When God Is Hard to See

Note from Tyler: This is a continuation from previous posts inspired by Ronald Rolheiser’s book Sacred Fire. Be sure to check out parts ONE (on pride) and TWO (on the temptation of a 2nd honeymoon) along with this one. We’ll finish this short series next week. 

Previously we explored two pitfalls of what Rolheiser describes as the mature stage of discipleship. Now we turn our attention to the difficulty this stage of life presents over and over. 

The last stretch of months have been the most trying of my life as a pastor. Granted, I haven’t been a pastor for decades-long, so I have no doubt more trials and difficulties surpassing these are ahead, but for now these have been extraordinarily difficult. For the sake of those involved, I won’t be sharing specifics, only that for me personally there has been a sense of loss, betrayal, compromised trust, and emptiness.

These prevailing feelings come in waves, knocking me back at seemingly random moments in the aftermath. I have spent the months since these difficult situations hit me (and my family) head on trying to figure out what possible good will come from them. Taking time to write and publish this is an example of my ongoing search for meaning and purpose in the midst of what feels like several hardships. Throughout these ordeals, God has felt further away, not closer.

On the road to Emmaus, two disciples find themselves on a journey away from Jerusalem, filled with the disillusionment born out of their overwhelming sense of letdown and loss. Jesus approaches them, veiling his face, asks a few questions, and then tells the story of the Bible and Christ’s fulfillment within it. In response they ask of one another, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

Previously these disciples could only consider that God was dead, crucified. But, even without seeing His face, Jesus kindled the possibility that God may still be at work. This small spark grew into a fierce fire that would overturn their world in the weeks and years to come.

No question, the 2nd stage of life, filled with commitments and responsibilities, also brings an inevitable sense of loss. Whether it’s the loss of a dream or being dragged through the unending tasks to fulfill, discouragement becomes a constant enemy and temptation to fight off. Rolheiser targets this feeling in saying, “In the discouragement that ensues we will be tempted to walk away from our faith, our church, our hope, our Christ, and our God, toward some place of consolation” (103).

Where is God when we’re stuck in the middle of disillusionment?

Here’s Rolheiser’s encouragement:

“Deeper maturity and a more faithful discipleship are found on the road to Emmaus, when discouraged, in darkness, and tempted, we let our imaginations be restructured by a deeper vision of what God, Christ, and church mean” (105).

The 2nd stage of discipleship is ripe for opportunity and impact, yet it also presents the same chance to give up, to walk away. In these moments what is needed is a deeper vision of the way God can be at work. This is what Jesus provided the disciples on the road to Emmaus, all while never showing His face. His presence alone presented that yes, even in the face of incredible disillusionment, God can still be at work far beyond the ways we can see or even imagine.