“Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?” (Psalm 42:5 ESV). This deep spiritual darkness is no doubt the state of many Christians, perhaps you, today. A hard-to-explain gloom casts its shadow, and the joy you once had in the Lord feels like a vague memory. Though you continue to read your Bible and pray, God feels far off.
In these moments, many feel that God has abandoned them. Many secretly wonder if God, fed up with them, has finally decided to cast them off. Or, one may know God will bring them into glory but feel that until then they must walk alone, cut off from God.
Is such thinking correct? Has God abandoned the sorrowful Christian? No, absolutely not. It is imperative that we remember this during dark seasons. Yet how do we know that God has not abandoned the Christian even though it might feel like it?
Firstly, we have God’s promises in His Word. “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). “… [W]hoever comes to me I will never cast out” (John 6:37). “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (Psalm 23:4). The “Lord Jesus Christ…will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful” (1 Corinthians 1:8-9). God cannot lie. His Word is always true. Therefore, we can know these words for a fact. “But,” you say, “I don’t/can’t feel this. It feels hollow.” Remember, though, that your feelings do not determine truth. My feelings, for example, on what day of the week it is (“It feels like a Thursday”), or how I did on my test do not make objective realities any less true. Our supreme authority is God’s Word, not our feelings, and our feelings must be subject and conformed to the truth of God’s Word, not the other way around. So if the Bible says something we don’t believe or feel, we know we are the ones in error, not the Bible. We are called, then, to trust God and his Word, even when we can’t see or feel it. This is the very definition of faith (cf. Hebrews 11:1). This by no means is to suggest that we, once understanding this, will automatically be joyful. But it reminds us of our foundation and leads us to trust God when he says he will never leave us nor forsake us, despite our feelings to the contrary.
Secondly, we know that such sufferings are not foreign to the Christian life but have been experienced by faithful Christians throughout the ages. In our sorrow, it’s easy to conclude that no other Christian has felt such darkness as we do, and, therefore, we must be cut off from God. Yet a cursory reading of the Psalms quickly puts such concerns to rest. Many times, David thought himself forsook by God (Psalm 22:1), yet he was not, for he later writes, “I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread” (Psalm 37:25). The fact that God thought it good to repeatedly show us examples of true Christians going through dark times reminds and comforts us that we, too, may feel cast down yet are not abandoned by God.
Thirdly, recalling God’s grace and faithfulness in the past assures us He will not forsake us now (Psalm 77:11, Lamentations 3:21-24). “But how,” you wonder, “does God’s faithfulness prove that he will be faithful and deliver us now?” Surely, though, you would think it disrespectful and untrusting to ask the same question to a faithful friend or parent. How much more should you be trusting of God, who has never failed you? Note also that his faithfulness is not wearied or decreased by our sin because it is not on the basis of performance but his steadfast love and grace (Psalm 51:1, 109:26; 2 Timothy 2:13). This leads us to a great truth; in the words of John Flavel, “As God did not at first choose you because you were high, so he will not forsake you because you are low.”
Lastly, and most comforting of all, our standing in Christ guarantees that nothing can separate us from God. If our relationship with God depended to any degree on our own works, performance or piety, we would have been cast off long ago. Yet we are not forsaken because our standing with God is not, as mentioned earlier, based on our record, but on what Christ has achieved. He “bore our sins” (1 Peter 2:24) and “[became] a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13). He suffered the wrath of God in our place, and, through faith in him, we are forgiven of all sin (Colossians 2:13-14) and are children of God (John 1:12). Because we have been united with Christ (Romans 6:5, Colossians 3:3) and now stand before God in his righteousness (Philippians 3:9), God can no more cast us out than he can cast out his own Son. Nothing can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:38). Not the world, the devil, death or your own sins. Not even the frailty of your faith or your spiritual darkness. Even more, as God’s children, he works all things—even sufferings (Romans 5:3-5) and discipline (Hebrews 12:7)—for our good (Romans 8:28). God’s sovereignty and love, based on Christ’s atoning work, is a tremendous and comforting truth for the sorrowful soul.
Know, then, that far from abandoning you, God cares for you and works all things for your good — even in your sorrow. It may certainly not feel like it, but it’s true. Do not think God is being stingy with you. He silenced all such accusations at the Cross (Romans 8:32). How deep his love is for us—even in our darkness, even when we feel so little for him.
Andrew Sveda is a senior at Notre Dame from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, majoring in political science and theology. In his free time, he enjoys writing (obviously), reading and playing the piano. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @SvedaAndrew on Twitter.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.