The sense that God is far away can be all too real. It was for Job and David:
Oh, that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his seat! . . . Behold, I go forward, but he is not there, and backward, but I do not perceive him. (Job 23:3, 8)
How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? (Ps. 13:1).
Both Job and David are surrounded by darkness and gloom. They cannot see the way ahead. Trials have clouded their horizons. All seems dark and hostile. Several things come to mind as we read passages like this.
First, we should be grateful that such honesty of self-expression is found in Scripture. In part, statements like these are unexpected in a book that is divinely authored and therefore inerrant. Humanly speaking, we would not expect the Bible to contain statements of this kind. The fact that it does tells us that God wants to assure us that if and when we experience this spiritual melancholy, we are not alone. Others of the caliber of David and Job have walked this way (see Isa. 50:10).
Second, in identifying their problem and being honest with God about it, they have already grasped a key that unlocks the door of a prison cell of gloom and doom. This is more than the avoidance of “denial”—being honest enough to face up to a problem. What they do here is exercise faith—faith, despite the darkness, to grasp hold of God: “But he knows the way that I take” (Job 23:10). “I have trusted in your steadfast love” (Ps. 13:5).
When this takes place, it is a sign that spiritual healing is near.
Third, we may begin to see—in part—the reason for the trial. Finding the Lord’s gracious hand brings a renewed sense of the Lord’s grace and favor; absence, as it were, making the heart grow fonder. “When he has tried me, I shall come out as gold” (Job 23:10) “But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation” (Ps. 13:5).
There is a purpose at work in dark places. The sovereign Lord of heaven and earth is fulfilling His promise of salvation to us in the night as well as the day. Interpreting providence is difficult; sometimes confusing. We may not be able to put all the pieces together, but that isn’t the point. The point is to believe that God knows what He is doing. “In the grip of the mystery of God’s providential dealings with us,” John Murray comments, “this is the very acme and apex of faith. To put it very simply, it means that our resting place, as we may be faced with the mystery of God’s secret will, is ‘I do not know, but I know that God knows.’ The judge of all the earth will do right.”