From Seeds of Trust
Am I a God nearby, says the Lord, and not a God far off? Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them? says the Lord. Do I not fill Heaven and Earth? says the Lord. (Jeremiah 23:23-24)
“A God who is near”: this expression sums up Israel’s experience of God’s tenderness. God watches over his people, Israel – “shielded him, cared for him, guarded him as the apple of his eye,” (Deuteronomy 32:10). But God’s people also experienced a “God who is far away,” and Jeremiah complains about this: “Why should you be like a stranger in the land?” (Jeremiah 14:8)) It is as though God no longer intervened in human affairs; his presence could no longer be felt. He let Jerusalem and its Temple fall into ruin. “I call and you do not answer,” (Psalm 22:2). Even those who believe must live as if there were no God.
At that time, some prophets kept on making promises in God’s name in order to shore up the morale of the nation. But, in reality, they were inventing them. They felt obliged to fill the vacuum left by the absence of any concrete experience of God. Jeremiah suffered from God’s silence, too, but he did not want to pretend. He consented to live with his questions. And one day he received an answer: God is not only “a God who is near” but also “a God who is far away.” He is not only found in the experience of fullness, but also in that of lack, of longing. There is no need to fill the vacuum caused by the impression that God is far away, for God “fills Heaven and Earth” at all times.
The experience of a “God who is far away” gave Jeremiah a deeper understanding of God’s love: “The Lord appeared to him from far away. I have loved you with an everlasting love,” (v. 31:3). If God seems to hide his face, that is in order to let us discover a love beyond anything we can imagine. If God “flees like the deer,” (Saint John of the Cross) and seems far away, that is in order to help us, in our turn, to keep going far along the way of the gospel.
- How do I react when God seems far away, or even absent?
- To what experiences in my life do the expressions “a God who is near” and “a God who is far away” correspond?
- What helps our love for God to grow?
Jesus, Love of all loving, you were always in me and I had forgotten it. You were in my heart of hearts and I was looking for you elsewhere. When I kept myself far from you, you were waiting for me. And now I dare to tell you: “Christ, you are my life.”