There was a particular time in the past when things were not going well for me. One day I had one of those experiences where the Bible suddenly came alive, and I knew I had encountered God.
It was one of those times when God was gloriously absent, when every prayer I prayed bounced straight off the ceiling and smacked me back in the eye, and where things were getting daily worse and worse. At such times you (or at least I) begin to ask questions about why we’re bothering to have a so-called relationship with God at all. It wasn’t quite that I had stopped believing in him (that was a different week back in 1986), but I just couldn’t see the point in carrying on living as though he was meant to be on my side. Why continue to hope that he might do something in my situation? Why not just live like the rest of the human race, who hope only in what they might be able to work out for themselves, or merely in ‘good luck’?
It was into this situation that God spoke through the passage in John 6 where Jesus’ disciples were busy abandoning him.
66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.
67 “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.
68 Simon Peter answered him, [and this is my translation]
“Actually O Lord that is exactly what I want to do. But the problem is, I don’t have anywhere else to go. At the end of the day, difficult though it all is, you do actually have the words of eternal life. So I suppose I’d better stick around. I really don’t have a lot of choice”
I realised that life without God at all was infinitely worse than life with an apparently absent God. However badly I felt he was treating me that was still preferable to trying to make my own way in life. That revelation has seen me through grim times for years since. I have often wanted to throw a hissy fit and tell God where to stick it all: I have often felt like taking my spiritual ball and going home. But the reminder of my own hopelessness has brought me to my senses, and so far I’m still walking with him.
Deeper than this is the sense of expectation, which so many Christians have lurking somewhere deep within their spirits, that God is there primarily to be good for them, in the sense of making things go well and painlessly. When disaster strikes we so often resort to the ‘Why me?’ questions, as though we had a divine right to a comfy life. I can’t remember who is was who said it, but it is undoubtedly true that ‘God is more committed to my sanctification than to my comfort’. I have to come, albeit slowly and painfully, to the recognition that God is my only hope, and that his times of absence are all part of his plan for me to grow to maturity in Christ. Twee to say, easy to believe in good times, but true nevertheless. If it isn’t true, where else do we go? What on earth hope do we have?