As I was doing my daily Bible reading today, I read the beginning chapters of Jeremiah. In verse 8 of chapter one, I found this promise the LORD made to Jeremiah: “‘Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,’ declares the LORD.” God was sending Jeremiah, possibly a young man in his late teens or early twenties, on a very difficult mission: to speak the word of the LORD to Judah. The timeframe of Jeremiah’s mission was “when the people of Jerusalem went into exile” (Jeremiah 1:3). In other words, the people of Jerusalem had tried God’s patience long enough and were now experiencing the consequences of their centuries-long rebellion: defeat at the hands of their enemy followed by deportation to Babylon (Iraq). To be a spokesman for God to His rebellious people would have been a scary prospect. Indeed, Jeremiah was sorely mistreated at their hand (cf. Jeremiah 20:2; 37:16; 38:6-9).
Recently, after a Sunday worship service, I overheard one of our boys ask his dad, “Why did you leave me?” They had been separated for a short while when Dad was needed elsewhere in the building. Are we not tempted to ask the same question of our heavenly Father? “God, why did you leave me?” Or, in different words, “Where are you, God?!” Perhaps Jeremiah asked the same question when his enemies beat him or when they threw him into that empty cistern where he was sure to starve to death, half-buried in the muck.
The period of my life in which these questions pressed most heavily upon me was 2005-2007. I refer to this time as my “dark night of the soul.” I don’t recall if I explicitly asked God, “Where are you?!” However, I most certainly felt as if God were absent. During those years I suffered intense emotional and psychological anguish. The worst part, however, was that inescapable feeling that God had abandoned me.
He had not. Now in retrospect I can see that He was doing spiritual surgery on a malignancy in my soul. It felt like major surgery with no anesthesia. But God’s purposes were good: to intervene intensively in order to bring about significant healing and better spiritual health. That I would know Him more truly and deeply, and therein find deliverance.
As you walk with Jesus through life, it is most likely that at some time you will find yourself either asking “God, where are you?!” or feeling like He is absent. It may be a Jeremiah-like experience of opposition, harsh and painful, because of your faith in Christ. It may be like my “dark night.” It may be during a time of great loss and grief. It may be during a prolonged time of unrelenting pain. Whatever its shape and source, it is good to be aware that at some time you may well find yourself asking God what that young boy asked his dad, “Why did you leave me?”
God knows this. I believe that is a big reason why He repeatedly told His people throughout the Bible what He told Jeremiah: “I am with you.” Consider a few of those occasions:
- To Moses before he goes to confront Pharaoh (Exodus 3:12)
- To Joshua as he begins to lead the people of God (Joshua 1:5, 9)
- To the disciples of Jesus as He sent them out on mission (Matthew 28:18-20)
- To the Apostle Paul as he faced opposition for proclaiming Jesus (Acts 18:9-10)
We must arm ourselves with this truth. To memorize God’s very words of assurance to us. To have them at the ready as the darkness closes in.
Now, admittedly, holding on to this oft-repeated promise of God takes faith. It is the conscious choice to recall God’s sure promise and to choose to believe it. Sometimes that feels impossible. The help of other brothers and sisters in Christ is a lifeline at such times. Not that we need to be “preached at” by them, but supported by them. That you have someone, or some ones, to stand with you in presence and prayer at that time. To stand “for” you at those times when you find yourself unable even to say, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.” (See Mark 9:24)
We must also arm ourselves with the Gospel, remembering the Passion of our Lord Jesus. He, too, felt the absence of God. As He hung on that awful cross, He cried out to God, “Why have You forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). In this case, the experience of Jesus, it was more than a feeling; it was reality. God the Father abandoned His Son, the Lord Jesus, at that moment for our sake. Jesus was bearing the sins of the world upon Himself, and the Father, in justice, had to look away (cp. Isaiah 59:2). Jesus suffered the justice of God in our place so that we might be forgiven our sins and given an unbreakable relationship with the Holy God as our Father. Indeed, the work of Jesus is the very basis of God’s promise to us. He promised never to abandon us because He did abandon His Son due to our sins.
“Where are You?” we ask. In reply, “God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you’” (Hebrews 13:5).