When God Feels Distant

“For through Him we both have the right of entry in one Spirit to the Father.” Eph. 2:18

Ephesians is Paul’s most lovely and soaring letter. He touches on themes of such grand and sweeping importance that even he gets caught up in the excitement. The longest sentences in all of Paul’s writings are in Ephesians. Two of his main themes are in the verse for this week’s GraceWaves.

First we see unity. Paul was formerly a dedicated schismatic. For him the world consisted of two groups: the Jews and the Gentiles. To be fair from the other side, the Greeks considered the world to be divided into Greeks and barbarians. This tendency to classify and create divisions is part of human nature. Put two people in one room and you likely will soon have a division.

But not in Christ! The “Him” of the verse is Christ, and through the cross Jesus broke down all the dividing walls. In fact, in one of the most powerful images anywhere in the New Testament Paul described how Christ broke down the dividing walls between us. He had in mind the temple, which rather than being one great building was actually a huge series of concentric courts with the Holy of Holies in the middle.

The first, most external court, and the one most distant from the place of God was called the Court of the People. All people, Jew and Gentile could enter this large court, and a great deal of commerce took place here. The next interior court was the Court of Israel. You had to be Jewish to enter here, and above every door were signs promising death to any Gentile who transgressed. This court was as close as Jewish Women could come, for none of them could enter the Court of the Men. And here a typical man must stay and not enter the Court of the Priests. In the Court of the Priests only certain priests could enter the Holy Place, and only one Priest, The High Priest, could enter the Holy of Holies once a year. The very religion of the first century reflected a highly segmented society.

To emphasize the unity we can enjoy with one another Paul cited the Trinity. God’s very nature illustrates what we can be and what we have to look forward to in eternity. We need this message more desperately than ever today with the endless sub-dividing of the church into countless “interest groups” with different “felt needs.” Most marketing strategies I see today play to our divisions not to the fundamental unity that defines us.

On a personal level, when you feel dissected by your schedule (which social media does nothing but exacerbate) you are often likely to feel estranged from God. You will find unity and peace only in Christ. You desperately need a time each day to remember who you are and how God has made you to live in Him.

The second overarching theme of this verse is access. The word for access is used of a man bringing a sacrifice to God, or of bringing a man into God’s presence so that he may be consecrated for God’s use. The word is enormously important, for it underscores the right of access you have to God. You have this access because of God’s fundamental predisposition to you. He wants the way to be clear, and He wants you to use it. You must never doubt this access.

Walter Shurden writes the following story: “While I was a student at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, the late Carlyle Marney lectured on our campus. In a chapel address, he gave us vintage Marney! His address was overlaid with so many historical allusions, so many poetic images, so many profound thoughts wrapped in such mysterious language that we all left talking about how great it was, while not a half dozen of us, including the faculty, really knew what he had said.

“Immediately after the chapel service, Marney appeared in one of the theology classes to answer questions about his address. The first fellow to his feet was a first-year student who hadn’t been at seminary long enough to be ‘cool’ and hide his ignorance like the rest of us. He blurted out: “Dr. Marney, I heard you in chapel a few minutes ago, and frankly I didn’t understand a word you said. Can you tell me in simple language what the gospel of Jesus Christ really is?” Marney paused, peered over his glasses, and stared a Grand Canyon into the fellow. Then he turned, walked to the chalkboard, picked up a piece of chalk, and after waiting an interminable moment, wrote four words on the board in capitals: GOD IS FOR YOU! And he underlined you.” (The Doctrine of the Priesthood of the Believer, 45).

We humans are too subject to circumstances, misleading ideas, an ill-timed rush of enzymes or hormones to be as constant now as God will one day make us. But Paul’s words in this verse powerfully remind us what we can strive for. Ontological reality trumps subjective feelings.

Your life right now may be fracturing and dragging you in a dozen different directions. You have lost the feeling of God’s peace and presence. Trust me, He has not moved. He is the one thing in and around you that has not moved. Use your right of access to enter His presence, let Him whisper His reminder of who He created you to be.


September 4, 2011

Dr. Terry Ellis