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God’s Presence and Absence – Thomas Merton

July 26, 2021
Lock on a door at New Echota Historic Site in Georgia on the Trail of Tears

There are times in life when one wonders if God is present or absent. I have experienced that with patients during my time as a hospital chaplain in the Air Force and have experienced that with people with whom I have had a counseling relationship in the Air Force and in ministry outside of the Air Force.

I know from personal experience that the darkness and absence are both real and overwhelming. As a chaplain and pastor, it has been my sacred honor to offer signs of light and hope to people struggling with the darkness. I have also been blessed with people who came along side of me during my own periods of darkness.

Thomas Merton had the following to say about God’s presence and absence in one’s life: God, Who is everywhere, never leaves us. Yet He seems sometimes to be present, sometimes to be absent. If we do not know Him well, we do not realize that He may be more present to us when He is absent than when He is present. ― No Man Is an Island (p. 250)

As I carefully read and re-read the words above, I came to the realization that the absence of God is more about my own perception of God’s absence than God’s literal absence. There is so much suffering in the world today and as a pastor, I often find myself in the middle of it professionally and personally. It is when I am able to sit with the darkness without being paralyzed by it that I can begin to see the light shining, even if it is only shining dimly, and realize that God is not absent.

In the midst of those times of darkness, may we come to realize that God, Who is everywhere, never leaves us. And may we be that instrument of light and hope to others in their times of need.

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