At times every one wonders, “God where are You?” We wonder, “Where is God in the midst of this (you can fill in the blank) – tornado, layoff, tsunami, divorce, terrorist attack, depression…?”
Jesus said, “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20, NIV) But it’s not always easy to believe that. We tend to have a view of God that says, “If things are going well for me, then God must be on my side. He must really be helping me out. He must be present with me.” And then we start to believe that when things go badly that God must be absent from us, or punishing us for something. We often have a very narrow and imperfect view of what it means that God is with us. What we know is that Jesus has promised to be with us. But He hasn’t promised that God’s presence will make our lives easy. Actually He says the opposite. “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NIV)
No one knew this better than Jacob. His full story is recorded in the book of Genesis in chapters 25-50. He has gone down in the history of Judaism and Christianity as one of the three great patriarchs of the faith. God is often known as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (e.g., Exodus 3:6).
Immediately after Jacob’s great deception of his father Isaac, he took his mother’s advice and fled to escape the wrath of his brother Esau, who he feared would murder him. Rachel, his mother, told Jacob that when it was safe to return home she would send word and bring him back. Jacob didn’t know it then, but that would be the last time he saw his mother alive. Jacob set out on his self-inflicted exile to find his long-lost uncle in a place called Haran. He set out alone. And when the sun went down on his first day of traveling, he laid down with a rock for a pillow.
It’s easy to overlook Jacob’s plight. But this wasn’t an easy jaunt for him. Jacob was the modern day equivalent of an urbanite. A city-dweller. Growing up, he was his mother’s favorite and, unlike his older twin Esau, he spent his days at home, in the comfort of the tents. Roughing it in the wilderness wasn’t his thing. He preferred to be with people. But there he was, alone, without the hope of returning home anytime soon. And it was there, in the wilderness, when he felt the most alone, that God made Himself known to him.
Jacob somehow managed to fall asleep that first night, and God came to him in a dream. In the dream Jacob saw a ladder reaching up to heaven with angels going up and down on it. At the top of the ladder stood God.
And God said, “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth… All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. I am with you and will watch over you wherever go… I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place and I was not aware of it.” (Genesis 28:13-16)
Even when you can’t feel God’s presence in your life, He is there. Far too often, people judge God’s presence by what they feel. If it feels like God is present then He must be. If it feels like God has abandoned me then He must have for some reason. Our feelings in this matter are often unreliable. The question is then, “If you can’t determine God’s presence by your feelings, then how can you know He is there?” The simple answer is that you know God is with you because He has promised to be with you. Faith is holding on to that promise even when you feel alone. Eventually those feelings of isolation will pass, and you’ll wake up one morning, look back on your past, and say like Jacob, “Surely the Lord was in this place and I wasn’t even aware of it.”
God reveals himself to you and I, not in dreams filled with ladders, but in the one who said that He was the ladder. God reveals himself in His Son Jesus. Jesus said to Nathanael (soon to be one of his disciples) that he would see heaven open and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man. (John 1:51)
What Jacob saw in a dream became a reality in Jesus. As God was with Jacob, even when he was not aware of it, so too is God with you in Jesus.
About the artwork: The photograph is called “Limitless,” and was done by Erik Johansson who is a photographer and retoucher from Sweden. For more of his work click HERE