Keller: A sense of God’s absence is a sense of God’s presence

Tim Keller, expositing the opening words of Psalm 63:1 (emphasis mine):

The Bible never says that finding God is the result of seeking for Him. The Bible always says that seeking God is the result of having found Him. You don’t start seeking God until He has actually met you.

The Bible says that although people have a spiritual hunger in general, people are actually trying in our natural heart… people in our natural habit… are trying to escape the true God in particular. Did you hear that? The Bible says, “Of course people are religious!” In Acts 17 Paul goes to Athens and he stands up in the Areopagus — great moment in Biblical history — and he says, “Men of Athens I see that you are very religious.” And he says, “I even saw this monument to the unknown god. I would like to tell who this unknown god is who you seek.”

Now you see at that point Paul is saying people in general want God, and the Bible says that of in general we need God. We’re contingent beings and there is a spiritual hunger. It’s going to show itself in your life somewhere, some place. So the Bible says everybody is spiritually hungry. But what the Bible is saying also is because of sin, though we want God in general, want spirituality in general, we want experience in general, in particular we don’t want the real God. To seek the real God as He reveals Himself in the Bible is not something we’re capable of.

And notice therefore that the first phrase is, “Oh God, you are MY god.” Now this means David is in a covenant relationship with God. To call God “my” god… how many people in life can you call “my”? Now you may not know me at all. You may know anything about me. But if you overhear me talking with somebody else and you hear me refer to “my Kathy,” “my David,” “my Michael,” or “my Jonathan,” you figure these have got to be this person’s wife or sister or sons or daughter or something like that. You don’t use the word “my” unless you have a relationship is very close and you have tremendous confidence in the relationship. And so you see David is starting off by saying, “I’m in a personal relationship with you. Oh God, you are my God” — and it’s understood, it’s implied — “Earnestly will I seek you.”

What’s the cause? What’s the effect? It doesn’t say, “Because I’ve sought you, you are my God.” He says, “because you are my God, I seek you.” The way you know you’ve met the real God is that you are hungry and thirsty. And the way you know you’ve really met the real God is that you’re really hungry and really thirsty. And the way you know you’ve sort of met the real God is that you’re sort of hungry and thirsty. They stand and fall together; there’s a passion, a hunger.

I’ll put it another way, and this is very important to know: The sense of His absence, the dissatisfaction with His absence, is an evidence that He has touched you.

In other words, a sense of His absence — a longing that that absence be gone — a sense of His absence is a sense of His presence. If He’s not present, if He’s not working in your life, you might know intellectually that He’s absent, but you don’t long for Him.

Tim Keller, Discipline of Desire (mins. 11:40 to 15:02)

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