I had an old desk lamp with a wiggly switch, picked up for spare change at a garage sale. It had this annoying habit of turning on and off without rhyme or reason. One moment the room would be lit; next moment I’d be sitting in total darkness. Now this old lamp was cunning. It wouldn’t do it often enough to incite replacing. Most of the time—just enough to ensure its survival—the lamp stayed on. Then it would shut off, unannounced, as if a toddler had sneaked in and found the switch. Click. This quirky personality trait was particularly irritating during nighttime reading. I’d be caught up in something good, enjoying myself, lost in the story when suddenly ... darkness. The page was gone, the book vanished; I was yanked right out of the experience, startled away as if by magic.
Of course the book didn’t actually vanish. The light simply turned off. It had to do with an unreliable switch; it was explicable.
So how do we explain this on-again, off-again experience most people have in their search for God? Sometimes God seems so near, but not always. Other times he seems to have gone elsewhere. It’s hard on the heart and soul. I do say seems to, for God never really vanishes, no more than the book I was reading. He’s always, always near:
Be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:20 NLT)
Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you. (Hebrews 13:5 NIV)
In him we live and move and have our being. (Acts 17:28 NIV)
God surrounds us; we swim in God like we swim in oxygen. He is by your side right this very moment, as you read this sentence. Despite this reality—and what a wonderful reality it is—we don’t always feel him near; don’t have a consistent experience of his presence (some people rarely experience his presence). It can be so disheartening; I hate that rollercoaster.
But I don’t think we understand what’s happening. We think God either presents himself to us or doesn’t, according to some rules of the spiritual game we aren’t entirely sure of. So we go about our days waiting for the next appearance, like people who missed the 5:15 train and are milling about till another one arrives. Like stargazers waiting for the next shooting star.
Yet God is always here—not only around us but within us:
I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit ... he lives with you now and later will be in you ... you will know that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. (John 14:16–20 NLT, emphasis added)
Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him (Ephesians 3:17 NLT, emphasis added)
And this is the secret: Christ lives in you. (Colossians 1:27 NLT, emphasis added)
We are never apart from God. He is both around us, and within us. How much closer can he get?