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When You Feel That God Is Not with You

When You Feel That God Is Not With You

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Have you ever been alone? I’m speaking of the worst kind of loneliness, not your run-of-the-mill loneliness you experience as you wait for someone to show up. I’m speaking of a sting that penetrates the depths of a person’s soul. This peculiar isolation differs from being by yourself, as though hanging with someone will solve your problem. I’m talking about a type of loneliness that isolates you even in a crowd or hanging with your family. You know you’re in an awful spot when living in a community with other people, even if they love you, cannot satisfy the pain of loneliness. It has penetrated to the point of a stinging emotion.

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An Isolating Pain

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, a darkness to be felt” (Exodus 10:21).

I am speaking of an isolating pain that does not consider the season or context. It is more internal, where even external considerations do not add value. Sometimes people talk about physical coldness penetrating the body to where you are bone cold. This kind of physical chilling is similar to these individuals’ spiritual feelings of loneliness that they experience. It reminds me of the curse of darkness Moses put on the Egyptians; they could feel the darkness. Imagine that—darkness so dark that it penetrated the psyche to give the illusion that you could feel it. The loneliness I’m speaking of is like this. Even being in the middle of one hundred people does not bring relational warmth to the lonely soul because loneliness at its root is a spiritual matter.

God created us for an external and internal community. On the physical front, we associate with and enjoy being around people. Parties, hospitality, and other gatherings are vital to us. We long to get out because solitary confinement for an extended period is not good for us. The pandemic of 2019 taught us how extended isolation is harmful. Even those who hide behind video gaming pretend to be happy, but they are not. Humans must reach out to and experience other humans. The spiritual aspect of connecting is similar to the external necessities of community because we are spiritual beings that need to push beyond mere physical superficialities.

Sometimes you will hear people talk about their frustration with others who do not go deep into their relationships. Their complaint focuses on a desire to intersect with someone at the level of a lonely heart. It penetrates the skin, touching the soul. This desire is not wrongheaded but an optimistic longing to intersect with fellow image-bearers. Because the Lord made us in His image, we long to be like Him. He is the original community. Father, Son, and Spirit enjoy an uninterrupted interpersonal relationship within the Trinity. It made sense after the Lord created Adam to want to bless him by giving him a complementary helper (Genesis 2:18). Though we do not know all the exact reasons the Lord did this for Adam, we do know it was not best for him to be without human companionship, whether in marriage or other people in the human community.

God with Us

Our desire for communal interactions makes us normal as we affirm God’s creative work in making us in His image. We are “similar” to Him, as James said (James 3:9). Humanity has a sense of and craving for tribal belonging. Sometimes we call it groupthink, a word that connotes the desire to belong. The historical record affirms this notion as we perceive the Lord’s desire to hang with us throughout the Old and New Testaments. For example, we see Him walking with Adam in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:15-17, 3:8). Later, He asked Moses to build a tabernacle in the wilderness so He could be with His people throughout their journey (Exodus 25:8). When the family finally settled down in the land of Israel, the Lord gave instructions to Solomon to build something more permanent so that God could be with His people (1 Chronicles 22:10).

As we roll into the New Testament, we see the Son of God becoming a man so He could be with us, to help us (Matthew 1:23; John 1:14; Hebrews 2:14-15). After He left our planet, He gave us the Spirit to live inside us so we could continue our shared connection with Him (John 16:13-15; 1 Corinthians 2:14). Of course, this same Spirit indwells every Christian, mysteriously connecting all believers in Christ’s body (1 Corinthians 12:12) The best part of heaven is how we will be with and experience Him forever and ever. The beauty of God’s creative work is that our external and internal selves can experience God’s intention for relationships, even transcending earthly strictures so we can experience eternal reciprocal delight with God and each other (Revelation 22:5). From beginning to end, the Lord has made a way for His children not to be alone.

Christians are unique, separating us from other vain attempts of our worldly counterparts to find contentment in a community. We share physical and spiritual relational connectivity with God and others, maximizing what it means to be created in His image. This twofold blessing fills the believer to overflowing, making the draining of these external and internal connections so acute that you feel the sting of being alone, which is where we find Job in the depth of his despair. After the dust settled and as he moved beyond his doxological impulse of blessing God, whether He gave or took away, Job began to feel something different, the loss of community. He entered his moaning season as he thought about losing his loved ones. But there was another condition that he had to confront: what do you do when God is not with you, too? Listen to how he talked about God not being with him in chapter twenty-three.

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God Not with Us

Behold, I go forward, but he is not there, and backward, but I do not perceive him; on the left hand when he is working, I do not behold him; he turns to the right hand, but I do not see him (Job 23:8-9).

Have you ever wondered what living without God would be like? How would you feel if you did not know God, could not perceive God, or had no awareness of His presence? It’s one thing not to know the Lord as an unbeliever. You have never tasted to learn how good He is, but suppose you have walked and talked with Him, but now it appears He is no longer with you. It’s akin to the amputee who reaches to scratch his non-existent leg, a phantom pain that leaves you in a surreal state of confusion that is hard to articulate. Losing sight of God is the most profound soul-altering experience a Christian can know.

It is one thing when humanity disconnects from you, but the loneliness of being alone is when you do not sense the presence of the Lord in your life. Though you may not know the source of this internal loss, you can feel its soul-isolating effects of it. The worst-case scenario of this, of course, is eternal separation from God in hell. Some folks have synonymously connected the word hell with the words “without God,” as they both suggest similar ideas. There can be an echo of hell when you are relationally distant from the Lord. Job had this experience. Listen again to his lonesome words in the twenty-third chapter. It did not matter which direction he looked, he could not perceive God anywhere near his trouble.

During my four-year journey with Job, I felt this kind of isolation and loneliness. After my wife and children left, I lost sight of the Lord. The complicatedness of this time tempted me to drift from Him. I’m not suggesting that God went anywhere, a theological impossibility, but the swirling of the whirlwind disoriented me like two kids spinning each other on the playground. As the spinning slowed, I tried not to succumb to those temptations, and there were several. For example, Christianity did not seem worth the cost. I was failing the accusation of Satan: “Does Job serve you for what he can get out of it?” The soul-diminishing effect of being separated from the Lord took a mighty toll on me as I spiraled into a four-year “dark night” of mental and spiritual confusion.

I Could Cry

That awful season reminds me of a sad song from the desperate and lost songwriter Hank Williams, Sr. He grew up in the depression, hearing about God but not knowing Him. His desperate attempts to satiate his loneliness became alcohol, women, and pain songs. He was a lonely man adored by thousands. Read one of his classic attempts to articulate the desperation of his captured soul. I would sing this song as though it was autobiographical. Like being snowblind, I could not perceive the Lord in any direction. It was the worst time of my life, from which I reluctantly resigned that I would never see a better day. I do not remember if I lost hope or gave up on hope, but it was clear that hope was no longer my diurnal and cherished friend. Hank titled this, “I’m so lonesome, I could cry.”

Hear that lonesome whippoorwill
He sounds too blue to fly
The midnight train is whining low
I’m so lonesome I could cry

I’ve never seen a night so long
When time goes crawling by
The moon just went behind the clouds
To hide its face and cry

Did you ever see a robin weep
When leaves began to die?
That means he’s lost the will to live
I’m so lonesome I could cry

The silence of a falling star
Lights up a purple sky
And as I wonder where you are
I’m so lonesome I could cry

Find a Friend

Job’s misery reads like a Hank Williams song. He was so lonesome that he could cry. And he did. Perhaps Job intuitively knew that God was near, but his complex misery was exponentially more significant than his intellectual, theological understanding of how things ought to be. We can be like that, too. We live in functional unbelief whenever our troubles are more controlling than the truths of Scripture. I became an “unbelieving believer.” Though I had a theology degree on my wall, I perceived the Lord was no longer in my heart. It was at this point that I read Job’s desperate words (Job 23:8-9). As horrifying as his perspective sounds, it resonated in my soul. It was the first time in a long time I no longer felt alone. Though it appeared Jesus stopped calling me His friend, Job became my new best friend forever. One of the beauties of Scripture is its unashamed willingness to reveal all the dark machinations of sin and human fallenness. It does not hold back from the good or the evil. Oddly, Job’s troubles began to give me hope. He had been where I was (Ezekiel 3:15). He reminded me of another man.

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:14-16).

Job helped reconnect me back to Christ. Sometimes God can appear so far from you that you need a friend to help you return to your first love (Revelation 2:4). My church friends abandoned me. Some of them did this because they shunned divorced people. Others chose to alienate because they felt awkward being around someone who should be married. Still, others did not know how to help me. I was like a disabled person who looked odd to ordinary people, so they just stared for a while and then returned to their happy lives. In time, they all left, and I was alone. This period was when the Lord invited me to His Word. The Spirit moved me to shuffle through the pages of Job. I spent days reading page after page. It turned into years.

Over time, this book became my cherished companion, slowly dissipating the darkness. In my loneliness, God revealed His old servant to me. He walked off the pages of Scripture and into my life. I love this man. God used Job to help me get back to Him. I sat with Job many nights—four years total—and learned from him. I wanted to feel what he felt, see what he saw, and learn what he learned (Philippians 4:9). I already knew the end of the story: God would eventually restore him (Job 42:10). Job was a success story in God’s mysterious and complex way of writing success stories. Knowing the hopeful future motivated me to persevere through the progression of pain, praying that my conclusion would be similar to my new friend’s (Philippians 1:6).

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On Becoming Gold

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1).

Job was desperate and lost, but he eventually regained his spiritual wits. God was renewing his faith, even though he could not perceive the Lord in his troubles initially. Right after his declaration about not being able to find God (Job 23:8-9), he said, “But he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold” (Job 23:10). We have to put this in perspective. Job was not yet golden. He was speaking futuristically. Job continued to sit in lostness, loneliness, and lashing out. He was not the golden boy yet. He continued to crawl through the crucible when he spoke these incredible words as though his future hope had become his present-tense experience. Job was speaking “in faith” while sitting in the loneliness of his lostness. Faith understands how things will be long before that desired, perceived outcome comes to pass. This faith-infused, eschatological perspective is critical. Though the trials and challenges of your life can dull the truth you know, those problems should not overcome the reality of how God is actively working in your life.

Your experience does not alter God’s truth. It may feel like it, but it can’t. God’s Word is eternal and unbendable; it’s facts over feelings. Just because you may not perceive Him does not mean He is not doing great things on your behalf. If the Lord can have a private conversation with Satan outside your earshot that lands you in the crucible, don’t you think He is doing other things—better things—for your good? God does not have to reveal all He’s doing for us, but we must believe He is actively ordering our steps, including a path that leads us through suffering, transforming us into vessels fit for the Master’s use. You must own this worldview if you aim to persevere through your troubles. You must bring God’s Word daily to bear on your experience rather than permitting your experience to captivate your thoughts, dragging you into despair. Perhaps this verse can operate like a filter, removing those unhelpful contaminants that cloud your judgment and discolor your soul.

Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things (Philippians 4:8).

Paul’s worldview about our thought life is the essential first step in closing the gap that distances us from the Lord. The battle begins in our minds, not in our circumstances. How is God’s Word reshaping your thoughts from a suffering-centered perspective to a God-centered one? Faith in God changes our misconceptions about God. If our trouble is misconstruing our perspectives about God, we need ongoing help to fully understand all the Father does to sanctify us as Christ-followers. Not being able to perceive God in whole or part should not hinder our relationship with Him. Do you believe God’s Word (Deuteronomy 31:6; Hebrews 13:5)? The Bible assures you how God is for you (Romans 8:31). You may not recognize—or feel—it today, but it does not alter the truth of God’s Word. This Bible fact is what it means to live by faith rather than sight: when the realities of God’s Word overcome whatever mood or feeling you are experiencing today, God is transforming you into gold.

Call to Action

So we do not lose heart as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

(Moses) endured as seeing him who is invisible (Hebrews 11:27).

  1. Seeing, knowing, and cherishing your great “invisible God” is at the heart of experiencing His presence when you’re lonely. Will you write out these two verses, memorize them, and journal the authors’ intent and what it means to you?
  2. Also, will you share your thoughts with someone close to you? Be practical as you reflect on and write about these verses. Let the “iron sharpening iron” concept of God’s Word affect you.
  3. What are your thoughts on this statement: “Faith understands how things will be long before that desired, perceived outcome comes to pass.” How have you experienced the Lord’s goodness as you made this concept practical? Will you talk to a friend about a time when your trouble was compromising your faith?
  4. Perhaps you’re not “so lonesome you could cry,” but you know that others are. Will you ask God to give you the insight and courage to care for those struggling today?

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