“Has God abandoned me?” is a desperate cry from the heart of many, whether stuck in the depths of severe depression or struggling to deal with a major crisis such as a personal tragedy, chronic health problems, even the destruction of lifelong goals.
After floundering in the depths of severe depression for over three months, I wrote this in my diary:
10th April 1990 –
I see others who live and prosper,
And yet here am I, stuck in this dark prison cell.
Jesus, where are You? Please see my circumstances,
Please hear my prayer.
Please set in motion Your answer, Your solution.
Why have You abandoned me?
Why do You remain silent?
I’ve waited and waited, yet I am met with silence.
Someone suffering from depression typically loses interest in life, experiences a sense of overwhelming dread, has terrifying obsessive fearful thoughts, and also panic attacks, insomnia, guilt, confusion, anger, and a dozens of other disturbing symptoms. A depressed Christian also tends to loose the ability to feel God’s presence, cannot take comfort from His Word, and can no longer feel His love.
If struggling with severe depression or a major life crisis, we may also look at our dire circumstances and jump to the conclusion that these terrible things have happened because God has abandoned us. We cannot comprehend how God could still be with us and yet allow us to undergo such suffering.
Here is another entry from my diary:
28th Feb 1990 –
Dear Jesus, I continually get angry with You.
Why have You allowed this? Where are You?
How long will You remain silent? Why won’t You heal me?
I know what You are capable of, yet You do nothing – why?
We may become frustrated, worried and angry when it feels like God’s Word no longer seems to be working, and when He does not seem to be honoring His promises. We wonder if God has left us to fend for ourselves. We cannot understand why He will not answer our desperate prayers – can’t He see what we are going through? Doesn’t He care?
My diary, 14th June 1990 –
The Heavens remain silent,
and this both angers and disappoints me.
I thought I felt Jesus say that He is carrying me through this.
But how can I be sure?
And if He is, why won’t He let me feel His presence?
Why won’t He help me?
Where is His Word? Where are His promises?
Another common reaction is to fear that we have let God down in some major way, wondering if we have stepped outside His will by disobeying Him, or have committed an unforgivable sin. We wonder if this was sufficient cause for God to turn His back on us and abandon us. And if we get angry with God for letting us go through this inexplicable suffering, devastating guilt may follow these bouts of anger. We may even think that we have lost our salvation and are no longer a Christian.
From my diary, 20th July 1990:
Experiences like the past eight months
almost make you wonder,
it makes me wonder if I am one of His children.
Some Christians suffering from depression or a major crisis say: “It feels like God has abandoned me! I can’t feel God’s presence anymore.” Or, “Why has God abandoned me?”
There are two common threads weaving through what I have written above:
1. We may look at our circumstances and leap to the conclusion that God has abandoned us, and/or
2. We can look at our feelings, and because we cannot feel that God is with us, we conclude that He has abandoned us.
So what can we do when we feel or fear that God has abandoned us? What can help us get through this phase?
Recognise Our Feelings are Deceiving Us
When stuck in the midst of severe suffering, we need to recognise what a friend once told me, “We can’t see properly in times like this. Our feelings completely distort our world view and vision.” It is as though we are wearing extremely dark glasses all of the time. Although light surrounds us, we cannot see it because of the dark glasses.
We Must Not Trust Our Feelings
Bearing in mind that our feelings have become distorted, we must remind ourselves daily that we cannot trust our feelings nor pay them any heed – they are tricking and misleading us. This is hard, I know, because throughout our lives we have learned to listen to our feelings and let them guide us to some degree or another. But what may work for a healthy person does not apply to someone suffering from depression. We need to learn not to place any significance on what we are feeling, and recognise that we may remain in this condition for a while. But be encouraged, this phase does not last forever. When our exhausted mind and nervous system heal, whether this takes months or years, our feelings will return to normal. We will feel God’s presence and love again, and we will take comfort from His word again.
We must not use our Circumstances as a Basis to Conclude that God has Abandoned us
We need to realise that our circumstances are not an indication of whether God is with us or not. We Christians sometimes fall into the error of thinking that while things are going well, God must be with us, but when our world falls apart, it means that God has abandoned us.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Firstly, the Bible assures us that God will never leave us nor forsake us. Secondly, it tells us that we will face trials, and that God will use these for good in our lives, and that He will comfort us in and through them. ‘Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.’ James 1:2-4
‘And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.’ Romans 8:28
Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7
We Need to Keep Things in Perspective
We need to remind ourselves that this world and its troubles are only temporary. We who trust in and cling to Jesus have a wondrous hope – one day we shall spend eternity in heaven and see the face of God and Jesus everyday - a perfect place filled with love, joy and peace. We will also have a brand new body that is perfect in every way.
When I consider the unimaginable, eternal riches that await us in heaven, the temporary trials I endure on the earth fade into insignificance.
Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.' Romans 8:17-18
Trust in What We Know, Not in What We Feel
So if we cannot rely upon our feelings nor upon the way in which we interpret our circumstances, what can we rely upon? We can rely upon what we know and believe.
We know and believe that God is with us (although we can’t feel it), we know and believe that He loves us (although we can’t feel it), and we know and believe His word is all powerful (although we can’t feel it and things seem to be out of control). We know these things because the Bible tells us, and because the Holy Spirit in us testifies to that fact. For now, it is enough to know God is with us, to know that Jesus loves us, and to know that His Word is all-powerful. It does not matter than we cannot feel these things while depressed or our world view has been distorted by suffering.
In reading through my diary entries, it is interesting to see that although I lamented that I felt abandoned by God, in those very same entries, I also concluded that I knew He was still there and still cared for me. I was learning to rely upon His Word instead of upon my feelings.
13th May 1990 –
The Bible says to consider it joy to endure trials,
I must say that there has been no joy in this trial.
It defies any previous experience known to me.
But I’ve been forced to trust God
when it seems like He has abandoned me.
I have been forced to come to a place
where I have trusted Him without feeling like doing so.
All I want to do is cry out that He had abandoned me,
that He is not faithful.
But He is faithful. And I know that.
He is faithful and true. He is Jesus.
14th June 1990 –
I feel so like Job.
“Curse God and die!” my thoughts yell at me.
“Look at this suffering!
How can He be faithful,
when He’s apparently done nothing
for six whole months now - curse Him and die!”
But God is faithful, and I know that –
it is His name – Faithful and True.
Bible Verses that we can Rely Upon
Feelings can change like the wind and are colored by our circumstances, and circumstances can also come and go. However, God's Word remains constant, it never changes. Let us look at some of those Bible verses now – verses we know are true and can be relied upon.
God’s Promises to Never Leave Us
Deuteronomy 31:8 “The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged."
Joshua 1:9 “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”
Matthew 28:20 “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
John 10:27 “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.”
God’s Promises that He Loves Us
Romans 8:35,38-39 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?… 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.
Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Galatians 2:20 The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
God Never Changes
God never changes, He is the one constant in an ever-changing world. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Hebrews 13:8
Assurance of Salvation
If it feels like we think we have lost our salvation, here are a few verses to reassure us of the gift of eternal life that we receive from God when we believe in, cling to and rely upon Jesus.
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23.
That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. Romans 10:9 And "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." John 3:16.
It does not matter if we cannot feel that we are saved if suffering from depression or going through a major life crisis, what matters is that we believe in Jesus and stand upon His Word. (More on this topic in this article.)
Relying on God’s Word, not our Feelings
One last thought before I sign off. When we have learned to cope with or passed out of difficult times such as depression, we will be able to look back upon the phase where we thought God had abandoned us, and we will recognise very clearly that He was with us and holding us safely in His hands the whole time.
We will also realise that it was during this time that we learnt to rely upon and stand on God's Word, instead of relying on our feelings.
Luke 6:47-48 “I will show you what he is like who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice. He is like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built.”