I feel abandoned in my trial. Why does God seem so distant when I need Him most?

Psalms 88:6Psalms 22:1Matthew 27:461 Peter 1:3-7You’re troubled, so you pray.You’re distressed, so you cry for God to bring you quick relief. But all you hear in reply is silence–a silence so deafening it drowns out every thought but this: God isn’t listening.

Is that your testimony? If so, let’s see if you can attain a biblical perspective by providing a few principles for you to reflect on. These thoughts may bring you comfort and hope.

Yours Is a Common Experience

Feel left alone? Other believers have felt the same way. Peruse the writings of Oswald Chambers, Charles Spurgeon, and D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and you’ll discover they knew well the agony you experience. Spurgeon wrote this autobiographical account in his comments on Psalm 88:6:

He who now feebly expounds these words knows within himself more than he would care or dare to tell of these abysses of inward anguish. He has sailed around the Cape of Storms, and has drifted along by the dreary headlands of despair.

After C. S. Lewis lost his wife to cancer, he called out to God for comfort but sensed no reply. Confused, he asked, “What can this mean? Why is He so present a commander in our time of prosperity and so very absent a help in time of trouble?”

But you don’t need a large library to know your experience is common. Just turn through the pages of your Bible, especially the Psalms, and you’ll read several distressed cries for God to act:

  • Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am pining away; heal me, O Lord, for my bones are dismayed. And my soul is greatly dismayed; but You, O Lord–how long (Psalm 6:2-3)?
  • Will the Lord reject forever? And will He never be favorable again? Has His loving kindness ceased forever? Has His promise come to an end forever? Has God forgotten to be gracious, or has He in anger withdrawn His compassion (Psalm 77:7-9)?
  • O God, do not remain quiet; do not be silent and, O God, do not be still (Psalm 83:1).Psalm 22:1 contains perhaps the most well-known example, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?Far from my deliverance are the words of my groaning.” Jesus echoed that psalm on the cross:Matthew 27:46“About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?‘ that is, ‘My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?’
  • A key passage in 1 Peter will help you appreciate that times of distress are common and are for the good of God’s children. Amid the rich details of God’s glorious grace, resides an affirmation that those who rejoice in their salvation will also experience distress due to various trials. Take special note from verse 6:1 Peter 1:3-7All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation,and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay.And through your faith, God is protecting you by his power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see.So be truly glad.(Or So you are truly glad.) There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you have to endure many trials for a little while.These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honour on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.

    Take comfort in knowing that sorrowful times–even periods of feeling God has withdrawn His presence–are an integral part of your spiritual experience. God hasn’t utterly abandoned you, though you feel He has. Other believers have successfully traveled the dark path you walk and completed their journey.

    Peter acknowledges that trials produce grief in believers–and grief is a common experience. He also touches on two further principles that will help you understand and patiently endure your trouble:

    Yours Is a Temporary Experience

    Feeling distressed by trials–such as sensing the absence of God’s presence–would crush a weakened believer if it had no end. And so Peter adds that the distress is only “for a little while.” Your trouble is temporary. God will not leave you in your distress forever. It will cease–maybe not as soon as you’d like–but it will come to an end. Once the trial has served its purpose, you will benefit from its results and regain the joy of your heavenly Father’s warm embrace.

    Yours Is a Purposed Experience

    Peter anticipates your next question, “Why does a believer have to experience grief-producing trials?”He replies,in verse 7. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.As one of God’s children, you are promised His presence, though for now you feel alone and without help. Rest in knowing God your Father has good reasons for bringing you into your trial. He is committed to making you holy, even if it means taking away your happiness for a time.“God will not sacrifice your holiness for your happiness”

    You will derive benefit from your trial, not by ignoring it or fainting under its weight, but by understanding its purpose. When you realize God is using the trial to make you aware of His grace in your life and fit you for eternal glory, praise, and honor, you’ll be equipped to endure it even though it brings you into distress and heaviness of soul.

    Suffering in silence will also:

  • Make you more obedient (Psalm 119:67).
  • Deepen your insight into God’s Word (Psalm 119:71).
  • Increase your compassion and effectiveness in ministry (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
  • Teach you to wait patiently on God (Psalm 27:14).
  • Make your joy less dependent on circumstances (Habakkuk 3:16-19).
  • Make you appreciate God all the more when He restores you (Job 42:7-17).
  • Allow those principles to mold your perspective. Learn to respond biblically and not emotionally to your trouble. Lean on the revealed character of God. He is allowing you to experience a temporary sorrow that will provide you with the greater benefits of increased holiness and deeper assurance (cf. Romans 8:18).

    Wanting to escape from suffering, whether emotional or physical, is a very human condition. Even the Lord Jesus Christ prayed,Matthew 26:3939 He went on a little farther and bowed with his face to the ground, praying, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”

    This was the humanity of Jesus speaking. Jesus knew what lay ahead at the cross, but notice that He submitted to God’s will. In all things, Jesus submitted Himself to the will of the FatherJohn 5:3030 I can do nothing on my own. I judge as God tells me. Therefore, my judgment is just, because I carry out the will of the one who sent me, not my own will.In the Garden, Jesus verified that there are times when it is necessary to suffer, and He willingly suffered because it was the will of the Father. As believers we are always to pray, “Your Will be done.” None of us will die before it is our time. David verifies the truth that all our days are planned out by God and nothing will shorten them outside of God’s will: Psalm 139:1616 You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book.Every moment was laid outbefore a single day had passed.Rather than praying to die, it is better to pray for God’s strength and grace to stand fast in whatever suffering we are experiencing and trust in God to determine the time and the details of our passing.Suffering is hard, and sometimes the hardest part is the questions we have about why. Suffering is humbling, and as humans we don’t like being humbled or weak and dependent. But when we ask, “Why me, Lord?” the answer may just be “Why not you?” When born again believers suffer on this earth, God has a purpose for that suffering and His plans and purposes are perfect and holy, just as He is perfect and holy. The Psalmist tells us: Psalm 18:30 “As for God, His way is perfect” If God’s ways are perfect, then we can trust that whatever He does—and whatever He allows—is also perfect. This may not seem possible to us, but our minds are not God’s mind, as He reminds us:Isaiah 55:8-9“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.For just as the heavens are higher than the earth  so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.The Apostle Paul suffered from a “thorn in his flesh”—some affliction that is not explained in the Bible—and three times he prayed for the Lord to remove that thorn. But God, who could have eased Paul’s suffering in an instant, chose not to do so. He reminded Paul that the “thorn” was to keep him from becoming proud and “exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations” he had been given, to keep him from exalting himself. But God did not leave Paul powerless to suffer alone. God assured him that the grace he had been given by God was “sufficient” and that God would be glorified by Paul relying on His power to sustain him. Paul’s response to these truths was to be glad of his frailty and sufferings because in them God is glorified when the miracle of His power and strength are on display.2 Corinthians 12:7-10even though I have received such wonderful revelations from God. So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud.Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away.Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.10 That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

    Therefore, rather than seeking to escape from suffering of any kind through death, we depend upon God and rest in Him, for His purpose in suffering will always bring glory to Him and abound to our blessing. When we are under the intense pressure of suffering, we sometimes feel like we simply can’t go on any longer. But God reminds us that there is no suffering or trial that comes upon a believer that someone else hasn’t gone through before us. Other believers have suffered pain that could not be alleviated by modern medicine. Other believers have suffered persecution and hideous deaths at the hands of God-haters. Other believers have been lonely and abandoned, some imprisoned for their testimony. So we are certainly not alone. But God is always faithful, and He will not allow us to suffer or be tested above what we can withstand and will also make a way to escape so that we are able to bear up under it. 1 Corinthians 10:1313 The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure

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