The greatest (and most honest) saints have always confessed that they had to walk through many valleys with no sense of God’s presence. Sometimes they nearly went deaf from the heavenly silence. Often, they stumbled helplessly in what felt like total darkness. C.S. Lewis wrote that during one of the most painful times of his life, he cried out to God and got “a door slammed in [my] face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence.” Have you ever felt that way?
Just because you feel that God is absent doesn’t mean He actually is. Just because you can’t track His footprints doesn’t mean He’s not walking beside you. If you’re a believer, that feeling of being alone is always an illusion. Yes, always. Here’s how I know.
At the cross, Jesus experienced the horror of rejection by His heavenly Father. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He cried (Matt 27:46). It wasn’t the pain of the nails that hurt Him most; it was the utter aloneness, the true abandonment. And He did it so that you and I would never have to experience it.
The essence of the cross was substitution. Jesus faced our aloneness—the utter abandonment we had brought upon ourselves through sin—so that we would never have to. The Father turned His face away from His Son so that He would never have to turn His face away from us.
So when we feel abandoned, that’s all it is—a feeling. A lying, deceptive feeling. It has to be. Jesus faced the full measure of our aloneness in our place and put it away forever. By His death, He reconciled us to God, so that we can know He will never leave us or forsake us. In some strange way we can never hope to comprehend, He was abandoned . . . for us.
What do we do, then, when we feel alone? Simply: walk by faith, not by sight. You must re-believe the gospel, that God has removed the full extent of the curse—all that could ever separate you from Him—and has given you Christ’s complete righteousness in its place. You must re-believe that in His finished work you couldn’t be closer to Him than you are right now, regardless of how you feel. And you must re-claim the promises of God, most of which are made to us for times in which God appears distant.
The gospel declares to us that God has made Himself close to us in Christ, holding us even tighter than a mother holds a newborn child (Isa. 49:15). When our feelings tell us that is not true, we must defy those feelings with faith in God’s promise.
So when you can’t “feel” God, be assured, He’s there. The cross assures you that He is. He will never leave you nor forsake you. Nothing can ever separate you from His love. He has united Himself, through His Spirit, inextricably to you. And just as He has done in the great saints of old, the Spirit is likely doing His best work in you in those dark times.