I’ve not been forgotten – Brad Jersak
THE EXPERIENCE OF ALONENESS
It is inevitable. At some point, grief or loss knocks on our door. Life happens, tragedies strike, death overtakes us or sometimes worse, those we love most.
When the ache of emptiness does invade our lives, even the most faithful Jesus-followers may experience the “felt absence” of God. Even if by faith we can cling to the promise, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb. 13:5), the feeling of suffocating aloneness can leave us crying out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me!?” (Psalm 22:1).
This can be truly troubling. Where is God when it hurts? Has God really left? If not, why can’t I feel God’s comforting presence? If God has not left, has my faith abandoned me?
The darkness of abandonment is neither unusual nor unholy. It is one of the great agonies of the human condition–a frightening experience that Christ himself endured in his famous “cry of dereliction.”
And yet in Psalm 22, the same song that prophesies that desperate call, we read that in the midst of the darkness, the Messiah can testify (in verse 24),
[God] has not despised or scorned
the suffering of the afflicted one;
he has not hidden his face from him
but has listened to his cry for help.
Christ, knowing the Father as he does, can cry out in faith,
“Into your hands I commit my spirit!” (Luke 23:46)
Here he is quoting Psalm 31:5, another prophetic preview of the cross, which also says in verse 22,
In my alarm I said,
“I am cut off from your sight!”
Yet you heard my cry for mercy
when I called to you for help.
What should we make of this? Did God abandon his Son or not? Certainly, Christ foresaw this terrible trial, but was also utterly convinced of this truth:
“The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.”
“A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me.”
Yes, our Lord DID enter the depths of the human phenomenon of God’s felt absence–the darkness of existential abandonment–but he also knew that in that darkness, the unfelt presence of his Father never for a moment left him. He faces into despair for those in despair, and passes through it for us all–even those who’ve despaired of life itself.
PRAYERS OF ASSURANCE
“But I’m not Jesus!” That’s for sure. That’s why we needed him to enter our experience for us. He identifies with our sense of abandonment. But he normally doesn’t erase it. I don’t know why we sometimes feel the peace that passes understanding and the comfort of the Holy Spirit–and sometimes we don’t. I can’t explain the years of chronic grief that so many undergo.
I do know this: such periods of excruciating aloneness leave us without words. Sighs and moaning become our prayers. But the Scriptures also lend us words. When the inevitable comes, the first of the following passages may at least help us express our pain. And if we can’t hear God’s answer through the fog of grief, the second passage is God’s promise to us.
Hide not Your face from me, nor turn away Your servant in anger! You have been my helper; do not leave me or forsake me, O God of my salvation! Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me!
Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget,
I will not forget you!
See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;
your walls are ever before me.