By Michael Malanga
“There are times when a saint is called to trust in a withdrawing God. ‘Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God,’ (Isaiah 50.10). This requires a bold step of faith – to venture into God’s presence with the same temerity as Esther into Ahasuerus’s. Even when no smile lights His face, when no golden scepter is extended to summon us to come near, we must press forward with this noble resolution: ‘If I perish, I perish,’ (Esther 4.16). – William Gurnall, The Christian in Complete Armour, I.32
“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.” – The Apostle Paul, 2 Corinthians 4.8, 9
If you have ever been perplexed you know what it means to be “called to trust in a withdrawing God.” It is a season, the duration of which is determined neither by the size of our faith nor the severity of our affliction. It is a season whose Creator and Time-keeper is the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. The season of perplexity ends when God deems it should end. It is during such seasons we discover whether we are summer Christ-followers and sunshine believers in Him. During such times, the danger is not that we will be tempted to stop believing in God. On the contrary, as C.S. Lewis writes in A Grief Observed,
“The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not ‘So there is no God after all,’ but ‘So this is what God’s really like after all. Deceive yourself no longer.’
To trust in a withdrawing God is to trust in the God who leads us through the Valley of the Shadow of Death. It is to trust in the God who withdrew His presence from His only begotten Son. It is to trust in the God who, as the Alpha and the Omega, is the Beginning and the End. It is to trust in the God who created all things by the word of His power and who by that same powerful word holds all things together.
But since we are so prone to forget these things in the season of perplexity, we have this assurance from the writer to the Hebrews. Speaking about Jesus, he writes,
“Since then we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” – Hebrews 4.14-15
The most startling discovery we can make in the season of perplexity is this: God is not really as we imagined Him. He is infinitely more than we could ever imagine Him. The hurdle we must overcome exists in our own heart because in order for us to make this discovery—and it’s more a revelation from the Holy Spirit than a discovery—is this: the catalyst for such moments of clarity is perplexity, or affliction, or persecution or some other kind of suffering we neither want nor anticipate. Even so, there is solace in knowing Christ can sympathize with our weaknesses because He has been tempted as we are yet is without sin.
It’s been said that God often withdraws from us in order to draw us to closer to Him. This inverse relationship is counter-intuitive. And it appears to be contrary to the gospel accounts of God coming near, the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us and all that. However, if we are to believe the psalmist (and we should) then we must believe God knows when we sit down and when we rise up. He discerns our thoughts from afar. He searches out our path and our lying down; that He is acquainted with all our ways (cf. Psalm 139.2-3). We may be called to trust in a withdrawing God. Even so, He is the God who, despite every appearance of withdrawal, is still intimately aware of every aspect of our daily lives. He is the God always worthy of our obedience.
As only he can, C.S. Lewis explains it thus in The Screwtape Letters.
“Our cause is never more in danger than when a human no longer desiring, but sill intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken and still obeys.”
In speaking of Jesus, the writer of Hebrews draws our attention to His ministry as the great High Priest and gives this exhortation: “Let us with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need,” (Hebrews 4.16).
Let us be those who with confidence draw near. Let us be those who, when every trace of Him seems to have vanished” still obey. We will receive mercy. We will find grace to help in time of need. His name is Jesus and He is the Way, the Truth and the Life.
And He will lead us through.
You think about.
 The Screwtape Letters, Letter VIII. The Screwtape Letters is Lewis’ account of a series of letters between the master demon, Screwtape, instructs his nephew, Wormwood, how to lead a man away from trust in Jesus Christ, whom Screwtape refers to as the Enemy.
Michael Malanga lives in Bowling Green, Ohio. He and his wife, Jill, have three children: Matthew, Lizabeth and Jeffrey. Michael earned his M.Div. and D.Min. from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, S. Hamilton, MA. He is the pastor of Bowling Green Covenant Church since March 2003. He contributed an article on The Four Loves for the C.S. Lewis: Life, Works, and Legacy, Bruce L. Edwards, ed. His hobbies include baseball, golf and writing. Michael also blogs at www.thetravelersadvisory.