Why Does God Seem Distant?

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John 14:15-21

Think about someone who you know very well.

You know this person’s favorite foods, their birthday, and their personality. But you also know their mood or opinion without asking. You know their hopes, their dreams, and—sometimes—you even know things about them of which they are unaware!

Think about that person.

Now, think about why you know them so well.

Most likely, you know them well because you spent time with them. You laughed with them, became furious with them, and cried on their shoulder. Through everything, you each became a part of one another.

Our relationship with God is very similar.

If we wish to develop our relationship with God, we must pay attention to Him. When we read scripture, we must ask ourselves “What is the character of God?” By doing this, we can begin to build a relationship with our heavenly Father.

What better scripture to start with than John 14:15-21? This passage is full of descriptions of God’s character! For example, in John 16, Jesus mentions that God is sending us an advocate (the Holy Spirit) that will be with us forever. God is eternal—he will always exist and will be with us forever.

In John 14:17, Jesus says that the Holy Spirit is “the Spirit of Truth,” meaning that God is Truth. Human beings are, at best, “mostly truthful.” Even when we try our best to be completely honest, deception is still in us. We can even deceive ourselves! God, however, is completely truthful—there is no deception in him. Truth is an essential component of his nature.

We also learn in John 14:17 that God is knowable. “The world cannot accept [the Spirit of Truth] because it neither sees nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you” (John 14:17). God is the author of creation, an entity higher than being, itself. But we can know him. Most of us are unable to meet (much less know) the leader of a country (or even the mayor of a city.) But we can know God!

God is eternal, true, and knowable—but he is so much more!

“If you love me, keep my commandments,” Jesus says in John 14:15. His disciples would immediately connect Jesus’ words with the Shema, an important prayer composed from the words of Deuteronomy 6:4-9. The Shema is one of two prayers that the Jewish people are directly commanded to pray and is an essential declaration of the Jewish faith. In ancient times, the Jewish people had to recite this prayer twice a day—once at sunrise, once at sunset—so the disciples would have known the Shema better than the back of their own hands.

Why the Shema? The Shema begins with the words, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4). The Lord is one. Jesus is reminding his disciples that there is ONE God. He then reveals that this God is of three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

A holy trinity.

The concept is so simple, yet so complex. Something our brothers and sisters in the twelfth century knew full well.

This is called “the Shield of the Trinity.” It’s a diagram of God’s nature created by Christians from twelfth century Europe who were seeking to create a visual interpretation of the trinity. As you can see here, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are of the same substance, but they cannot be reduced to one another (the Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Father and etc.) How can this be?

Perhaps we should introduce the trinity by examining what it isn’t.

The Trinity is not:

  • One God in three forms When explaining the trinity, many Christians like to use the analogy of water, ice, and steam. But this is a faulty analogy. If steam cools or if ice is heated, it becomes water. But The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit never change forms. Furthermore, different states of water do not exist in relationship to one another; they are simply different states of one form. God is not like this.
  • A hierarchy One of the most common modern heresies is the idea that the Father is superior to the Son and Holy Spirit—or that the Holy Spirit isn’t a person at all. As we have discussed in previous blogs, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not only equal persons, but they are constantly serving one another.
  • Three distinct gods Christians have always believed in ONE God in three persons—you can find proof for this all throughout the Old and New Testaments (as well as the creeds from the church throughout history).

Today’s scripture is filled with references to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In verse 16, for example, we see every member of the Trinity: the Son asks the Father for the Holy Spirit to rest on his disciples. Then in verse 21 we see that the Father loves us because we receive the commands of Christ. The Holy Spirit helps us to remember these commands (John 14:26).

Later in John 14, Jesus tells us that he does exactly what he sees his Father doing. If we think about it, this is a difficult thing to wrap out head around. Why would Jesus mindlessly follow his Father? Unlike us, Jesus doesn’t worry about being “authentic” or “independent.” Instead, he concerns himself with following his Father; knowing that his Father has his best interests at heart.

All three members of the Trinity are fully God and worthy of worship and praise. However, we do not see them dominating one another; we see them serving and following one another. We see them giving glory to and caring for one another.

What a difficult form of love! This love requires sacrifice and devotion. It requires giving up glory and allowing others to be right. Jesus gave up his life on the cross, but he never once asked for praise. He never asked for glory. Instead, he simply continued to listen to his Father—and his Father lifted him up.

If we really want to know God, we cannot insist on saying, “I love you, but I won’t listen to you.” Think about it in another way: a husband completely ignores his wife for several months. When she breaks down and asks him about it, he replies, “I love you, but I don’t want to listen to you.” Does he really love her? It’s the same way with our relationship to God. The feeling of love is not real love.

We cannot do works to earn favor, but if we really love someone, we will act in a certain way toward them. We will listen to them, we will spend time with them, and we will learn all of the little things about them that makes them who they are. To love God then, we must listen to Him through the scripture, to spend time with him through prayer, and to learn all of the little things about Him that makes Him who he is.

It is then that Jesus will reveal himself to us.

“Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching,” Jesus says in John 14:23. “The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them”

God doesn’t live in buildings. He chooses to live in us, his Church. The Bible describes us as being the home of God. When we obey Christ’s commands, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit come to live in us—the Creator comes to live in the Created—and we become to know Him better than we ever knew ourselves.

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