Mark D. Roberts

God is Not Watching Us From a Distance

The LORD is close to the brokenhearted;
     he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.


Two decades ago, the song “From a Distance” streaked to the top of the
charts. Bette Midler’s moving version of this song not only sold in the
millions, but also won a Grammy for Song of the Year in 1991. The lyrics
celebrated a peaceful world as seen “from a distance.” “From a distance
we all have enough, and no one is in need. And there are no guns, no
bombs, and no disease, no hungry mouths to feed.” The chorus introduced
God into this idyllic existence: God is watching us. God is watching us.
“God is watching us from a distance.”

I liked the sound of this song, but its lyrics never quite made
sense to me. Why was it encouraging to know that God was watching us
from far away? Wouldn’t it be better if God were close at hand? In fact,
wouldn’t it be even better still if God actually entered our world to
help bring an end to violence, war, hunger, and suffering?

According to Psalm 34:18, God is not watching us from a distance, at
least not when we are hurting. Rather, the psalm affirms: “The LORD is
close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.”

But isn’t God always close at hand? Isn’t he always with us? So why
is it necessary to say that God is close to the brokenhearted?

One reason is that when our hearts are broken, when we are weighed
down with discouragement and sadness, it can seem as if God is far, far
away. I remember times in my life when I wondered if my prayers were
simply bouncing off the ceiling, going nowhere beyond my room, heard by
nobody else but me. I had no feeling of God’s presence. And my life
surely didn’t provide much obvious evidence of his grace. In those
times, I needed the reassurance of Scripture, the promise of God’s
presence and care. I needed to know that God was with me even when I
didn’t feel him and even when I doubted him.

But God isn’t just close to the brokenhearted in the sense of being
nearby. He is also emotionally close to those who hurt. God’s own heart
is moved by our suffering. The God whom we know in Jesus is a God who
feels our pain even as he also brings comfort. God is close to the
brokenhearted in the sense that God’s own heart is open to ours and is
broken along with ours. Thus, when we are overwhelmed by grief or
despair, we are comforted by the fact that God is not watching us from a
distance, but is with us to join us in our pain and to comfort us.

The fact that God is not just watching from a distance also reminds
us that we are to draw near to those who are hurting. In this world, we
are the body of Christ. Through our hands, God will feed the hungry and
heal the sick. With our arms, God will embrace the suffering. Thus, the
fact that God is close to the brokenhearted encourages us to do the
same, being with those who hurt, opening our hearts to share God’s
presence and love with them.

respond to the truth that the Lord is close to the brokenhearted? Have
there been times in your life when you were hurting and God seemed far
away? Have there been times when God was obviously with you in your
suffering? What helps you to be aware of God’s presence and care?

PRAYER: Gracious God, thank you for being near when
our hearts are broken. Thank you for not leaving us alone. Thank you for
sharing in our pain and suffering, even as you offer supernatural
comfort. Thank you for using your people to communicate your love in
times of sorrow and fear.

Today I pray for those who are brokenhearted, that they might sense
your presence and care. Make yourself known to them, Lord. Help them to
reach out to you and find that you are there.

Even as you are close to the brokenhearted, may I be also. Help me
to be a channel of your peace, mercy, and healing. May I not close my
heart out of convenience or fear. Rather, may I share in the suffering
of others, so that I might also be a source of comfort.

All praise be to you, O God, because you are close to us when our hearts are broken. You never leave us or forsake us. Amen.


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This devotional comes from The High Calling: Everyday Conversations about Work, Life, and God ( You can read my Daily Reflections there, or sign up to have them sent to your email inbox each day. This website contains lots of encouragement for people who are trying to live out their faith in the workplace. The High Calling is associated with Laity Lodge, where I work.

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