Has God Abandoned Me?
Jul 12, 2018 · Christopher Hunt
Has God abandoned me? Many people have asked this question at some point in their lives. And it is not a new question. Why are you so far from me? echoes like a refrain through the Psalms. Christians who love Jesus often speak of long seasons when they do not feel his presence in their trials. If you’re saying to yourself “God has abandoned me,” you’re not alone.
Examples in Scripture
The scriptures cry out with the laments of God’s people who could not find him in their times of trouble. Some believed he had even turned his hand against them. When God challenged Satan to test his servant Job, who had lived a blameless life in God’s eyes, Job lost everything but his own life. Job’s situation became so dire he wished he had never even been conceived (Job 3:3). “The arrows of the Almighty are in me,” lamented Job, “God’s terrors are marshaled against me” (Job 6:4). In the book of Ruth, Naomi, whose husband and sons had died, faced desolation. “‘Don’t call me Naomi,’ she told the women. ‘Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter...the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me’” (Ruth 1:20-21). Again and again, throughout the Psalms, the psalmists cried out to God in one way or another, “Do not hide your face from me.”
If this cloud of witnesses struggled to see God in the midst of their trials, should we be surprised that we might also?
Doubt and Faith
In times of trouble and hardship, even deeply-committed Christians might look for God in their circumstances and not see him. This can lead them to doubt; to doubt God’s goodness, his love, and even his existence. Mother Teresa famously served the poorest of the poor in India for more than 50 years, yet her writings, seen after her death in 1997, revealed a soul on the edge of despair. For decades, Teresa could not feel God’s presence with her. Author Kerry Walters shares this heartrending confession from Teresa: “In my soul I feel just that terrible pain of loss—of God not wanting me—of God not being God—of God not really existing.” Still, she persevered in the work to which God had called her. Even though she could not feel God near her, those who knew Teresa saw Jesus in her.
Many of us can relate to Teresa’s cries. The darkest days of my life came not long after the events of 9/11. My wife of seven years informed me that she no longer wanted to be married. She wanted to leave me and our two very small children. In the days that followed, I don’t remember asking the question, “Has God abandoned me?” But, I do recall wondering where he could be in all the destruction ravaging in my family. I remember feeling no sense of a response as I cried out, “God, what is going on here?” It was only in hindsight, sometimes realized years later, that I could finally see God’s strong hand in the circumstances I had endured.
Realizing the Truth
Perhaps the first glimmers of light for me during this shadowy season were when I realized it might be me who was far away from God (and not the reverse). Raised in the Church, I had all but turned my back on God from the age of 19 until my early 30s. I always believed I had a Savior, but I did not let him be Lord of my life. It dawned on me that for many years I had been treating God like a bottle of Tylenol: when faced with some crisis, I’d take him off the shelf and ask him for help. It hit me that I could actually point to something God had done in response to my cries each and every one of those times. But after each crisis was resolved, I’d always put him right back in the cabinet.
After this realization, I knew that I needed to return to my father’s house...I had been a long time in a far off country. Some time later, I finally recognized that the neighbor lady who’d invited me to church soon after my divorce had been the face of Jesus in my trial. (I attend that church to this day.) In hindsight, I can see God's presence dotted throughout that period. What I could not see at the time was that God was remaking my life out of the ashes of destruction.
Assured of God’s Nearness
Every person’s experience is different. If you feel abandoned by God, do not feel ashamed. Like the Psalmist, we can call out, “But you, Lord, do not be far from me” (Psalm 22:19). We can lean on God’s promise to never leave us or to forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6). It is only Jesus, while hanging on a cross, with the sin of all the world upon him, whom God had in fact abandoned. And in his anguish, Jesus echoed David’s wail, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). Jesus endured the abandonment of his Father so that we would not have to. In the dark nights of our souls, when we cannot see him, when we do not feel his presence, his final words to his disciples bring us great comfort: “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
If you are experiencing a time of deep distress and struggling to find God in the midst of your pain, we'd like to recommend “Ruth: Surprised by God’s Providence,” an audio Bible study and ebook from Groundwork and "Our Only Comfort: A Devotional Series for Hard Times" from our sister ministry, Today devotional. We pray these will help you discover how God can use your everyday faith and obedience to see his presence even in the darkest times of your life.
For additional resources during difficult times, visit our "What is your only comfort when life is hard?" page.