What if I feel abandoned by God? Dr. Sinclair Ferguson gives practical, biblical, and pastoral advice and encouragement for those who feel like God has deserted them.
You know, I think, probably, every Christian minister has people coming to him—sometimes quite regularly—to ask, “So I feel God has abandoned me. I feel God has deserted me.” And I think that the very first issue to settle is “Am I a Christian?”
Going Back to Basics
And so, at that point, the first thing for us to do is to go back to the very basics. Am I a person who is trusting in Christ, someone who has been pursued by him, come to know him, to love him? I think often it’s true that it’s people who love Christ who actually become concerned about the fact that they feel deserted by God. So from one point of view, strange though it may seem to say, it may not be such a bad sign. It feels terrible. But in terms of being helped, it may not be such a bad sign. So the first thing is, “Am I really a Christian?”
Identifying With Others
There may come clouds in between God and ourselves, our consciousness of him, but he has given us an absolute promise that he will never desert us.The second thing, I think, is to remember you are not the only person or the first person to experience this. And so I sometimes find just taking people back to, for example, Psalms 42 and 43, you know, “Why are you cast down, my soul?” He feels deserted by God. Or, I think an especially helpful psalm is Psalm 102, because there, the psalmist seems to go down. He’s like a bird on a housetop. He feels all alone, he’s crying, he is really melancholic and actually depressed and feels God has deserted him. And then he seems to kind of come up again, but then he goes down again. And I think that’s a very helpful psalm because it teaches us not only, “I’m not the only person who has experienced this,” but it also teaches us, “this is not something that will go away just at the click of my fingers.” And I must allow myself to expose myself to God’s patient care for me. So first thing: “Am I a real Christian?” Second thing is, “I’m not the only one who has ever experienced this.”
Remembering God’s Promises
And the third thing that I personally think is very helpful to us is to remember that God never deserts his children. There may come clouds in between God and ourselves, our consciousness of him, but he has given us an absolute promise that he will never desert us. And so we must learn to live our Christian lives not on the basis of how we feel subjectively, but what God has promised, and hang on to these promises. An especially helpful promise I think I’ve found over the years is the promise enshrined in the book of James. “If we draw near to him, he will draw near to us.” The danger when I feel deserted, when I feel down, is that I’ll give up my ordinary Christian disciplines on the basis that I’m not experiencing a sense of the nearness of God. And what that encouragement, I think, helps us to do is to say, “I am going to keep on with those disciplines and drawing near to God. He has promised he will draw near to me. And I do believe in that drawing nearer to me that will eventually break through the sense I have that I have been deserted by God.”
We must learn to live our Christian lives not on the basis of how we feel subjectively, but what God has promised.Now, having said that, I think then only in that context I might say to somebody, “Is there some reason in your life that you may have grieved the Holy Spirit?” Because that too just needs to be explored to make sure that you’re trusting in Christ for his forgiveness and seeking the help of the Holy Spirit to turn away from whatever has grieved him and has had this consequent sense in your life that God has deserted you. So those are some of the things that I think one can say in a few minutes. But we are spiritual patients, and we need patience in the process of recovery. And I think that’s always important to learn.