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Posted July 19, 2010

Taken From the Book: Spiritual Direction: Wisdom for the Long Walk of Faith by Henri Nouwen. This book is already cited on our website. Please go to our search engine, select jknirp only and enter Nouwen to find a book review on it.

God is Hidden

A third aspect of God is a very difficult on to accept: God is hidden as well as able to be found, absent as well as present. The hidden and mysterious aspect of God is celebrated in the classical mystical text The Cloud of Unknowing.

When we first experience the reality of God’s presence in our lives, when we return home to God’s personal and loving embrace, we are initially sheltered from the truth of the hiddenness and absence of God. Eventually, we may come to understand that this too is an aspect of divinity.

Ultimately, we discover that God cannot be understood or grasped by the human mind. The full truth of God escapes our human capacities. The only way to come close to it is by a constant emphasis on human limits to “have” or “hold” the whole truth. We cannot explain God or God’s presence in history. As soon as we identify God with any specific event or situation, we play God and distort the truth. We can be faithful only in our affirmation that God has not deserted us but calls us in the middle of all the unexplainable absurdities of life.

As you consciously seek to be formed by God, it is very important to be deeply aware of this. There is a great temptation to suggest to myself or others where God is working and where not, when God is present and when not, but nobody, no Christian leader, priest, or pastor, no monk or nun, and no spiritual director has any “special” knowledge about God. The fullness of God cannot be limited by any human concept or prediction. God is greater than our mind and heart and perfectly free to be revealed where and when God wants.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Letters and Papers from Prison writes: “The God who is with us is the God who forsakes us (Mark 15:34). Before God and with God we live without God.” In meditating on the question “Who is God and who is God for me?” we touch the terrifying truth that our fragile lives in fact vibrate between two sides of the darkness. We hesitantly come forth out of the darkness of birth and slowly vanish into the darkness of death. We move from dust to dust, from unknown to unknown, from mystery to mystery.

We try to keep a vital balance on the thin rope of life that is stretched between the two definite poles that mark our chronological lives. We are surrounded by the reality of the unseen and the unknown, which fills every part of our life with terror but at the same time holds the secret mystery of our being alive. That secret is this: “though we walk in darkness, we have seen a great light” Matt. 4:16). And this light, while it can be masked, cannot go out, as it shines for all eternity.

The light of God is beyond the darkness --- beyond our hearts and minds, beyond our feelings and thoughts, beyond our expectations and desires, and beyond all the events and experiences that make up our lives. Still God is in the center of it all.

In prayer and mediation, God’s presence is never separated from God’s absence, and God’s absence is never separated from God’s presence in the heart. The presence of God is so much beyond the human experience of being near to another that it quite easily is misperceived as absence. The absence of God, on the other hand, is often so deeply felt that it leads to a new sense of God’s presence. This is powerfully expressed in Psalm 22:105:

My God, my God why have you forsaken me?
The words of my groaning do nothing to save me.
My God, I call by day but you do not answer,
At night, but I find no respite.
Yet you, the Holy One,
Who make your home in the praises of Israel,
In you our ancestors put their trust,
They trusted and you set them free.
To you they called for help and were delivered;
In you they trusted and were put to shame.

This prayer of abandonment is not only the expression of the experience of the people of Israel but also a centerpiece of the Christian experience.