Have you ever felt like God was distant, and that He was the one distancing Himself? Some of my deepest times of fellowship with Christ have been followed by times of great lack—as if God was playing hard to get.
Theologian John Owen spent much time contemplating that question, and in the book The Glory of Christ, he shares one possible reason (among others):
He withdraws himself in order to make us appreciate him more so that we diligently seek for him as we would seek for a lost precious treasure.
We all too easily take Christ for granted and become lazy in seeking fellowship with him…By withdrawing himself he aims to awaken his people to search for him, and to mourn over their sin in taking him for granted…While we are busy with other things, Christ withdraws himself and we cannot find him. Yet even this discipline is for our recovery and sanctification.
What an amazing picture of God’s grace and the deep communion He desires with His people. According to Owen, when God withdraws Himself, it is to cause us to seek Him more and repent from beholding something else. His withdrawing is a gracious discipline with the purpose of making us more like Christ.
What an astounding thought! And what a compelling reason to run an audit of our heart’s affections and recalibrate the direction of our soul’s gaze.
Owen then asks how can we know that God has withdrawn himself:
The first consequence of Christ’s withdrawing himself from us is that inward graces grow weak and we tend to rely more and more on outside helps. Above all, we lose the desire for holy meditation and we spend less and less time with Christ. Just as frost withers the plants in the garden, so the grace in our hearts also withers when the ‘Sun of Righteousness’ withdraws and hides himself…
What does your heart long after more than anything? To see the glory of Christ? Or something lesser? If your answer is “something lesser”, God will grow more distant until you make Christ your first longing. And how can we best do this?
It is as the Holy Spirit gets us to behold the glory of Christ by faith that he powerfully renews and transforms our souls.
Let us make the beholding of the glory of Christ a chief goal in our lives. This is more than mere intellectual assent of facts about Christ; it is meditating on the person and work of Christ who has secured for us immeasurable riches in a glorious inheritance to the praise of His glory. This beholding will shine the ‘Sun of Righteousness’ into our hearts and cause the grace in our hearts to both take root and bear fruit.
The next time you feel distant from God, let these truths drive your heart’s affections back to behold the glory of Christ.
Quotes from pages 109-112 of The Glory of Christ (Banner of Truth).