God is Hidden

THE HIDDEN GOD

'Truly, you are a God who hides himself, O God of Israel, the Saviour,' laments the prophet (Isaiah 45.15). This paradox runs right through our experience. We are able to have a relationship with God because he has revealed himself, especially in our Lord Jesus Christ. But at the same time, God is the Other, the Holy Mystery, One who is always beyond our understanding and our sight. And sometimes, it can seem as though God is most mysterious just when we need him most.

Many of the psalms turn on this contrast between God known and unknown. The poets who wrote them felt separated from God by various forms of pain and suffering. Sometimes the source of the problem was their own sin, sometimes it was the enmity of others, sometimes a mixture of both. Sometimes they were able to recommend a particular way in which to bear the hiddenness of God so as to make it endurable, and sometimes they were able to find consolation or hope in the midst of their suffering. Always they longed for a breakthrough.

Week One:
Hidden by pain, revealed by grace
'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?' cried Jesus on the cross. Wasted by suffering, we appeal for release. Confession may bring healing and peace to some. Others are comforted by an assurance that God does see their trouble. But for some, their suffering is unrelieved and their only resource is trust, the willingness to wait through the dark night, believing that God is present, even though he remains hidden.

Psalm 22:1-11 Why have you forsaken me?
Psalm 6 Turn, O Lord, save my life
Psalm 32 Confession and healing
Psalm 10:1-14 God sees our trouble
Psalm 13 How long must I bear pain in my soul?
Psalm 27 Wait for the Lord
Psalm 139:1-12 Darkness is as light to God

Week Two:
Hidden by enmity, revealed by encouragement
Our despair is always greatest when we face it alone. But if we become angry at the actions of others, that anger can make it harder to find God's justice in situations and events, especially if we become consumed by the lust for vengeance. In our better moments, we know there is a danger that we might become what we find so hateful in others, and so share the fate of the wicked. Once again, our only option is to take encouragement from trusting that we are indeed held by God, that our needs and ways are known to God, and that God is fulfilling his purpose for us. The support of friends can help, but in the depths of our hearts, where we wait in solitude and silence, God is our only hope.

Psalm 88:1-10 Does God work wonders for the dead?
Psalm 58 Desire for justice/lust for vengeance
Psalm 28 Do not drag me away with the wicked
Psalm 31:1-16 My times are in your hand
Psalm 56 This I know, that God is for me
Psalm 57 God fulfils his purpose for me
Psalm 62 God is our only hope

Week Three:
Hidden by mystery, revealed by action
No one had more right to be angry with God than Job, but Job refused to curse God. He refused to despair. And he also refused to believe that his suffering was his own fault. All he asked was for God to appear and explain himself: his great grief was that he could not see God. Yet when God does reveal himself through action, human beings are not always ready to receive him. We can be fearful and bewildered as well as filled with wonder and praise. We may be reluctant to hear of heavenly things. We may find the light too strong for our eyes.

Job 9:1-12 I do not see him
Luke 1:5-14 Do not be afraid
Luke 1:67-79 God has shown mercy
Acts 1:1-11 Jesus ascends into heaven
Psalm 66: 8-20 God has heard my prayer
John 3:11-17 How can I tell you of heavenly things?
Acts 9:1-9 A light from heaven

Week Four:
You will see.....
Nevertheless, there is a consistent promise throughout Scripture that God will reveal himself to those who seek him with faith and in purity of heart. And this promise is not only given to patriarchs and prophets, but to all God's people. And ultimately, it is given to all. Everyone will see the glory of God in Christ.

Genesis 28:10-17 The gate of heaven
2 Kings 2:9-14 Elisha sees - and receives the spirit
John 1:43-51 You will see heaven opened
Hebrews 12:1-3 Look to Jesus
1 Peter 4:12-14 Waiting for glory
Revelation 1:4-8 Every eye will see him
Ephesians 1:15-22 Christ in glory

HIDDEN BY MYSTERY, REVEALED BY ACTION

God's mystery can feel like an absence. God's hidden ness can feel as though God does not care. Like Job and the Psalmists, we cry out to God, wanting to breach that wall of silence, because when we are suffering, or as we identify with the suffering of others, this barrier adds to our pain. We feel as though God has abandoned us, leaving us alone and powerless, trapped in our wounds.

We pray. And yet often we have no words for the depths of our pain or the heights of our joy. We do not understand what is happening to us or why we act the way we do. We are a mystery to ourselves. At such times, God's Spirit sustains a connection of understanding, mercy and help between ourselves and God (see Romans 8:22-27). We cry out, and our cry is heard and understood.

Even so, we yearn for a response that we can see and touch. We long for God's love to be revealed in action.

In what ways do you see God acting in your life, the life of your neighbourhood and nation?

How can you act to witness to God's Kingdom?

List your anxieties. This week, consider how each fear can be turned into faith.

Monday April 28 Job 9:1-12

SEEING AND BEING SEEN

When we are suffering, it is reassuring if we know that someone is walking alongside us in our pain. It is hard to carry our suffering alone. We want someone to see our need and meet it. We hope for friends who will accept us as we are, especially when we are angry or in anguish. We need people who will listen to our emotional outbursts, and give back only love.

This is the response we need from God too. We yearn to see evidence of God's mercy, to know our sins are forgiven, to receive relief from our misery, to glimpse a purpose behind our problems and find answers to our many questions. At such times, God's distance feels like absence. It is terrible to see nothing, understand nothing, hear nothing, receive no response.

Job laments that God's actions are having a profound impact on him, yet God cannot be questioned, resisted, called to account. This is unjust. Job is not satisfied with a distant, mysterious God. He wants there to be a connection between them. He wants God to take notice. He wants to see God, and know that God has seen him.

*God of love, help me to walk the road as if you are beside me, even when I cannot see evidence that you are present in my pain.

Tuesday April 29 Luke 1:5-14

GOD HEARS OUR PRAYER

If we live a long time without understanding what God is doing, we can become so used to living in fear that our hope recedes into the distance. We no longer believe that change is possible for us, here and now. Our religion becomes a place where we hide. It comforts us, but it does not help us engage with the world.

The call to offer incense to God in the temple is a great honour, the high point of Zechariah's life as a priest and a moment of awe and wonder. Yet when the angel appears, Zechariah is terrified, because he no longer expects a response from God. He is in God's house, praying to God, yet he does not expect God to answer.

It is God who is our refuge, not the customs and concerns of our religion. And even so, God does not allow us to hide from the world. God allows us to retreat when times are hard, but only so that we can gather the strength we need to re-engage with our own and other people's struggles. Zechariah learns that the birth of his son will plunge him back into connection with the world and all its needs, challenges, desires and pain.

*God of love, help me to believe that you have heard my prayer, even if I have not heard your voice.

Wednesday April 30 Luke 1:67-79

LET GO OF FEAR

When God's power is made real in practical ways and specific situations, it turns the world upside down. God is revealed in actions that multiply life. With the marvellous birth of his son, Zechariah sees the scale and scope of God's power. God is acting to save the people, so that they can serve God without fear.

Fear and love are opposites. It is natural for us to worry about those we love and the concerns that are important to us, but if we allow ourselves to become afraid all the time, we find it hard to act lovingly. Conversely, as we understand that God is love, and that God loves us, we become able to see mercy and grace where previously we had seen only suffering. Even if we are not able to understand what has happened to us, we take courage and let go of our fear. We learn to trust God, and gradually, we see how God is at work.

If we let go of our overwhelming fear for the future, we begin to see how God is present with us, even in the most difficult circumstances. As we entrust our anxieties to God, we begin to see how God's Spirit is at work even as we labour and grieve.

* God of love, help me to let go of my fear by placing the situations that matter, and the people I love, in your care.

Thursday May 1 (Ascension Day) Acts 1:1-11*

TAKE RESPONSIBILITY. ACT!

God sent Jesus to show us how we can live from love, not fear; and how our actions can change peoples' lives and bring new hope to our communities. The disciples expect Jesus to restore the kingdom of God, but Jesus tells them not to trouble themselves with the big picture. That is God's responsibility. Instead, he tells them to wait for "the promise of the Father", the Holy Spirit, which will give them the power to act as witnesses to Jesus, to the ends of the earth.

This is the responsibility Jesus left with his disciples when he was called to the Father's side. And it has been passed down to us.

Jesus vanished into the mystery of God. By leaving, he has passed the responsibility to us. God acted in Jesus: now God acts in us. We do not need to worry about the big picture. That is God's concern. But day by day, we act in love because we trust God and all that God has shown us in Jesus. As we follow his example, so our lives reveal the power of God. And that power transforms the world.

* God of love, help me to open my heart and my mind to receive your promise - the Holy Spirit - and then act as if you have filled me with your love.

Friday May 2 Psalm 66:8-20*

GOD SHOWS THE WAY

God's loving power transforms people and situations by revealing a way through the most terrifying obstacles. And by leading us forward step by step.

This is how God led Moses and the people on foot, through the Red Sea, and the river Jordan. This is how he led people "through fire and through water" and every other form of trial. These hazards and difficulties tried them "as silver is tried", but they came through. God brought them through by showing them the way. All they had to do was follow, step by step.

God may have allowed them to enter the place of trial, but God also brought them through it. And as they followed the way of God, so they were brought to a spacious place. A place of promise and plenty. A place of freedom, redemption, life.

God shows us the way, bringing us through the obstacles to a "spacious place". This is the source of our gratitude and generosity. We give from the abundance God gives us as we follow the way. Because our prayers have been heard and God's love has stayed with us.

*God of love, help me to follow you, step by step. Help me to give as though you have given me abundant life.

Saturday May 3 John 3:11-17
Sunday May 4 Acts 9: 1-9

GOD SHOWS US MORE

Jesus explains how God is at work in familiar things - things that the disciples can see and know - because he wants to equip them to act as his witnesses, collaborating with the Spirit in the creation of abundant life for all. But they cannot accept his teaching. He wants to show them more of God's loving work, but they cannot - or will not - receive it.

And this is frustrating, because if the disciples cannot receive his teaching about earthly things, he cannot go on to teach them "heavenly things". He cannot give them further insights into the mystery of God. He cannot offer them a deeper wisdom, a greater vision.

We can be so slow to understand, so reluctant to believe, so hesitant to trust. Yet, despite our failings, God's light breaks through. As a general rule, God waits for our consent before leading us into deeper truth, but there are also times when the revelation comes as a time of crisis. It breaks upon us suddenly, and we are dazed. Paul was temporarily blinded by what he saw. It was a searing, wrenching, overwhelming experience to which he could only respond humbly, with fasting and prayer.

* God of love, help me to trust that you are leading me, step by step, into a deeper understanding of your grace. Open my eyes to your light.

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