What encouragement would you give to a Christian who feels deserted by God? In this video, Dr. Sinclair Ferguson points to a prescription, a remedy, and a great prognosis for Christians.
You know, the question I think people often ask is, “How can I be encouraged when I feel deserted by God?” And I think I would approach that question in two slightly different ways. One is, if it was somebody I knew, then as a pastor or minister, you want to be a spiritual physician to them. And so you would actually do the kind of thing a physician would do. You would want to take a case history. You’d want to ask them what the symptoms were. You’d want to try and discern if there were symptoms that they weren’t recognizing. Because this would enable you to begin to analyze, to begin to have a spiritual diagnosis, of what was really happening. And that would then lead you on to a prescription and a prognosis. And to a certain extent, I think that we can do that for ourselves, but it is helpful for somebody else to be able to look in from the outside in that way.
But in terms of kind of immediate, practical things, I think the first thing I would say is, if you feel that, you are not the first person ever to feel it and you’ll not be the last person. So, what should you do? Well, you should look and listen to the people who experienced that. And so, for example, in Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you deserted me—forsaken me?” Or Psalm 102, “You lifted me up and now you’ve thrown me away.” And I think when you examine those experiences that the psalmist had, you begin to realize certain things. One is that this sense of desertion you have is turning you in on yourself and, therefore, there’s a great danger that you will look inside yourself for the resolution of the problem. And what you see in both of those psalms is that the remedy for the sense of desertion is when the psalmist begins to turn away from himself to God, who He is, and what He has done.
And that can be hard work, I think, for people who have this sense of desertion, but it is quite important. And that’s why, I think, often in the past the spiritual masters have pointed people to Psalms 42 and 43. “Why are you cast down my soul? Hope in God.” Because when you feel you are deserted by God that begins to dominate you and talk to you. And in a way, the lesson you learn from the psalmist is you’ve got to talk back. So you’ve got to take the truth of the gospel to your own soul and say, “Soul, listen to the gospel.” If you listened to the gospel, then that sense of desertion might well begin to vanish.
And I say that for this reason, there are several clear promises in Scripture that God never deserts His children. And you need to take God at His Word. I may feel deserted, but there is a promise bigger than my feelings. And that promise says “Him, her, who comes to Me, I will never cast out.” That’s the promise of Hebrews 13. “I will never leave you and I will never forsake you.” And if you are in a church where Hebrews 13 has been expounded, you probably know that in the Greek text of Hebrews 13, it’s a double negative. “I’ll never, never forsake you.” Which in English means “I will forsake you.” But in Greek means “I never, ever, ever will forsake you.” So, as long as I’m listening to myself and myself is saying, “I think God is deserting me,” then I’ll look inside myself to try and find out reasons why He shouldn’t desert me. But when I turn to Scripture, no matter what I feel, I understand He has promised He will never desert me.
Now, having said that, the experience can be real. So the question is, does God have a purpose in it? And I think sometimes when we get through the experience, we realize perhaps He wanted to make me conscious of how much I need Him. Perhaps He was testing me, allowing this to happen so that I would trust His Word rather than my own feelings. Perhaps He’s permitting this in my life so that someday in the future someone will have that experience and I’ll be able both to empathize with them and I’ll be able to help them from what I’ve learned from it myself. We don’t always discover that. And sometimes of course it is because God wants us to be more conscious of our sinfulness than we really are, and to turn afresh to Him and His promises for forgiveness and for assurance.
So, this could be quite a complex problem to help resolve in people’s lives, but I think it’s clear. One, it’s there in Scripture. And two, Scripture has the prescription for it. And if we listen to the promises of God, He has promised, “I’ll never leave you” (see Deut. 31:6; Heb. 13:5). He’s promised, “Drawn near to Me and I will draw near to you” (see Jer. 29:12–13; James 4:8). So, there is a prescription and a remedy and, thank God, in the gospel, a great prognosis.