God, though unseen, has given us a multitude of ways to know him and seek him. In nature and in the cycle of night and day, we recognize his creative power. In the Bible we find the history of his interactions with man. In each other, we discern an image of his power and freedom. And in Jesus, we meet the love, mercy, and justice of his character.
Yet opportunities to ignore God are as close as the nearest phone or TV remote. Distractions, whether entertainment or work, allow us to change the frequency of our minds and distance ourselves from God’s presence in our daily lives. It is not God who becomes faraway; it is our awareness of him and his offer of communion that recedes.
Why do we let ourselves ignore God? Because of convenience. Avoiding God helps us avoid pain, stillness, and humility. What’s steering us from him might include:
Sin. Or consciousness of having wronged others or offended God’s love causes pain and spiritual discomfort when we focus on God and examine our consciences. “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man,” Peter says on his knees when Jesus miraculously gives him an abundant catch of fish (Matthew 5:8 NAB). Avoidance, however, does not alleviate our suffering. Like an untreated wound masked by a bandage, our guilt will persist in troubling us until we unbury it and confess it to the one who died for it—and whose mercy can change us to be better.
Busyness. Our schedules of work, sleep, leisure, and family time incline us away from making God a consistent priority. Of all our obstacles, this one is the most common and the most understandable—how could I deny that the demands of career and parenthood eclipse our time to be still with God? It is often true, though, that we have more time when we are willing to discover it and mine it. In quieter moments, on our breaks at work, while we stand in line, and even when we are with others we love, we can tilt our thoughts toward God, thanking him for the people he has given us and reflecting on whether our actions during the day conform to that gratitude.
Pride. If we are in a good mood, enjoying an accomplishment, or feeling as if all our actions have merit, then we might yield to a sense that we don’t need time with God as much today. So we plan to pray later, and then we don’t. We set the Bible on a shelf for when life feels less controllable. Yet Proverbs tells us that “in an instant” life can leave us “crushed beyond cure” (6:15). Jesus assures us in the parable of the two foundations (Matthew 7:24-27) that wisdom means listening to him, preparing for when the illusion of our own power rudely disappears.
The poet behind Psalm 139, my favorite in the book, writes exultantly of God’s presence: “Where can I go from your spirit? From your presence, where can I flee? If I ascend to the heavens, you are there; if I lie down in Sheol, there you are. If I take the wings of dawn, and dwell beyond the sea, Even there your hand guides me, your right hand holds me fast” (v. 7-10).
We can’t escape God. We can, however, leave him out of our schedule. But that decision won’t assuage our guilt, grant us peace, or grow our confidence in him. He is always there, and always welcoming, and always what we really need.
Anthony Otten has published stories in The Jabberwock Review, Valparaiso Fiction Review, and Wind. He has been a finalist for the Hargrove Editors' Prize in Fiction. Still: The Journal has published an excerpt from his novel. He lives in Kentucky.
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