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There comes a time in the lives of certain devoted Christians when something truly horrible happens to them. The Holy Spirit suddenly leaves. One moment things are as they should be, and the next moment His Presence vanishes and they can feel a terrifying void inside of them. If this is where you are at right now, keep reading.
This is an experience which most Christians will never have to endure. It is a trauma that is limited to a select few, and this makes it all the harder to find someone who can walk you through it. In this post, we’ll explain to you what is happening, and help you understand God’s positive reasons for putting you through this.
Did He actually leave?
Let’s start with the most important question: has the Holy Spirit actually left you? No, He has not, and yet the evidence of His absence is quite real. But let’s now examine what that evidence consists of. It comes down to sensual evidence of both a fleshly and spiritual nature. Your flesh consists of your emotions, mind, and physical body. By now you have probably learned that your flesh is not a very reliable indicator of truth. Just because God feels distant doesn’t mean He is, yet flat prayer times and thick silences are still very draining to deal with.
But what you’re going through now takes on a different flavor than the usual emotional deceptions. When the Holy Spirit wants to stage a convincing departure, He can put on a ten star performance. He can make His absence seem real on such a deep core level that you just can’t refute it. After all, how do we determine truth from lies? By sensing the conviction of the Holy Spirit deep within our souls. Even when our emotions are panicking on the surface, we can sometimes sense the peace of God moving deep within our souls, and that is what we learn to cling to as truth. But when God communicates His absence to us on even a soul level, well, there is nothing left to do but completely panic. After all, without Him, we are nothing. How can we continue to live when Life Himself has turned away from us?
Why is He doing this?
So if God hasn’t actually left you, why in the world is He putting you through this? You are not taking your faith casually. You are a committed Christian. You are pursuing God as best as you know how and you want to be close to Him more than anything. Of all the people in this world, why would He choose you to abandon in such a horrific way?
Let’s examine where you’re at in your walk right now. Your relationship with God is the most important thing to you. This is excellent. You’ve undoubtedly made great advancements already—probably more than you recognize. You want to go all the way with God. He wants you to come all the way, and there is one thing which everything else depends upon: TRUST. Your trust in God, to be specific. It must be absolute. It isn’t absolute right now, because no one’s trust is absolute. But the closer you get to absolute trust, the closer you will get to God. The limits of your trust define the limits of your capacity to grow closer to Him. By now you’ve probably figured out that spiritual growth happens in plateaus. You go through periods where nothing seems to be happening and then suddenly He advances you. We can liken spiritual growth to a series of doors that you pass through. Each door represents another level of insight into God and with that insight comes richer communion with Him. At this moment in time, you are standing at a new set of doors:
It’s a simple matter of opening them and going through. But when you try to open these doors, they do not budge. They seem to be stuck, and indeed they are, for on the other side of the doors is a crossbeam lock:
The only way these doors will open is if you can apply enough force to break through that crossbeam on the other side. Well, that’s a pretty thick piece of wood. You’re going to need some pretty strong force. This is what battering rams were about in the days of storming castles. The battering ram provided a heavy weight which could be used to slam against doors until the interior crossbeams were broken in half.
So what is your battering ram going to be in order to break down these doors and get into the next level of intimate communion with God? To break through these particular doors, there is only one force that will work: trust in God that does not rely on any kind of internal feedback. This is a new kind of animal. Up until now your trust in God has been rooted in some kind of feedback—be it emotional or spiritual. All those things you believe about God are largely based on the fact that you sense some internal confirmation in your soul when you think about them. But by now you have advanced enough to graduate ahead of the rest of the class and go on to some highly specialized training. God is preparing you to experience whole new dimensions of communion with Him, but this will require a kind of trust you have not had to develop before now.
This new territory can only be explored with strong trust in God’s Character. His Character is your only guarantee of anything. To go as far as God wants you to go, you have to learn how to count on His faithfulness to you even in the face of feedback like you are now experiencing: this overwhelming sense of God being absent from your life. He is not absent from your life. He has not left you. You can know this because of who He is: God is faithful. He never abandons His children. He will never abandon you. But you can’t know this just because you feel some kind of sensory confirmation. You have to know it solely because you are trusting in who God is, and you are believing in His goodness even when you can’t see evidence of that goodness with your physical, emotional, or spiritual eyes.
God’s Character is what our hope is actually rooted in, but most Christians don’t get to the point where they really soak this in and let its implications change their lives. Certainly Christians will say with their lips that “God is good,” and they think that they really believe it. But watch how quickly they crumble the moment God does something that they define as evil. Suddenly they are flooding Heaven with prayers for God to stop what He’s doing because they consider it to be a bad thing. If we really trusted God, we would not spend so much time trying to advise and direct Him. But the reality is that our trust is extremely shallow because we have built it on a thick slab of sensory feedback. We believe that God is with us because we keep having moments when He feels close. We believe that He is helping us because He’s fixing our problems the way we want them to be fixed. We only say God is good because we’re pretending that He has nothing to do with the things we disapprove of. This isn’t trust. When we live like this, we aren’t depending on God, but rather on our own logic and senses. Our peace isn’t real–it’s just a sham that will instantly crumble the moment God forces us to stop our games of denial and face distressing truths about the way He operates.
Suppose I place a red ball on a table in front of you.
I then say to you, “The color of that ball is red. Do you believe me?” You will say “yes,” but on what will you have based your answer? On the sensual feedback your eyes are receiving. You can see that the ball is red for yourself—what I say really has nothing to do with it.
But now suppose I stand up with both hands behind my back and say, “I am holding a blue ball in my hand. Do you believe me?”
Suddenly there is hesitation, isn’t there? In the absence of any sensual confirmation, my character is all you have to go by. Now you are going to stand there for several seconds and try to decide if I am the sort of person who would lie to you or not. When I placed the ball on the table, I got an instant answer from you. But when I hid the ball from your sight, your doubt in me rushed to the foreground and stalled you.
This is what is happening right now between you and God. You are getting temporarily stalled by the presence of doubt in your relationship with Him, and that doubt only exists because your trust is still too dependent on sensual feedback. Because God is intentionally creating negative feedback, your doubt in Him is greatly amplified, and the limits of your trust are glowing like a neon sign in a dark store window. But this is not the end, and you are not a failure for panicking this way. Any Christian who is put in your position would be freaking out—many to the point of permanent paralysis, which is why God is not going to put most Christians through this. But you’re ready for the higher levels, and that’s why you’re here. Now let’s talk about where you’re going.
God wants to transition you to a place where your trust in Him is built entirely upon His Character. If you entirely trusted my character, then when I stood in front of you with my hands behind my back and asked if you believed my description of what I was holding, you would answer me as swiftly as you did when you could see the object sitting on the table. There would be no hesitation whatsoever because you would not need any sensual feedback to add credibility to my claims. My character would be enough for you. This is where God wants you to get with Him: to a place where your trust in His goodness and love for you is so strong that no amount of sensory feedback can shake you. Does this sound too far out of reach? It would be if you were just trying to get there on your own. But let’s remember who is leading you through this process: God Almighty. With Him, nothing is impossible.
You can get to the point that your trust in God is so rooted in His Character that He could put you through this whole terrible experience all over again and you wouldn’t even blink because you would know beyond all doubt that God is always with you. This is where He is taking you, and putting you through this traumatic experience of feigned abandonment is a critical step in the maturation process.
Spiritual growth is filled with irony. To overcome fear, we must face fear head on and learn how to stay standing while waves of fear are pounding down upon our heads. To develop rock solid trust in God’s Character, we must be bombarded with reasons to doubt. If you want to test the strength of a metal, what do you do? Beat the tar out of it. Hammer it, heat it, stress it, bend it. Right now God is giving your trust the mother of all beatings. From where you’re sitting, your trust in God is like a rope whose fibers are getting torn apart from strain. But what you’re not seeing is that there are still a few fibers at the core of the rope which are refusing to snap, even under this extreme pressure.
The only reason these fibers exist is because of all the work God has already done with you. Now to you, these fibers don’t feel like enough—after all, if you were hanging off a cliff by a rope that was almost completely frayed, you wouldn’t feel very secure. But these fibers are not going to break because God is keeping them strong. And now that He has cut through all of the weak fibers by putting you through this traumatic sensory experience, He is going to start ripping those weak fibers away and reweaving those few remaining fibers together with new strong fibers until a whole new rope is made—one which no amount of stress can snap.
Once your trust in God’s Character becomes strong enough, you will smash through those barricaded doors and step out into a whole new level of intimate communion with Him. You will go places with God that other Christians can’t even fathom. It all begins with trust: rock solid trust which can only be developed by this horrific stripping process. The question now becomes: are you going to stick with the Holy Spirit through this and use those few fibers He’s given you to trust that He is putting you through all of this for a good reason? Of course you are. You didn’t come this far just to pack it in, and He didn’t bring you this far just to let you quit. You are going to break through this trust barrier, you are going to advance to the next level. Then one day you are going to look back on this traumatic experience and realize that it played a critical role in getting you to a place where you will never again question the reality of God’s Presence with you. Of course He is with you, and He will never leave.