“I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you. ‘I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.'” (John 14:16-18)
“…For He Himself has promised, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.'” (Hebrews 13:5b)
It seems that the Christian life is often full of mysteries revolving around the tension between conceding intellectually to the truth of the Bible and experiencing that truth in the tangible world. It also seems to me that many turn from Christ because of this tension, not because of intellectual hang ups.
So what, then, does it mean when Jesus says that He will not leave us as orphans? What does it mean when God promises never to leave us, never to forsake us?
Surely each of us have experienced the tragic reality of feeling completely abandoned and isolated from God even though we acknowledge the Biblical texts that speak to the contrary to be true. Surely we have felt – even experienced – within the realm of the tangible that God has indeed left us and indeed forsaken us.
How can we hold firmly to the truth of something that seems to be so distant from our experience in reality?
I think it is because we expect our proof-texting of Scripture to mystically come to life as literal reality. Many times we fail to understand that the Bible is about more than verses that make us feel good. The overarching theme of the Bible has little to do with our happiness and much to do with our lostness. And I would surmise to say that many who proof text the Scriptures are seeking words of encouragement that will bear the fruit of happiness (which is not altogether a bad thing).
But is happiness the ultimate goal of the Christian faith? Is happiness the reason that Jesus died on the cross? Is happiness the reason that our Lord and Savior was Himself forsaken by God the Father to take on our iniquity?
“God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)
If we read promises in Scripture such as the ones that declare that God will never leave us or forsake us and expect to feel that as true in the tangible world, we have truly missed the point of our salvation, of our calling, and of the Bible itself.
We need to be familiar with the teaching of the whole Bible, not just the teaching we want to be familiar with. Because, as ironic as it may be, when we decide which parts of the Bible we are going to latch on to as truth, we set up faulty expectations that in fact lead us into deeper pits of skepticism, despair, and depression.
The best way to ensure that you feel like God has forsaken you is to pick and choose which parts of the Bible you want to believe as truth instead of letting God do that for you.
It’s the whole Bible, or no Bible.
It’s all of God’s word, or none of God’s word.
Our proof-texting of Scripture, though, is not inherently a negative thing. If we have a well rounded understanding of the Bible, these proof-texts can serve as ways for us to connect with God on a deep level and experience His goodness in a (relatively) tangible way.
But it is essential that we pair our understanding of His good promises with an understanding of the true nature of the human condition as taught in Scripture.
The true nature of the human condition is simple; Jesus Christ became sin for us because His perfect life could be offered as a substitute for our imperfect lives.
We are broken.
We are hurting.
And we are full of evil.
But in His perfection, He took on sin and evil for us. He lived the life we could never live to die the death that we could never die; He died and simultaneously defeated death for us. Coming to faith in Christ begins the process of total redemption from the effects of sin on our bodies, minds, and souls by placing Him in us, through the Holy Spirit, and us in Him.
… but that is just the beginning of the process…
Being in Christ does not guarantee that we are free from experiencing the brokenness of this fallen world. Jesus promised in John 16:33 that we will have trouble in this world, that we will suffer. Paul, in 2 Corinthians 1 reminds us that in Christ affliction is just as abundant as comfort. And Jesus, in Mark 8:34, likens following Him to carrying a cross.
Friend, no one carries a cross to the beach to bathe in the sun and play in the ocean.
No, they carry a cross to the site where they will be crucified.
They carry a cross to enter into immense suffering.
As much as we are promised that God will be with us and comfort us, we are equally promised that we will suffer, we will hurt, we will cry, we will get angry, and, eventually, we will die.
But why is it that we experience the negative reality of the human condition more than the promised blessing of the Holy Spirit that is supposed to guard our hearts with the truth that God is with us?
I can only answer this question as a man who knows very little, but has experienced much. And what I have experienced is that what Jesus says in the gospel of John, what Paul says in Romans 7 and Galatians 5, and what John says in 1 John 3, are all true. Read with me:
“[Satan] comes only to kill and destroy…” (John 10:10a)
“… the Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil.” (1 John 3:8b)
“For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.” (Romans 7:14-25)
“For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.” (Galatians 5:17)
Friends, we are at war.
And in times of war, there is very little rest.
In times of war there is very little peace.
In times of war there is very little comfort.
We are in a cosmic war between the nature of good and evil, and we are being attacked at every angle by one who hates God and wants us to give up following Him at all costs. We have an enemy, and he does not care about you, your comfort, your feelings, or your God. He does not hate you, he hates God. And because you, Christian, love Jesus, you are a target for attack.
But even more than this, we are at war between the natural, evil, desires of our hearts, and the desires that God is continually building within us towards moral uprightness, goodness, and love. Though we are in Christ, and given the Holy Spirit, we only experience the goodness of Christ as but seeing dimly in a mirror. The time is coming, but is not here yet, when we will see Him face to face and experience His goodness, glory, and love in full. (Revelation 21)
This war between satan and God, between our flesh and God’s spirit within us is the reason we experience the feeling that God has forsaken us and not held up to His end of the promise.
And, friend, we cannot muster up enough good works, enough Bible verses, enough Hail Mary’s, to diffuse the pervasive effects of this cosmic war. We can only persevere through it until the end.
And that is where the truth of John 14:16-18 and Hebrews 13:5 comes into play:
When we persevere through suffering and pain, He is with us
When we persevere through serious temptation, He is with us
When we persevere through attacks from satan, He is with us
Friend, we guard our hearts in Christ Jesus by submitting ourselves to His will, and to the way He designed our lives to work as prescribed throughout the Bible. While adhering to the commands of Jesus Christ for righteousness and love will not be our riot shield defense against sin or satan, it will aid in our ability to persevere through the toughest of trials and toils.
Here are six things you can do aid in the process of experiencing that God is with you:
- Read the Bible daily
- Pray Regularly
- Commune with other believers in Christ at church, one-on-one, and in small groups
- Confess and repent of sin to God and others
- Give sacrificially, of your time and resources to that which God deems valuable
- Love your neighbor – and especially – the marginalized, the poor, and the foreigner -ferociously
None of these things guarantee that each time we do them we will experience the presence of God that proves to us He has never left or forsaken us.
However, I promise you that you will experience the presence of God at some point (a point in time that I cannot predict) because He is with you continually through the indwelling of His Holy Spirit. And through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, our ability to experience closeness to God only increases as we continually submit our lives to Him and His good, perfect, and pleasing will.