It’s one of the most common experiences of the Christian life. God feels far away, like he’s hiding himself, or at least withholding his reviving presence. You feel destitute, dry, and desperate for a sense that he is still there, still listening, still caring. But you can’t seem to eke out a prayer since even your prayers feel empty, and they seem to return with an echo of defeat.
Where are you, Lord? Why are you hiding yourself from me? I am your child, so why, Father, does it feel like you are ignoring my cries? How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will I seek you, only to find silence? I am languishing, O Lord. Do not delay, O my God.
If this sounds like the cry of your heart, be comforted—you’re not experiencing anything new or abnormal. You’re in the same boat as a multitude of other Christians who have gone before you and who now walk beside you. There’s some comfort in this reality.
But it cannot fully cradle our fragile hearts, since feeling far from God is a frightening experience. Knowing others have “been there” only shaves off a corner of our worry. We need God’s Word to speak to us about this reality, that we might know how to persevere and wait with hope when God feels far away.
Rely On Truth, Not Feelings
David’s cry in Psalm 22 sounds a lot like ours:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
and by night, but I find no rest. (Ps. 22:1–2)
David feels forsaken by God as he searches restlessly for rest in him, but to no avail. What David says next, however, is a turning point in his lament:
Yet you are holy,
enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In you our fathers trusted;
they trusted, and you delivered them. (Ps. 22:3–4)
Despite feeling rejected, lonely, and bordering on despair, David shifts his focus to two significant truths: God reigns in holiness and he’s faithful to deliver his people.
First of all, when you don’t feel God’s presence, rely on his character. His reign reminds me that he’s present everywhere. While I may not feel he is near, he is. Yet his holiness tells me I don’t deserve to be near him.
But our reigning, holy God has given us the free gift of access by Christ’s blood. He’s given us what we don’t deserve—the freedom to draw near to his throne of grace with confidence. So when we feel God has forsaken us, we rely on what we know to be true: God’s holiness reigns, and he has granted us endless access to his presence.
Second, when you don’t feel God’s power, rely on his faithful deliverance. David recalls that his forefathers trusted God to deliver them in the past, and God always did. He rescued his people after they cried to him, and he saved them from idols and enemies as they trusted him.
It is easy for me to fret that maybe, just maybe, this will be the instance when God forgets to be faithful, forgets to come through for me. When we feel this way, we can take him at his Word, clinging to biblical accounts of his faithfulness. We can pray his promises, knowing he hears our cries. We can also remember and reflect on his past faithfulness in our lives. The cross assures us of his promised deliverance when we cannot see or feel his power at work.
Let Truth Transform Your Feelings
David pours out his lament for several stanzas, remembering God’s holiness and faithfulness, while being completely honest about what he feels: “My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death” (Ps. 22:15). Just because we know the truth about God and his gospel doesn’t mean we can’t be honest about how we feel. We can pour out our complaints to him. Our Father isn’t going anywhere, and he knows our hearts even better than we do.
Yet something remarkable happens to David’s feelings as he cries out to God. The truth transforms them. He goes from lamenting God’s absence to proclaiming his presence, from doubt and despair to surety and praise:
I will tell of your name to my brothers;
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you . . .
he has not hidden his face from [the afflicted],
but has heard, when he cried to him. (Ps. 22:22–24)
As we remember God’s truth, our feelings are transformed. God’s holy reign and faithful deliverance far transcend our fleeting emotions and distressing circumstances. So we choose to rehearse these truths when God seems far away, to praise him even when we cannot feel him.
May we persevere with hope by running to God’s Word. In his perfect timing, may we let his truth transform our feelings, that we may sing along with David: “God has heard when I cried to him.”