There are Reasons and Wisdom Behind This Divide
Going back to the example of the newborn, the only way for an infant to remain tethered to its mother would be by stunting its growth forever. It could never grow to the full measure of a man or a woman while remaining so linked.
Character is defined by the things that we do when we do not feel another’s eyes peering over our shoulder. Character growth occurs when we do good things because of our own volition. In this way it is wise for God to allow enough separation for us to act and grow on our own.
Also, our separation from God ebbs and flows. Sometimes His presence is nearer and sometimes it is farther, depending on our own actions. This ingenious state of change provides an essential feedback loop for measuring our own behavior. When I sin, I feel more withdrawn from God, and that unpleasantness motivates me towards better choices. These, in turn, draw me nearer to Him.
2 Nephi 2:24- But behold, all things have been done in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things.
Doctrine and Covenants 6:28- For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward.
The Divide Can Be Closed
If we were to directly see God in our daily lives, there would surely be far greater feelings of fulfillment in our hearts and far less evil performed in the world. But also we would be stunted children, just as Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden.
God planted the tree of knowledge of good and evil in the garden to allow for the reality of today. It was a gift. Now we truly and independently act. We make choices, feel God’s presence grow nearer or farther, and by that steer ourselves as we see fit. And if we choose to steer ourselves back to God, then regaining His presence will really mean something. It won’t just some default state that was premortally chosen for us. It will be the destiny that we have chosen for ourselves.
Mother birds have been known to push their young out of the nest. But they do not this so that the child will never return to the trees, rather so that when it does it will do so upon magnificent wings!
2 Timothy 4:7- I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.
Philippians 4:13- I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.