Do you remember a time when you felt particularly close to God? For me, the first year I became a Christian was an extraordinary year. I was daily overwhelmed with joy to be in communion with God through the Holy Spirit. My life was forever changed. I expected that joyful feeling of closeness to God would never change. But, in the past thirteen years since, those feelings have often come and gone.
In the times I have felt spiritually numb, the Lord has taught me an important lesson on faith. It is a lesson that he has brought home again while I recently struggled with lingering effects of the COVID-19 virus. This lesson is the answer to these questions: Why does God sometimes seem so distant? And what should I do if I no longer feel his presence?
The Deadening Effect of Sin
Three months ago, I sat down to what I hoped would be a delicious bowl of pasta but quickly realized something was not right: it was tasteless. Two days later, I tested positive for COVID-19. This unseen virus has weighed me down, exhausted me, and completely deadened my senses of smell and taste.
Losing my senses of smell and taste has reminded me of what sin does to us, spiritually. The hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy” tells us that “though the eye of sinful man thy glory may not see”, God’s radiant beauty never changes. But sin, both within and around us, deadens our ability to perceive him. Similarly, there was nothing different about my pasta that day; I had prepared it with the same ingredients and method as always before. The difference was in me. I no longer had the ability to enjoy it.
Luke 24 tells of a similar phenomenon with two of Jesus’ disciples as they walked to Emmaus on resurrection Sunday. Though Jesus Himself was walking with them, Luke says:
Their eyes were kept from recognizing him (Lk. 24:16).
Does this mean they were under a spell or that Jesus had purposefully disguised himself? The text makes no mention of such things. Rather, we see simply that two disciples who loved Jesus are now disillusioned by his apparent absence. Even as they spoke with their risen Lord face to face, they just “stood still, looking sad” (v 16).
After the weekend’s tragic events, hopelessness was in the air and spreading like contagion. The disciples spoke of their hope in Jesus in the past tense only, saying “we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” (v 21).
Jesus diagnoses their condition as “slow of heart to believe” (v 25). Their faith had come under attack, and their presenting symptom was now the inability to perceive the very presence of their Lord.
For Christians, you will, at times, become disillusioned with God and his apparent absence in your life. It may seem like he is behind a double-locked door and all your prayers are falling flat against it. The question you must settle is this: does God withdraw himself from us? Scripture’s answer is as clear and certain as the bedrock facts of the solar system:
I will never leave you nor forsake you (Heb. 13:5).
Like the sun, God does not move or hide himself from his people. But when sin drains our faith, our sense of him will become dulled or deadened.
What Can We Do?
In Christ we are freed from the penalty and power of sin, yet we continue to endure its presence. We do not yet live in the city of God, the home of righteousness. We live in a land where we groan from sin, the greatest pandemic of all time. It is always attacking our faith, and deadening our ability to perceive God. What can we do about it?
Keep Feeding Your Faith
Jesus’ prescription for his disillusioned disciples on the road to Emmaus is the same one he offers us today.
And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself (Lk. 24:31).
As the disciples began to see Christ in the Scriptures, they were finally able to see him in their midst as well. First, he broke for them the “bread” of the word, explaining the Scriptures, and their hearts began to burn within them (v 32). Then, as he broke the physical bread for them, “their eyes were opened” (v 31), and they recognized that Jesus had been with them all along!
When we feel that God is far away from us, the greatest temptation we will face is to neglect the sustenance of the Bible, both in personal study and corporate worship. But, Scripture is the very thing that provides the cure to everything that ails us.
While the coronavirus attacked my body I needed nutritious food more than ever. How foolish it would have been for me to blame my food for its tastelessness and refuse to eat it at the very time when I needed it most!
No matter how spiritually numb you might feel, don’t let that keep your soul from the nourishment it needs. As Pastor Colin Smith says, “Christ is known through the Scriptures… Spiritual life is sustained as we draw strength, energy, faith, hope, love, peace, and joy from Christ, and Christ feeds us through his Word.” 
As you open your Bible, ask God to help you behold Jesus. He can renew your faith, warming your heart and reviving your senses to freshly perceive him.
Keep Hoping for Healing
Only Jesus knows the reality of being cut off from the loving presence of God. He endured it on the cross, crying out, “My God my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt. 27:46). He willingly suffered that pain of separation so that believers will never know that reality. Regardless of how we feel, the truth is that nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:39). This brings hope for today’s battles with unbelief.
We also have the future hope of a greater and more permanent recovery. If you have known seasons of intense intimacy with the Lord, then treasure those as the preview of your unending life to come. One day, our battles with sin will end, we will see Christ as he is—beholding His beauty (1 Jn. 3:2). We will forever be with the Lord (1 Thess. 4:17).
When you are spiritually numb and disillusioned by God’s silence in your life, remember to keep eating the bread of God’s word. As the Holy Spirit makes Christ known to you through its pages, you will soon recognize that he has indeed been with you all along, even when you could not sense his presence.
1. Kristen Wetherell, “Q&A: How Pastor Colin Smith Unlocks the Bible”, Unlocking the Bible (September 22, 2016), https://openthebible.org/2016/09/qa-how-pastor-colin-smith-unlocks-the-bible/.