Last week I participated in a monthly ritual afforded to those of us who live in the luxurious western world at the dawn of the 21st century.
I got a hair cut.
However, while I no longer have the fear that my ear could be sliced off at any moment, I am not very comfortable sitting there with my arms imprisoned under a cape as hair clippings drop on my nose and torture me with their itching fury. Also, if I make a sudden movement to scratch my nose, my ear will be sliced off.
It’s quite the predicament.
All this to say that I’m rarely conversational while on the chair. But during this particular haircutting I had a providential interaction with my hair surgeon. The fact that I am an elder candidate at Living Stones got brought up, and she explained that not only was she once a part of LS - she was highly involved in the ministry. So, as I have learned at elder training, follow up questions are good. So I asked one - “Why did you leave?”
But I was not expecting her answer.
“Because God has abandoned me,” she said.
This was not like a “dry” period or a season of doubt. She believed that God had vanished in her life. She started to tear up after admitting this, which caused her to avoid any additional conversation. She even apologized for bringing it up.
Something happened to her. Something she did not want to talk about.
And there was silence.
We know that the belief that God has abandoned us is a lie. God is closer to us than the space between soul and body, and he does not leave or forsake his people (Heb. 13:5). But why do we believe it? I’ve spent time pondering this since then, and here are four reasons why we may think that God has abandoned us.
1) Unconfessed Sin
Sin is an isolating condition. Even though Christians have been completely forgiven and washed clean, we still have a sin nature and are still subject to it in this lifetime. When we have unconfessed sin, we are walking in darkness as if we've put a blindfold on and are wondering where the pinata went. Confession exposes us to the light and returns our senses to the presence of God, who is infinitely better than a magical exploding candy bank on a string.
2) Christian mysticism
This is an emphasis on feelings and a hyper-spiritualization of our surroundings. If they are unfavorable, we make the determination that God has abandoned us. But our feelings were distorted by the fall, too, and they alter our perception of reality. The Christian faith is spiritual, but it is grounded in reality. Sometimes we need a recalibration. The absence of “good feelings” accomplishes this.
Suffering of various kinds causes us to get trapped in the moment and lose sight of the big picture. But Peter talks about the grief of various trials being temporary and for the purpose of refinement (1 Pet. 1:6-7). As a point of encouragement, he reminds us of the salvation waiting for us in the end (1 Pet. 1:8-9). Sometimes, we need to be reminded of the big picture, where God settles the score once and for all.
4) No community
Our faith is undoubtedly individual and personal, but it is also tethered to the covenant community. The devil is on rampage like a lion looking to devour the vulnerable, which includes rogue Christians (1 Pt. 5:8). Despite its flaws, Christian community is vital for intimacy with God. Also, community quickly alerts us when we succumb to the first three points on this list. Especially #1.
So now back to the story.
The haircut ended after a long period of silence and itching. As I was settling my bill and getting one card punch closer to a free nose tickle, I had my last chance to apply all the acquired pastoral wisdom from the last year and a half to counsel this woman. But all I could say to her before leaving was this:
“I feel that way too. You’re not alone.”
This haircut was providential not only because I could speak to her, but because she gave words to what I had been feeling for several weeks. I had been looking for God but all I was seeing was the material. I was experiencing relational separation, and I had the succumbed to the lie that he was gone.
There is no single Christian who cannot identify with the haunting feeling that God is not there. Even C.S. Lewis, who is so influential his grocery lists have probably inspired millions, said this after his wife died of cancer:
“But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence.”
Likewise, the Psalms are filled with pleas for God to make himself present (Ps. 71:12; 77:7-9).
And as crazy as this sounds, God himself has experienced the feeling of being abandoned by God. Seconds before death, Jesus cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46) Right before he died, his communion with God the Father was severed.
The Father who loves him (John 15:9)
The Father who glorifies him (John 17:5)
Is the same Father who Jesus felt abandoned by.
But in this moment, Jesus had assumed the sins of humanity and was fulfilling the words of Psalm 22. This was the greatest event in human history, yet Jesus experienced an "absent" God during.
For us, it is a powerful statement to worship God when we feel abandoned. Sometimes, we simply need to utter a prayer like this and wait:
God, I can’t sense you.
I am powerless to do this.
Open my eyes.
Invigorate my soul.
Show me your face.