(7 minute read)
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46, NIV).
One of the lowest points of my life happened about seventeen years ago. My father had died after a prolonged illness. I had just taken a new ministry position. Within a few weeks of starting the job, it was obviously toxic. I thought I could help it turn around, but after two years, I realized that my own soul had been drawn into the mess.
It was the first time in my life that I had experienced depression. I didn’t even know what it felt like before, so I had no frame of reference. But I struggled with sleeping, concentrating, and being happy in normal situations.
The spiritual struggle was intense. I felt abandoned. Why had God forsaken me? I had given my life to God. I was trying to please Him. You know, all of those things we say, thinking we’ll be immune from suffering just because we are serving the Lord.
“In this world you will have trouble,” Jesus said (John 16:33, NIV). That truth entered my life on a level I had never experienced before. I had trouble praying and feeling connected to God. I kept a journal from those days. As I look back over the entries, I’m amazed at what I poured out before the Lord: frustration, anger, disappointment, doubt.
When I thought I couldn’t go any lower, I met the Living God. God had not abandoned me after all. Little by little, God lifted me out of that pit. I began to feel hope. I got help. I got better. I began to feel God’s love on a deeper level. Now, I can relate to those who struggle with depression and the heaviness of grief.
Some people wonder: can God really know what we go through in this life?
Yes, God can.
Isaiah 53:3 says that the Messiah to come would be “despised and rejected— a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief” (NLT). Jesus entered into the suffering of this life. He knows what we feel. He was willing to endure the worst this life can give.
On the cross, Jesus felt forsaken at the lowest point of His earthly life— one much lower than mine.
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He cried.
There is a doctrine called divine abandonment that says that God the Father abandoned Jesus when He was on the cross. Because Jesus had taken all the sin of the world upon Himself, God turned away in that moment.
That idea that God had turned his back on Jesus was so troubling to Martin Luther, the father of the Protestant Reformation, that it caused Luther to go into seclusion to try to understand it. He came away as confused as he was when he started.
I don’t deny that Jesus felt forsaken. But I don’t believe He was abandoned.
There was never a moment when he ceased to be the Son of God. There was never a time when God didn’t suffer with Him. It may be that in the moment of his intense trial, Jesus felt forsaken because the weight of sin caused Him to lose intimacy with God.
Intimacy with God was the fuel of Jesus’ earthly journey. It gave Him energy, comforted Him in grief, provided power for miracles, and sustained Him in His mission.
In dying for us, Jesus made a way that we could know God intimately, too. We can be healed because of His sacrifice. 1 Peter 2:24 (ESV) says, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.”
George Müller’s life demonstrates that we, too, can be richly and deeply connected to our Heavenly Father. Even in low moments, God waits for us and sustains us. He knew that it was a sheer gift.
“Dear reader, do not think that I have attained in faith to that degree to which I might and ought to attain; but thank God for the faith which he has given me, and ask Him to uphold and increase it. And lastly… let not Satan deceive you in making you think that you could not have the same faith, but that it is only for persons who are situated as I am.”
He goes on to describe what that intimacy looks like. When he lost a key, he asked God to help him find it. When an appointment was late in meeting him, feeling inconvenienced, Müller would ask the Lord to hasten the person in coming to Him. When he didn’t understand a passage of scripture, He asked that God would be pleased, by the Holy Spirit, to teach him the meaning.
“Oh, I beseech you, do not think me an extraordinary believer, having privileges above other of God’s dear children, which they cannot have…Make but trial! Do but stand still in the hour of trial, and you will see the help of God, if you trust in Him.”
The cry of “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” was not the last thing Jesus said on the cross. His final cry was, “It is finished!” The work of bringing salvation to lost humanity was done. God helped Jesus complete all that Jesus came to do.
Have you ever felt forsaken by God?
Do you feel forsaken now?
Jesus was not forsaken in His great suffering. I was not abandoned in my season of darkness.
Neither are you. What seems like defeat can become your deliverance. The valley becomes the place where you encounter God like never before.
When you feel forsaken, here are two ways to pray.
First, pour out your heart. Hold nothing back before the Lord. Have faith that even if you feel abandoned, forsaken, or lost, you are actually none of those things by your Heavenly Father. Keep a journal of your journey through grief and pain. Write out your raw prayers and let them go before God. Ask for a fresh expression of God’s love.
Second, take God at His word. Surround yourself with scripture. Pray God’s Word.
Here are just a few of God’s promises:
Isaiah 41:10: “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (ESV).
Joshua 1:9: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid, and do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (NIV).
Deuteronomy 31:8: "It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed” (ESV).
Romans 8:38-39: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (NIV).
Believe God’s Word. Look for the help of God. Don’t be afraid. God is with you.
Prayer Principle #39: God will never abandon those He loves.