The Presence in the Absence


There is a strange aspect to the presence of God in the world around us. That aspect is His apparent absence. I read with fascination (because I am no philosopher, much less a scientist) the discussions surrounding “intelligent design” and the like. I gather that everybody agrees that the universe is just marvelous and wonderfully put together (I can’t think of a better universe). But then begins the parting of ways as one sees God everywhere and another sees Him nowhere. Reason surely need not deny Him, though reason does not seem forced to acknowledge Him. I have spent most of my life around these arguments – one place or another. I can stand in either place and see both presence and absence.

But as the years have gone by, I have come to see something I never saw before – the Presence within the absence. I don’t mean to sound too mystical here – only that I see in the hiddenness of God a revelation of His love. The Creator of us all draws us towards Himself and knowledge of Him, with hints and intimations, with seen and yet unseen signs.

The strange deniability that He leaves us is the space in which love is born. Love cannot be forced, cannot be demanded. It must come as gift, born of a willingness to give. To give God trust that what I see is indeed evidence of the wisdom in which He made all things is also a space – one which God fills with Himself and the echo, the Yes, that the universe shouts back to us.

It is where I grow weary of the arguments – not because they need not be made – but because it becomes hard to hear the silence in the noise of our own voices – a silence that invites us to hear the sound of the voice of God that rumbles all around us.

There’s more to say – but not now.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.





4 responses to “The Presence in the Absence”

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  2. Matthew Francis Avatar

    Perhaps this is the meaning of the interplay of the Ascension and Pentecost; the Feasts of absence and presence.

  3. dilys Avatar

    My tendency is go to rather mundane relational parallels, hope it’s not inappropriate here.

    I’ve noticed in social life how valuable it is for someone with a strong personality, or someone much more mature or charismatic than those around him, to dampen down his active participation, particularly his words, to “give space” to the situation. To draw back, to near-disappear, so the participants can find their own relationships and action. Present, watching, but not intrusive. And sometimes not even openly watching.

    Might this be a small pattern of a loving Heavenly Father, a continuing exercise of the very tsim-tsum of creation?

  4. fatherstephen Avatar

    In descriptions of St. Silouan, he is always depicted as quiet, perhaps sitting in a corner. And if those older than him were carrying on conversation, he did not seek to correct them even when he could. There is a patience to wait to be asked. This to me is indeed part of the “dance” of God with creation. “Waiting to be asked.” I also think that He is so ready to save, that the tiniest crack in our heart, the very least softening, is seen as an invitation. Not that he necessarily rushes in with a firehose – but to enter into a relationship that is mutual.

    Interestingly, it is God who asks the first question (He always loved us first). And the question is “Adam, where are you?” Generically, it is to us all. “Stephen” where are you.” This is the marvelous call of God to each and all.

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  1. My last comment begs the question of how the story of Christ in Holy Scripture relates to our personal experience…

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