Is God “Out of sight, out of mind”?
by Glen Doss, Major –
Why is it that again and again we encounter blatant sin in people whom we had thought were stalwart pillars of the Christian faith? How can it possibly be that a person who is quite verbal about his passion for God—who even comes across as a fiery preacher of God’s Word—can have a Jekyll and Hyde personality? To our amazement we find that when we are not looking, he is carrying on a life of the grossest sort of sin, e.g., wife abuse, child abuse, adultery, or embezzling large sums of money. Or do we find ourselves wondering why our own once intense fervor for God appears to be dwindling more and more?
These questions arose recently during our corps Sunday school study. I suggested a possible answer: the human tendency to lose sight of our God-context reality. Since God does not appear as a corporeal presence in our midst, but is spirit (John 4:24), we do not see him with the naked eye and we sometimes forget that he is always at hand. (Acts 17:27-28) The truism—“out of sight, out of mind”—may describe the life of many people. The truth is that unless God is evident to our spiritual senses, we fail to take him into account. “Because you have seen me, you have believed,” our Lord told Thomas after his resurrection. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29) To live in a God-context reality requires that our spiritual senses be finely tuned so that we always see our Lord through the eyes of faith. This is what Paul meant when he wrote: “Pray continually.” (1 Thess 5:17)
A keen, consistent awareness of the presence of God, I believe, flows from an intense emotional reaction to him. “The fear of the Lord [i.e., to experience deep reverence and awe for God] is the beginning of wisdom.” (Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 9:10)
Scripture describes godly fear as the character of those who are truly devout. God’s glory and judgment elicit this emotion and the concomitant lifestyle from them. Everywhere the Scriptures place great emphasis upon the emotions, identifying love as the chief one of all—love involving the sincere caring of our whole being for God and other people. (Matt. 22:37-40; 1 Cor. 13:13) No one who has realized something of the love of Christ who died for them can remain indifferent!
In his classic volume, Religious Affections: A Christian’s Character Before God, Jonathan Edwards, the last of the great Puritan preachers, describes the emotions essential to the Christian life as “springs that set us moving in all the affairs of life and its pursuits.” Our nature, he explains, is extremely lazy unless it is influenced by an emotion such as love, hate, desire, hope, or fear. “He who has only doctrinal knowledge and theory without such emotions is never engaged in the goodness of faith….No one will ever be induced to fly in refuge to Christ as long as his heart remains unaffected. Likewise, no saint has been weaned out of the cold and lifeless state of mind, or recovered from backsliding, without having his heart affected,” explains Edwards.
Yet we find people who are emotional, who are excited, about everything except their faith—it is as true today as it was during Edwards’ time! When it comes to their worldly interests, their honor and reputation, relationships with their friends and family, people feel warm affection and ardent zeal. They get deeply depressed at worldly losses and highly excited at worldly successes, yet remain insensitive and unmoved about the great things of heaven! “How can they sit and hear of the infinite height, depth, length and breadth of the love of God in Christ Jesus, yet remain so insensitive?” asks Edwards.
We are nothing if we are not earnest about our faith—the Christian life contains things too great for us to remain lukewarm. Thus, true Christianity is always a dynamic thing; its power is in the inward exercises of the heart. Real Christianity is called the power of godliness to distinguish it from those mere external appearances that are just a form of godliness—“having a form of godliness but denying its power.” (2 Tim 3:5) God is said to have given “a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.” (2 Tim 1:7) When a person receives the Spirit of God in his saving and sanctifying influences, he is said to be “baptiz[ed]… with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Matt 3:11). The Spirit of God is, indeed, able to excite such fervor in our hearts that we will begin to feel them “burning within us.” (Luke 24:32) May it be so!