When It Feels God Is Not There

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Feeling Like God Has Betrayed You?

Jim was a deacon at his local church. He’d attended there for over twenty years and he’d poured his life into the community.

He’d sat beside widows as they’d mourned the loss of husbands. He’d visited cancer patients in the hospital. He’d mentored young men that were leaving prison and trying to start new lives.

He was a prayer warrior that asked God’s guidance in every decision. He often stated his life’s mission was to seek God’s face.

Then the unthinkable happened.

Jim’s adult daughter was involved in a car accident. A drunk driver hit her head-on then fled the scene. Jim’s daughter and her unborn child were killed instantly.

When Jim heard the news, he felt like his heart had stopped beating. How could the God he’d served so faithfully for so many years let this happen? How would the God he knew as loving and kind allow his daughter to die on the road while the perpetrator was free to live?

“I gave You everything,” He sobbed. “Everything. I withheld nothing from Your hand, no matter what you asked. But You took her. The one person I loved most in the world.”

Alone in the night, Jim wondered, how he could continue to love the God who had allowed this terrible tragedy. He felt as if God Himself had betrayed him. Could he honestly stand in front of his friends and family while still professing the same faith he’d once had?

Tragedy Strikes…

You begged God to heal your child. You prayed faithfully for God to restore your marriage. You pleaded with Him to take away your chronic pain.

You had faith. You believed God could intervene in your situation. More than that, you were certain that as His beloved child, He would.

But as the weeks turn to months and nothing changes, you’re left with a bitter taste in your mouth. Hopes and dreams unfulfilled. Pain and illness unhealed. Marriage and relationships unrestored.

And somewhere in the middle of it all – as you grapple with this new reality, you’re left with the overwhelming feeling that God has betrayed you.

He didn’t change the pain. He didn’t stop the panic attacks. He didn’t prevent your abusive parent from hitting you. He didn’t keep your child safe from the overdose or the kidnapping. He didn’t miraculously heal the tumor.

You were in the deepest pain of your life and God seemingly did nothing. He stood silent as your tears fell. His ears were deaf to your begging. The Eyes that see all somehow overlooked your pain.

And like an abandoned child, you find yourself calling out to God, “Where were You?”

The Questions that Haunt the Hurting

In the face of unspeakable loss and horrific evil, many people wonder where God is. Pain forces us to confront the ugly questions we’d rather not ask. Questions that haunt us deep into the wee hours of the morning. We ask things like…

  • Do You really care what happens to me?
  • Why didn’t You stop this?
  • If You’re good, why does life hurt so much?
  • Does my pain matter to You?
  • Why won’t You just take this away?

Why Is God Silent?

And in response to these questions that threaten to rip at your soul, it seems as if God is silent. Insult to injury. Abandonment in the face of deepest grief. Why, oh, why is God silent?

David, the prayer warrior and man after God’s own heart, wrestled with similar questions during his lifetime. In Psalm 13:1-2, while hiding out in a cave, David penned these words…

“How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart?”

The truth is it’s normal to wonder where God is during a tragedy. It doesn’t mean your faith is weak or that God has left you alone.

Consider a child who falls on the playground in front of his father. The first thing he does is lift his eyes to see if his father noticed. He needs to know his father sees his pain and that it causes him to act.

In these moments, the father runs to comfort his beloved child. He scoops the boy up and holds him close.

The loving father doesn’t offer an explanation for the child’s pain—knowing that his boy is still too small to grasp it. He doesn’t offer a prescription for the child’s pain—knowing that wise words won’t stem the bleeding.

Instead, he offers something far more tender and reassuring. Something only a father could give. He offers the gift of His presence and in doing so, He murmurs the same words again and again, “Daddy’s here. Daddy’s here.”

Why Did God Allow This?

“God could have stopped my miscarriage, but He didn’t,” Sheila whispered to her friend. “Why did He allow this?”

It’s one thing to believe that God loves you deeply and passionately. It’s a belief that can strengthen and inspire you in the midst of discouragement and minor setbacks.

Yet, it’s another thing to believe that God is all-powerful. It’s a truth which many Christians wrestle with. Sure, it’s comforting at first. God is in control—we want to put that on bumper stickers and cross-stitch it on decorative pillows.

But what about when there’s another mass school shooting? Only it isn’t at some other high school. It’s at your child’s.

What about when there’s a factory explosion? Only it isn’t overseas. It’s where your spouse works. What about when there’s a horrible car accident? Only it isn’t someone else’s family that doesn’t come home. It’s yours.

Suddenly that beautiful belief that God is powerful hurts. Because He didn’t intervene. He didn’t stop this. He stood by and let it happen.

The One who formed the Universe didn’t keep that car from careening into yours. The One who calls the stars by name let your child be born mute and deaf. The One who breathes life into each human being didn’t stop your son from ending his life.

Would the Answer Change the Pain?

God, as sovereign and kind as He is, could surely answer all of your questions. He could part the heavens in this moment, come down and explain everything if He chose to. And certainly, there are those who have gone through trauma and can testify that God revealed His purpose to them during their trials.

But even if God gave you a complete explanation, the truth is: the answers wouldn’t change your pain. You see, understanding something intellectually doesn’t alter your emotions. It doesn’t heal your heart. It doesn’t put the broken pieces of your life back together again.

Jesus, in the Garden of Gethsemane, fully understood why He was about to face a horrific death. He grasped that this was God’s perfect plan of redemption and He knew that His death would accomplish the saving of millions of lives.

And yet, the part of Jesus that was human, wrestled with this heartbreak. Hear how His cries echo our own in Mark 14:36, “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me.” (NIV)

In Luke 22:44, the writer points out that Jesus isn’t just suffering mentally and emotionally in the garden.

His pain is so intense, it’s affecting Him physically, “And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” (NIV)

Where Is Everyone?

Reading through the account of Jesus in the Garden and His great suffering, one question that comes to mind is simply: Where is everyone?

Jesus had a band of followers known as disciples. These men and women followed Him from town to town, often witnessing (and sometimes participating in) the miracles that were happening.

Some of these disciples were close friends with Jesus. In fact, hours earlier, bold Peter had sworn he would protect Jesus. Yet when Jesus really needs His friends—when He’s aching in the Garden—Scriptures show us He is alone.

Where are His friends? Where are His family members? Why isn’t anyone with Him? Why isn’t His community of loved ones rallying around Him in the face of what is going to be the worst night of His life?

When Jesus is taken into custody, those that were following Him flee for their own lives. After someone recognizes Peter, he loudly denies he ever knew Jesus. He forsakes the Friend that only hours earlier he had promised to lay down his life for.

What follows after the abandonment of family and friends is not merely death. That would have been difficult enough—to face a painful end without the comfort of loved ones nearby.

Rather, what comes next is slow and cruel torture played out over the course of hours that night. Spitting. Slapping. Punching. False accusations. Mockery. All of it happening to fulfill a Divine purpose and yet…that is no comfort in this moment.

The next day dawns but it is no better. A spineless leader who refuses to stand up for the innocent Lamb. A public flogging. The humiliation of being stripped naked in front of the crowd. The pain of Roman spikes digging deep into muscle as blow by blow, the Light of the World is hammered to the Cross.

And at the end of it all, one question falls from the lips of Jesus. One vulnerable, very human question. “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Matthew 27:46, NLT)

In the darkest nights of our souls, when we find ourselves facing our deepest heartbreak, Jesus understands. He’s heard the question before—because He too has asked it.

And in response to your aching soul, He gently whispers. “This moment right here? This is why I chose the Garden. So, you would know that I am always with you.”

Back To Gods Path

But How Do I Hold On?

It is well and good to understand that Jesus is with us during our darkness. But when it feels like the rug’s been pulled out from underneath you, how do you right your world again?

How does an aching mama’s heart beat again after she buries her baby? How do you breathe again after that cancer diagnosis? How do you carry on when the hurt keeps coming, one overwhelming wave after the next?

There are no easy answers. There’s no checklist that someone can give you to make your life normal again. In fact, everything’s going to feel horrible for weeks or even months to follow. That’s OK. It’s part of grieving, part of letting go of your old life.

What you can do is keep the communication lines open between you and God. The worst thing is to shut down during a crisis and stop talking to Him. But that doesn’t mean you have to put on a stoic face and walk into the throne room like everything’s fine.

Scripture is filled with men and women who were brutally honest with God about what they were feeling. Consider Elijah who ran from an evil queen and begged God to end his life (1 Kings 19:1-5).

Jeremiah cried out and said, “Cursed be the day I was born! May the day my mother bore me never be blessed.” (Jeremiah 20:14)

These are not the prayers of saints who are strutting into God’s presence with the cool assurance that everything is under control. These are broken, sobbing people begging for relief from the pain. Uttering prayers—that if we’re honest—sometimes reflect our own thoughts and feelings.

Staying connected with God and sharing your feelings with Him during a crisis is important. But don’t stop there. Reach out and ask someone you trust to step into your grief with you. This might be a dear friend that’s proven herself to be faithful to you, a pastor who loves you deeply, or even a Christian counselor.

Just because Jesus went through the Garden alone, He doesn’t expect you to do the same. God created us for community. He designed us to need the support and encouragement of one another. When you reach out, you are fulfilling your function. You are acting exactly the way He wants you to.

In Luke 5:17-26, there’s a record of Jesus healing a man who was paralyzed. The house where Jesus was staying was crowded with people, so much so there was no way in or out.

But this paralyzed man’s community believed that Jesus could heal the one they loved. So, they hoisted their friend onto their shoulders and pulled back the roof of the house.

Then they lowered the man in from the ceiling in front of Jesus. They were full of faith. They believed that God wanted healing for their friend, so they boldly sought Jesus out.

When you seek out others, you’re giving them the gift of supporting you. Their faith is strengthened as they carry you to Jesus and watch Him heal your broken heart.

Finally, give it time. It’s OK to not be OK. You’re walking through a deep trauma or grief and it’s compounded by feeling as if God betrayed you. While God is with you always, it will take time for your pain to ease.

Just as a broken bone needs time to mend, so it’s the same with your weary heart. You don’t have to do anything in this moment. Just know that you are held, and you are loved.

Can I say a prayer for you today, precious one?

God, I pray for my friend. I don’t know what heartache or battle they’re facing. I don’t understand why You let this happen. But I know You haven’t left them alone. Your heart aches, too.

You cry with your hurting child. You grieve with us and for us. The whole Redemption story is that You cared enough to enter our pain and our darkness. That You wrap nail-scarred hands around us. Oh, hold on to my friend. Comfort him or her with Your presence today. In Jesus’ name, Amen.