(note: the following comes from a line of theory and theology that you may not agree with; please comment at the bottom of the post to add to the discussion!)
My personal tendency when I feel far from God is just to keep running away. I can do this by myself, right? I've done it before...surely it can't be that bad to try again. It's dark and I cannot see, because God is light and I'm running without bringing the light with me. I stumble over rocks and run headfirst into walls and crash into trees and fall into bushes. And I sit in the dark and I wallow and wonder where to go from here.
How could God ever want me now?
It sometimes just feels that way when we're not even trying to run away, that we look at everything around us and some days it all just seems bad and we ask ourselves, "In the midst of all of this, where is God?"
Divorce. Tragedy. Pain. Trauma. Struggles. Destruction. Financial problems. Starvation. Hopelessness. Death. Illness. Depression. Routine. Abuse. Disasters. Etc.
How could God ever allow all of this?
I get the feeling that these questions and others tend to be interrelated, and that the answers to these questions are neither easy nor necessarily the ones that everyone looks for. The same God that allows your pain by running a specific direction (away from Him) also allows your pain when you don't. It seems to make no sense, right? I follow up these questions with a series of mini-news-flashes, not necessarily in any particular order or relation to the aforementioned questions.
News flash #1: It's not about you. It's about God.
Ouch, right? It hurts our ego to read it so bluntly. But it never has been, and it never will be. God created an entire universe before He created our world, and He created the Earth before He created us. Essentially, He made an environment with fixed properties and rules, our own personal playground, and set us loose to enjoy it (see this old blog post for my fixation with the world as a playground). It was a perfect environment, but the rules were fixed, and to interact in the world was to interact within the bounds and rules set by God Himself. See The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis for further theory.
Humans were perfect, too, and obedient to God, but then sin happened (sin = our rebellion and deciding to do what we think is best for ourselves yet is actually not in line with God's will for us). Sin created separation from God. Because God created humans as sovereign creatures and would rather have them choose to love Him back freely instead of it being a robotic love, He allows humans to continue to turn to their own ways, away from Him, and sin. Sin is painful. Sin hurts ourselves. Sin hurts others. But like the most perfect superhero and prince ever, God sent Jesus to atone for all of that and, no matter our decisions and choices, bridge the separation between us and God (see my previous post on grace for a better layout of what "bridging the gap" means). When we admit our faults and desire to sin, believe that Jesus really can bring us into relationship with God, and commit to that relationship, we are able to come into it. But sinning is still a conscious act that we can choose to take. And when we do, it still hurts us, and it still hurts others.
News flash #2: Even though it's not about you, God cares deeply and wildly for you. (See Furious by Jeremy Riddle for a song version of this news flash)
Like a father for his children and a groom for his bride, God loves you! And nothing that you do and nothing that happens to you as a result of others' doing escapes His sight. He hurts when you do, because He loves you that much. He also hurts when, instead of coming to Him for healing, we try to find it elsewhere. I am very guilty of this. When it comes down to it, God wishes that even when we sin against Him time and time again, we come to Him and ask for His mercy instead of trying to make it better on our own. He made us. He made all of this. He's had enough practice to get the hang of things by now, don't you think?
News flash #3: Relationships are always two-way streets. Including a God-human relationship
This means that even as God is passionately pursuing you and trying to win your heart over, even as He sacrificed Himself as His Son for you, even as He'd do anything for you, He will not do anything that you do not consent to (He's a gentleman!). Furthermore, if we do not pursue Him back, the relationship is completely one-sided. How well does that even work out in our everyday interpersonal relationships!? Not to mention a spiritual one! On this final news flash, I leave you, dear Reader, with a word of encouragement: God has amazing plans for you, and they are not plans to harm you. They are plans to prosper you, give you hope, and give you a future. Call to Him, pray to Him, because He will listen! And in seeking Him with all your heart, you will find Him! (Jer. 29:11-13).
Further reading and study: Where Is God In Tragedy?, Jeremiah 29, Even When I'm At My Darkest