You may have come across that little bit of greeting card-style wisdom that runs something like this: “If you’re feeling like God is far from you, you’re probably the one that moved.” Well, as cogent and poignant as this sounds, to my mind it’s a little misleading. Here’s a story; stick with me.
When my daughter Lexi was in grade school, she made a papier-mâché animal figure for an art project. It was roughly cat-shaped and painted with orange and black stripes, and it had wings painted in rainbow colors. Lexi called it her flying tiger. When the art project was over, she brought her flying tiger home and suspended it by a string from the ceiling in her room. She was very attached to her flying tiger, and it became emblematic for her in a way I’ve never quite understood; she became a tiger-person, a tiger-girl.
When Lexi went off to college at a school five hours away, she left the flying tiger in our care. Time passed. Lexi and her older sister Stephanie both got engaged. Lexi graduated and came home to live until her wedding. This, I think, is when she discovered that her flying tiger was missing. Well, there was a hubbub. At length Stephanie broke down. While she was in school at a college across town from us, Stephanie was home much more often than Lexi, and one weekend there had been a mishap, she said; the tiger had been irreparably damaged, and she had thrown it away. She was very sorry, she said.
Lexi was quick to forgive Stephanie but was clearly upset for awhile at the loss of something that, for reasons perhaps known only to her, was special to her.
More time passed. Stephanie, now the maid of honor at Lexi’s wedding, stood holding a microphone at Lexi’s reception, preparing to make her maid of honor speech. She talked about their relationship, everything they shared, the good times, the rough times, the time that she confessed to destroying Lexi’s flying tiger and the fact that even this traumatic experience had not damaged their friendship and the love they had for each other. Then she handed Lexi a gift bag. Lexi pulled out her flying tiger, in pristine condition. Pranked by her older sister!
Lexi was of course delighted. Married to a great guy. Surrounded by her family and friends. Her flying tiger restored. Best day ever.
Image-bearers: more precious than … anything
Now, if the creator of a bit of elementary school artwork can become as attached as my daughter Lexi was to her oddball papier-mâché flying tiger, and if losing it was so painful to its creator, and if its restoration brought its creator so much joy … how much more is our Creator, who made us in His image, attached to us humans, and how painful is the thought of losing us, and how satisfying is our restoration to Him?
In this light, the idea that we could possibly succeed in moving away from God is really inadequate. When I attempt to take a step away from God (and I often do), I don’t think He stays where He always is or has always been. I believe He just takes a step in my direction. If I run away (and I sometimes do), He runs too—in my direction. He made me; He wants to delight in me and in restoring me to Himself again. The idea that God could be farther from us at any one time is an illusion—a lie we tell ourselves in our self-pity.
King David’s got it right in Psalm 139:
1 O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
3 You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways.
4 Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
5 You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is [w] too wonderful for me;
it is high; I cannot attain it.
7 Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where [y] shall I flee from your presence?
8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
9 If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall [b] lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you.
13 For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.
17 How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
18 If I would count them, they are more than [m] the sand.
I awake, and I am still with you.
Even if you and I want to move away from God, no matter how far or how fast we go, He will pursue, He will be right there, holding out His hand—or better still, opening His arms to welcome us back and restore us.
It’s because of this indescribable love that God wants to restore us … why He sent Jesus, the only bearer of the true, pure image of God … why He sends His Holy Spirit to teach us about that love—to call us to respond, follow as disciples, and join Him in His project to restore all of His creation.
Do you need a better reason to consider whole-life discipleship?
Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.