Al & Lisa Robertson / Faith  / Why has God abandoned me?

Why has God abandoned me?

By: Al Robertson

I don’t feel close to God anymore, Pastor. What should I do?

Lisa and I have heard that more times than we care to remember. It’s a common thought among many who follow Christ. In fact, I would hazard a guess and say that everyone’s felt that distance from God more than once in their life.

I know what the church sign says. The one that reads, “Not feeling close to God? Who moved?” as if to say that it’s all your fault.  It’s a self-righteous way of saying that any sense that God isn’t with us is our own doing. That something is wrong with us. Thinking like that tempts us to give up and throw in the towel.

This is wrong theology for two reasons. One, it just isn’t biblical. It is an incredible and wonderful experience when our feelings produce that euphoric high that we all covet.  But feelings are unreliable indicators of what is real.  They come and go. They shift with the winds. It’s much better to rely on what has been revealed to us about his presence than relying on the feeling that he is there. There used to be a radio show on the air around these parts called, Let the Bible Speak, and that is always a good strategy. Let the Bible speak!

The second reason that heaping guilt on people for not feeling God’s presence is that some of the most prominent figures in the Bible went through the same emotional drought. And I’m not talking about people who had obviously abandoned God. I mean, people like David and even Jesus himself who both felt abandoned at some point in their lives.

There are too many of his David’s psalms that cry out for God to restore the feeling of his presence for us to cover here, but Psalm six is a great example of how David poured his heart out to God and plead for his return:

O Lord, rebuke me not in thine anger, neither chasten me in thy hot displeasure.Have mercy upon me, O Lord; for I am weak: O Lord heal me: for my bones are vexed.

My soul is also sore vexed: but thou, O Lord, how long?

Return, O Lord, deliver my soul: oh save me for they mercies’ sake.

Hot displeasure! I like the King James Version of this Psalm because nothing describes that feeling that God has moved on from us quite like hot displeasure. We were created for intimate fellowship with God, so when we’ve lost that loving feeling, it seems as if God is punishing us for something we have done. And it’s certainly true that God disciplines those he loves when they do wrong, but even then, we should not lose sight of God’s end game; he wants to restore us.

But there are those times when we have not done a single thing wrong. It’s just that life is all balled up in one giant wad and is pressing down on us so hard that we can’t breathe. We lose a child or a spouse, and for the moment, it feels like abandonment. We want to cry out, “Where are you, God? Why is this happening to me?” Even though we haven’t sinned at all, the hardship is so great that we interpret it as absence.

Another Psalm of David’s that has the same wailing tone to it is Plasm 22. As you read it, the cry of David may sound familiar to you.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?            Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?

            O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night and am not silent.

Have you heard it before? It is the same howling prayer uttered by Jesus as he hung in agony on the cross.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Matthew 27:46)

Shocked that the Son of God experienced the same feeling of abandonment that you have experienced? The co-creator of the cosmos, hanging on a crossbeam, weeping and sputtering a loud prayer for God to make his presence known?

It kind of goes against how we think things should be, doesn’t it? Why would the Son of God feel the same neglect that you and I feel? After all, he is the Son of God, so he should have known better. Right?

If that’s what you think, you’re missing one very important piece of information. From the day that sin was introduced into this world, it has clouded our view of reality.  Our ancestors walked intimately and freely with God until they tried to dethrone him.  And then, very literally, all hell broke loose.  We weren’t created to die or be sick. We weren’t created to have an expiration date, but once sin came to town, it changed everything and obscured our vision so that seeing God as Adam and Eve once did becomes more difficult.

But I would ask you to consider that God saw David (in spite of himself) as a man who sought God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22). I’ve wondered, though, why would God value a whining, sniveling man like David?

I think that it’s because of the fact that David was so familiar with the father, that he felt at home pouring out his heart to him. And because God is a relational god, he values intimacy above all else.  David was a screw-up in a lot of ways, but his relationship with God was so intentional and personal that it set him apart from other men in the heart of God.

And then there is Jesus. What did he do wrong? What did he do to deserve the cross? Nothing! He did nothing that would warrant being nailed to a stick of wood and left to die.  Yet he was murdered, but it wasn’t for no reason that he died. He died for our sake and in our place.  And as he gasped for air, it felt like God had moved on from him too.

Of course, God had not deserted him at all.  But it felt like it. And this may have been the hardest part of the cross for Jesus, that feeling that the Father he loved with everything in him wasn’t there anymore.

So, here’s my advice to anyone who feels abandoned by God; fall on your knees and pour out your heart to him. Empty the depths of your heart and lay it all before the cross of Christ.  Contrary to popular opinion, God will not strike you down because you dared to question his presence.  On the contrary, you can rest assured that he will see your cry for what it is – further evidence that you desire him. Go ahead and begin the practice of laying it all before God.

He can take the heat, I promise you that.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash