This is, in fact, true of all relationships, from friendships to marriages. A relationship which is not tended to with care will begin to fall apart, and will ultimately cease to exist all together. We know this about relationships. Even when we are not tending to a relationship adequately, and it is falling apart or has done so, we know that our lack of attention to it was a problem. Yet, we are often reluctant to admit that.
Of course, some relationships fall apart despite our attention to them, for a variety of reasons. And sometimes, it is not because of our inattention, but of that of the other person in the relationship. After all, it takes attention from both parties for a relationship to thrive.
There really is no difference when it comes to our relationship with God: if it is to thrive, we need to tend to it with care. What we can be sure of is that God is always ready to tend to that relationship. Indeed, God is always tending to it. So, as some wise person said, if you feel that God is far away, guess who moved? It is always us who move away — never God.
And yet, I sometimes encounter people who seem to hold God responsible for the distance, and express it in some variation of the comment, “If God is so loving/powerful, then why is my life/the life of the world not better?” Indeed, there are many who use the state of the world, or of individual lives, to conclude that there must be no God, or at least not a God worth paying attention to. Because, they assume, if God is, then the world would be idyllic.
What we often fail to notice when our thoughts travel along such paths is the message that Jesus as Christ points to: that God is not a supernatural being who somewhat capriciously intervenes (or not) in our world, but rather, God’s presence unfolds within human experience, drawing us into a relationship that is transformative. And when we tend to that relationship, when we spend time allowing God to transform us, then we are able to contribute to the world’s transformation.
Most of the time, when we are tempted to put the suffering of the world on God’s doorstep, we are engaging in an act of spiritual immaturity, because we are unwilling to admit our responsibility. Much of human suffering is attributable to human action or inaction. If we wish to live in a more just, more peaceful, more idyllic world, then we must be the ones who make that happen, rather than wishing that some great divine Parent would come and do it for us.
But changing the world begins with changing ourselves. And to do that, we must be willing to spend time with God in the context of prayer, of spiritual practice. We must tend to the relationship. An hour a week at a church service is probably not enough. Corporate, communal worship is meant to support, guide, and strengthen our practice and relationship. The sacraments of the Christian tradition, especially the Eucharist, are spiritual food for the journey. But that can’t be the sum total of our spiritual lives: we need our own personal practice to move us closer to God, to strengthen that relationship, and begin to change.