It seems to be one of the most common experiences of the Christian life. God feels far away, like he is hiding himself, or at least withholding his reviving presence. We feel destitute, spiritually dry, and desperate for a sense that he is still there, still listening, still caring. But we can’t seem to eke out a prayer because even our prayers feel empty, and they seem to return to us with an echo of defeat.
Where are you, Lord? Can you hear me? Why are you hiding yourself from me? I am your child, so why, Father, does it feel like you are ignoring my cries? How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will I seek you, only to find that the silence remains? I am languishing, O Lord. Do not delay, O my God…
If this sounds like the cry of your heart today, be comforted that you are not experiencing anything new or abnormal. You are in the same boat as your brothers and sisters in the Lord, as your forefathers, as a multitude of other Christians who have gone before you and who now walk beside you. There is some comfort in this reality.
But it cannot fully cradle our fragile hearts because feeling far from God can be a frightening experience. Knowing that others have “been there” only shaves off a corner of our worry. We need God’s Word to us about this reality, that we might know how to persevere and wait with hope when God feels far away.
Rely on Truth, Not Your Feelings
David’s cry in Psalm 22 sounds a lot like ours:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
and by night, but I find no rest. (vv. 1-2)
David feels forsaken by God, as he searches restlessly for God, for rest in him, but cannot find it. What David says next, however, is a turning point in his lament:
Yet you are holy,
enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In you our fathers trusted;
they trusted, and you delivered them. (vv. 3-4)
Despite feeling rejected, lonely, and bordering on despair, David shifts his focus to two significant truths: God is holy and reigning, and he is faithful to deliver his people.
When we do not feel God’s presence, we rely on his holiness and reign.
God is set apart from all other created things in his faithfulness, goodness, love, wisdom, mercy, and grace. Because God is holy, he simply cannot be unrighteous, impure, or go against his word.
I need to rely on this truth about him when I struggle to experience his presence, to feel his nearness. His reign reminds me that he is present everywhere, always; his holiness tells me that I do not deserve to be near him. Yet, the reigning, holy God has given me the precious, free gift of being brought near through Christ’s blood. He has given me what I do not deserve, the freedom to draw closely to his throne of grace with confidence that I will never be rejected.
So when we feel that God has forsaken us, we rely on what we know to be true: God’s holiness reigns, and he has granted us sure, unending access to his presence by grace through faith, by the blood of his Son.
When we do not feel God’s power, we rely on his faithful deliverance.
David recalls that his forefathers trusted God to deliver them in the past, and God always did. He rescued his people after they cried to him, and he saved them from idols and enemies as they trusted in him.
It is easy for me to fret that maybe, just maybe, this will be the instance when God forgets to be faithful, forgets to come through for me. When I feel this way, I can rely on the sure fact of God’s perfect faithfulness in caring for, helping, and saving his people. I can take God at his very Word, clinging to biblical accounts of his faithfulness. I can also remember how God has been faithful to me in the past.
In the deepest darkness, we look to the cross, where God’s faithful deliverance of weak and needy sinners reached its climax in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We rely on his faithful deliverance when we cannot feel his power at work.
Let Truth Transform Your Feelings
David pours out his lament for several stanzas, remembering God’s holiness and faithfulness, while being completely honest about what he feels: “My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death” (v. 15). Just because we know the truth about God and his gospel doesn’t mean we can’t be honest about how we feel. We can pour out our complaints to him because our Father isn’t going anywhere, and he knows our hearts even better than we do.
Yet, something remarkable happens to David’s feelings as he cries out to God. The truth transforms them. He goes from lamenting God’s absence to proclaiming his presence, from doubt and despair to surety and praise:
I will tell of your name to my brothers;
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you…
he has not hidden his face from [the afflicted],
but has heard, when he cried to him. (vv. 22, 24)
As we remember God’s truth, our feelings will be increasingly transformed by it. God’s holiness and reign and his faithful deliverance far transcend our fleeting emotions and distressing circumstances. So we choose to rehearse these truths when God seems far away, to praise him even when we cannot feel him.
What does God’s Word tell you is true of him? Will you rely on these truths when he feels far away?
By faith, may we persevere with hope by running to God’s Word of truth. May we rely on his reigning holiness and faithful deliverance, despite how we feel. In God’s perfect timing and by his grace, may we let his truth transform our feelings, that we may sing praise along with David, “God has heard when I cried to him.”