Wednesday, May 27, 2020

When God Hides His Face

When Darkness Seems to Hide God's Face

We are living in times where the future is very uncertain.  No one knows how 'normal' life will ever be again.  Uncertainty, isolation, separation from loved ones, loss of freedom , financial turmoil, etc have a tole on people's state of mind.  In a time like this it is easy to become anxious or depressed ......  and even to wonder where God is. 
What is it about the fear of being abandoned that has such strong motivating power in God’s creatures? 

In God's creation every detail was declared 'GOOD', because everything He created has in it some aspect of His character, or it teaches us how to live in relationship with Him, how we are to see ourselves or how we are to live this earthly life. 
God's creation is the movie of God's book ... the words becoming pictures.   And a picture is worth 10,000 words because it doesn't need pages and books to explain it, the picture not only communicates its messages clearly but it is also easy to store in our memories. (see Rom 1:20)

I want to share some of my thoughts on the subject of ,,,, 
When God Hides His Face.

  I watch amused  when I see a mother trying to coax a toddler away from some fascinating object or play .. to no avail … until she walks away calling “Bye-bye! I’m going !” and suddenly the fascination evaporates and the toddler hurries after his mother.  
We all smile when we see the little ducks waddling after their mother,  or chicks hiding under their mother's feathers.  Why do we smile?  Because we  understand their feeling of safety when their mother is near.  
So why is this such a strong emotion in both animal and human creatures?
The answer is because God wants us close to Him!  
and if we don't 'see Him' , He wants us to follow the example of His creatures, who are oft wiser than we are ! 

I had a angora goat for a pet who was every bit as stubborn as goats are reputed to be. She had a propensity to eat exactly the things she wasn’t supposed to. If I scolded her or tried to distract her I would either be simply ignored or bucked out of her way. But if I hid myself,  suddenly I would hear her bleating cry and her feet hurrying to find me.

One more example -- The shearwater is a very fascinating bird.
The chick hatches from an egg laid deep in an underground tunnel. After two months of brooding by its parents it hatches with a ferrous appetite. It takes both parents regularly bringing food back to the tunnel where the chick simply sits and lives for the return of its parents and the food they bring!
Then when the chick is almost ready to leave its cozy home the parents abandon the chick. It waits but no parents or food appear. The chick loses weight – excess weight that it had gained to sustain it during this time of abandonment leaving it just the right weight to be able to fly!
Finally , after days pass,  the chick becomes desperate enough to move to the entrance of its tunnel and then on a dark night it dares to leave its nest and somehow follows in the footsteps of its parents leading  to the ‘taking off’ place.
Exhausted from its journey, it stops at the edge of the cliff.  Now what?
The smell of the ocean is a strong lure…triggering the instinct to let go and spread its wings. The chick is chick no longer but soars above the ocean joining the adult flock of shearwater flying effortlessly above the waves.

I found 15 places in scripture that talk about God hiding His face. (Deut. 31:17, Deut 31:8, Deut 32:20, Ps 13:1, 27:9,30:7, 51:9 , 69:17, 102:2, 143:7, Exek. 39:29, Ezek. 39:23, Micah 3:4, Ex. 30:7, Isa. 54:8)
There are several reasons why God hides His face and what He wants our response to be and maybe my examples can help us to understand them.

The fear of God abandoning us is echoed by King David who cries out for God not to hide His face from him.  One reference is in Psalm 143:7,
 “Answer me speedily, O Lord,  my spirit fails !! Do not hide Your face from me.”

How do we know God is hiding His face toward us ?
It may be  when we feel 'alone' .. we do not sense Him with us ...  our doubt seems bigger than our faith ...  we wonder if God is even paying any attention to us ...  we feel discouraged and abandoned. 

 Reasons Why God Hides His Face

1. God Hides His face because of sin 
In Habakkuk 1:13 we read .. "You are of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on wickedness."  
God cannot look upon sin and hides His face.   Jesus on the cross, took upon Himself your sin and mine, and God turned His face away unable to look upon it. Jesus felt the same fear we feel when we feel God 'far away' . 
 When we are sinning - doing something we know is displeasing to God - we feel God move away , hide His face from us.  
And we judge Him in light of our human experience - punishment for those who do wrong.  
But is that God's reason for hiding His face?   He is ready to bring punishment upon us ?   Or... is He simply moving out of our sight to trigger that panic button that will send us flying after Him with repentance in our hearts, seeking forgiveness and restoration.  
I think of that verse in Matt. 23:37  where Jesus speaks these agonized words .. ."....I wanted to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing." 
God's heart is always toward motivating us to return to Him, to be forgiven, to turn from the sin that destroys us. In hiding His face, he is purposely creating a fear-shaped vacuum, to make us feel a sudden recognition that something is wrong -  just as we saw in each of my 'creature' examples. 

2. God Hides His Face Because We are not Listening 
Do we not all , as self-centered children want to do our own thing but at the same time want God to sit and watch .. blessing what we are doing?
God speaks to us but we are not listening …..just as my goat was deaf to my warning,  until He hides His face. As he says as in Micah 3:4 “Then shall they cry unto the LORD, but he will not hear them: he will even hide his face from them at that time, as they have behaved themselves ill in their doings. “
The people had disobeyed … had behaved badly … but did not feel any remorse,  so He said He would turn His face away…. Making them cry out to Him!
A child is quite content as long as his mother is in view….but when he is aware that she is gone then he cries out !!
Why then does God say that He will not respond to their cries (above scripture)  but will keep His face hidden from them?
A child’s first reaction to realizing his mother is gone is to simply cry out because he is suddenly afraid, but if his mother walks back into the room at his first cry , he will just continue to do what he was doing.
In the same way the first reaction of man is to cry out simply because maybe things are going so good anymore!! “you hide your face, and they are troubled” (Psalm 104:29) But if they do not acknowledge WHY God turned His face away, then if He turns His fact to them again, they will just continue to do what they were doing.
God does not immediately answer man’s cry allowing him time to contemplate what he has done… to recognize his sin and cry out in repentance ready to listen to what God has to say, as David asked the right questions in Psalm 88:14 “Lord, why do You cast off my soul? Why do You hide Your face from me?”
Is it only what we would call gross sin, that makes God hide His face?
Maybe not !
Could it not be that oft it is like the child not listening to his mother's instruction, or my goat in wanting to eat what it shouldn't.   God knows exactly where we 'begin' to take a step off the narrow way, and He wants to prevent us from being hurt.  So even before we are aware of anything .... maybe not even intentionally 'not listening' , He turns His face away so we will quickly recognize that we haven't been paying attention !

3. God Hides His Face to Make us Move 
How we love our comfort zones !   When everything is going well, it takes a lot to make us 'move'.
And we especially resist moving when we can't see where we are going.
And yet, how often in our faith journey, God wants us to 'move' because we trust His instruction to do so.  Like Abraham, whose faith so pleased God because he was obedient to God's voice telling him to leave his home and go where God would show him.

There are a couple of really neat application pictures in my shearwater story.
Those chicks were fat and comfortable. They could not have moved even IF they had tried.  They were too fat, too well fed.
And yet, was that not in the plan?   Why did the parent birds feed them so well until they were too fat to move?   Because the parents knew that the time was coming when except for this 'extra provision' they would not survive.
When the 'hard times' came, when the parents were gone, the extra fat was just the right amount to sustain them until they were desperate enough to 'move'.   And that was the whole purpose of the parents birds 'hiding their faces'.   They were not abandoning their chicks, they were motivating them to do what they were created to do. 
So with us too. We think life is great, everything is wonderful and THEN .. disaster strikes and we cray out "Why God??  Where are you ?"    We don't stop to consider that our time of affluence and comfort was given us 'for such a time as this' - to sustain us through a time of difficulty.  And the purpose of the 'difficulty' was to take us to where God wanted us to be.  In a closer relationship with Him, and to fulfill our God-given purpose.
  How often have you hear someone say … “And just when I thought everything was going sooo good !! everything fell apart!” Did they stop to consider that perhaps the blessings had been sent by God to prepare them for what was to come? To 'fatten' them up so that they would have the strength and resources to pass the coming test?

It is amazing to note that when the chick was finally desperate enough to move, it 'followed the footsteps its parents had left'.  How did it know?  how did it follow footsteps in the dark ?  Isn't that a perfect picture?  We oft feel like we are following God in the dark, yet He says that His word "is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path. light on our path. " Psalm 119:105.  When do we need a light ?  Only in the dark, right ? 

 Look again at my life examples. In every one of them the purpose of the ‘face being hid’ was to stir up the child, the goat , the bird… to MOVE !! They needed to leave their ‘comfort zone’ .
Is that not often where we get stuck ? We like where we are and we don’t want to move? We love our comfort zone and prefer to stay there.
God’s still small voice is often not enough to move us - away from a habit, out of a situation, out of a relationship, into a ministry , from one level of maturity to the next. And so God hides His face ....  letting things get uncomfortable... not to punish, not to harm , but to bring safely under His wings.

4. God Hides His Face to Test Us 
I recently had a conversation with a friend whose prayers had not been answered as she wanted, and she blamed God and concluded He didn't care enough to answer her cry.
When God hides His face, our ensuing panic causes us to doubt. Questions fill our mind, everything from "Is God even real?"  to "Does God even care?"   Yet,  God turns His face away sometimes just to strengthen us to trust Him even when we don't 'see' Him.
I remember how it warmed my heart when I would hide from my goat.. and then hear her bleats calling out to me as she looked for me !  Nothing pleases God like our trust in Him, and that trust only grows as it is tested.
Will we trust Him even when we don't see Him? 
Learn to trust  that we will soar in His presence again ?  Even as the shearwater chick, exercised by hardship and courage, was once again reunited with its parents ,  so we, with the strength of tested faith walk knowing that God's face is ever turned to our good ..
David found this place with God ..  as he said ... "I foresaw the Lord always before my face, for He is at my right hand that I may not be shaken."  (Ps. 18:8, Acts 2:25) 
May not pestilence, or doubt, or temptation or any thing turn us away from seeking the face of God - may we stand strong, unmovable in our trust in God !   

5. God Hides His Face - Judgment is Coming 
There is also in scripture the warning that if people harden their hearts in rebellion against God, He will set His face against them in judgement as in 
 Lev. 20:6,”I will even set my face against that soul, and will cut him off from among his people.”

Rather than God taking pleasure in judgment, is He  not even here  extending one last effort to stop man from eternal destruction ?    We see Jonah sent out to an incredibly grossly wicked nation. His message is "You will be destroyed, in 40 days!"  Yet we know that the pronouncement of that dire judgement moved the people's hearts to cry out to God.  And we know in His mercy He  immediately turned His face back to them and forgave them. 
And in Isaish 54:8, God says .. "with a little wrath I hid My face from you for a moment but with everlasting kindness I will have mercy on you, says the Lord, your Redeemer."
Over and over again we see in the Bible stories how God allowed hardship and disaster to bring His people into a horrible place but then when they cried out to Him, He quickly came and saved them and put them again into a place of blessing . 
 Even when God proclaims that destruction is coming,  is it  that God is turning His face away  not  because He is determined to destroy, but rather extending one last chance for man to turn from his evil ways and escape the end torment of his rebellious heart.

GOD Will Hide His Face No More 
God brought destruction over the whole earth , destroying everyone and everything except Noah and all who were in the ark with him.  When Noah finally stepped out of the ark, God arched a rainbow in the sky and promised that He would never again destroy the earth with a flood.
There is a beautiful promise in Ezek. 39:29 that says... "And I will not hide My face from them anymore, for I shall have poured out My Spirit on (them) ..... "
We have the context of this verse in verse 23,  that explains that because of the iniquity of His people Israel,  He hid His face from them and allowed them to be utterly destroyed by their enemies - they all died by the sword.   Then God speaks of the coming New Covenant, that includes the Gentiles and He promises that He will never again hide His face for the purpose of totally destroying His people. 
So we know ...  we who live in the New Covenant, who have the Spirit of God poured out in us , do not have to fear that God will ever hide His face from us in wrath. 
God's heart is ever toward His children , and His desire is only that they live in close fellowship with Him.  

How wonderful our God is .. truly the perfect Father.   He is never afar off, but is intimately yearning to draw us ever closer into His presence. He invites  us to take refuge in Him , trusting in His character and His word .. knowing/believing that He will never leave us or forsake us - even if for a time He Hides His face so we will run after Him!   

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