This is the story about how the Holy Spirit wrote the song “Oh God” and I got to sing it.
I remember when I was six, lying in my bed crying out to God to bring my dad back from the dead and he didn’t. Or when I was in middle school and my mom and stepdad were getting a divorce, and I would have to go visit him on the weekends. I would plead for God to bring them back together, and he didn’t. I can remember all the fights I would get in with my mom over the mistakes she was making that were wounding my brother and me. I would cry out to God to put me in another family, but he didn’t. This seemed to be a pattern in my life, I’d call out to God and he wouldn’t answer.
When I was in my teens, Jesus saved me. I confessed my sin and he washed me clean, but I carried some baggage into that relationship. I was under the expectation that when Jesus saved me, he was also saving me from all pain and suffering on earth. But all of that remained. Initially the comfort of God was real, but over time and as I grew older, mixed in with being taught some bad theology, I began believing the lie that my efforts reflected either the pain I would experience or my nearness to God. When I failed or didn’t meet some standard I set, then if pain or suffering happened, it was a result of my shortcomings. This idea stuck with me well into my early 20s.
Then one night I was sitting in my living room after my wife and daughter had gone to bed, wondering why God wasn’t answering me on where he was calling my family and me. Playing my guitar and staring off into space, I decided I would open up the Bible. The Holy Spirit, I believe, led me to the close of Romans 8.
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
I was liberated! No more performance. No more trying to earn the presence of God. I already had it! I was in Christ, and nothing was going to separate me from his presence. It totally changed my perspective as I looked back on all the pain in my life: Jesus was with me, comforting and encouraging me through it all. It was that same night I wrote the song “Oh God.” In my searching, wandering, at my breaking, at my lowest, in the quiet, no matter what season or circumstance, God was near. Jesus was there the entire time, comforting and walking with me during every high and every low, and his love would continue to sustain me throughout all my life.
Name whatever force, being, or limitation you want, and none of it has the power to overturn the separation Jesus did away with when he died on the cross for our sin, making us one with God. The union we have with God is literally inseparable. The Father has made us sons and daughters through the work of Jesus, and the pleasure he finds in us is not a result of our efforts. He loves us, and that promise is secure for eternity.
When it seems like God isn’t there and all signs would point to his absence, renew your mind with God’s word so that your heart may be comforted by the knowledge of Christ and his presence, and the truth that he does not forsake those whom he loves. God is near.
Often, we as Christians find ourselves asking “Where are you, God?” As Pastor Mark preached this week in the Esther sermon series, we don’t always see what God is doing, but he is always working everything out for his glory and our good.
Zach Bolen is the frontman of Citizens and a deacon at the U-District church, where the band leads worship. You can check out “Oh God” on Citizens’ EP Already / Not Yet on Bandcamp. (The band is coming out with a full-length album soon, too, so stay tuned!)