As a Dad there are many times that I see our children provide direct insight into the heart of humanity in a refreshing way. An example that most of us have seen is a child that does not want to be left alone. They may be sitting in their room playing with a toy and then all of a sudden start crying and yelling, “Dad! Dad! Where did you go?” Our daughter was in a store with my wife and, in plain sight of her mom, but mom was not in her plain sight. Suddenly she cried with desperation, “Moooom?! Moooooom!!” My wife answered, “Right here honey.” To which she grabbed her Mom by the leg, pressed her face against her and said, “I thought you had left me here. I thought I was alone.” My wife answered, “No, sweetie, Mommy would never do that. I was right here the whole time.”
Our Self-Sufficiency has a Leak
As adults we tend to operate with something of a veneer of self-sufficiency that children, particularly younger children have no reference for. They feel alone and they cry out. However, we feel it too, and likewise, our heart cries out for consolation. Consider worrying. If we are worrying about what is going to happen tomorrow (say health, work, relationships, etc) then we are basically coming to grips with the fact that we want something to go a certain way but are also aware of the fact that we don’t have the ability to make it happen. We feel small and powerless. We become afraid of people and their power. We fear sickness and its power. We fear government and its power. But we don’t cry out. We just sit and stew, maybe complain, sometimes vent, but it is all to rare for us too cry out. The veneer of self-sufficiency keeps us respectable.
At the same time we know that the tire of our pride has a leak. This is why we love music about brokenness, enjoy watching shows that reveal other people’s weakness and triumph, and deep down we envy others who are able to admit that they don’t have it all together.
God Speaks Knows Our Weakness and Speaks to it
This is one of the reasons why I love the Bible. The Bible knows us. Isn’t that something? As the old Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon said, “I read books but this book reads me.” And it does (Heb. 4:16). The Bible operates on the presupposition that we are all weak people. All of us, throughout history, have sinned and therefore experienced alienation from God. As a result, we feel alone, vulnerable, and somewhat concerned about what is coming down the pike. Therefore, God strikes a nerve when he promises his abiding presence and power with his people.
Consider the church who received the letter of Hebrews. These guys were ostracized socially, religiously, and economically. They lost friends, money, homes, jobs, and respect (Heb. 10:32-36). From the perspective of the cultural elites around them, they were on the wrong side of history. They needed to either get with the program or get lost.
Look at what God, knowing their situation and struggle, says to them through his word:
“….for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”” (Hebrews 13:5)
The writer of Hebrews quotes a phrase that is oft repeated in the Old Testament. God promises that he will never leave nor forsake his people. Just this phrase is enough to still the raging sea of anxiety from within us. However, there is more here. In English if we use double negatives it has a negating effect, but in the Greek language that this was written in it had an emphatic effect. This writer stacks up the negative like a child building a lego tower. He says, “I will never, never leave you and never, never, never forsake you! What do you suppose his point is here?
The phrase is used at key points in biblical history:
- When Jacob is fearing reprisal from his brother for his wickedness, he has a dream. God reminds him of his promises and that he “For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” (Gen. 28:15). Jacob’s worry is consoled by God’s Word.
- As Joshua is taking over the command of God’s people and he is going to lead them on a conquest into the promised land, God reminds the new leader, “Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you.” (Josh. 1:5)
- When David is on his deathbed he wants to leave his son Solomon with something that will encourage him. So he says this: “Be strong and courageous and do it. Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed, for the Lord God, even my God, is with you. He will not leave you or forsake you, until all the work for the service of the house of the Lord is finished.” (1 Chron. 28:20)
- The prophet Isaiah promises that God will have mercy on his people. He will care for them, and so he promises, “When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue is parched with thirst, I the Lord will answer them; I the God of Israel will not forsake them.” (Is 41:17)
Promises Are Costly
How can this be? What is the basis for all of this? How can God truly be for us in this way? God always with and for his people? And, we are not very good people either.
Do you remember the words of Jesus Christ on the cross? As he hung there, fixed upon that wooden pole, suspended in air between earth and heaven, writhing with physical pain and being torment by the unleashing of divine wrath. There on Calvary Jesus Christ was drinking the fully fermented, undiluted, cup of God’s wrath against sin. He was looking down the barrel of judgment that was due sin and sinners. He was there, for us. And he said,
“And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”” (Matthew 27:46)
Jesus was forsaken, abandoned by God so that his people would never be forsaken or abandoned. God’s promises have blessings and curses attached to them. He bore the curses so that we would get the blessings. God visited him in judgment so that he could visit us in grace.
All of these promises to Jacob, Joshua, David, and Israel were tethered to Christ. If he is not abandoned then we cannot be comforted. If the Father does not forsake the Son then he cannot abide with us. God has proven his faithfulness, love, care, and promises to us. Picking up on the grammatical force of this verse the hymn writer said,
“‘The soul that on Jesus hath lean’d for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to his foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.”
Become Like a Child
Jesus taught his followers that we must become like little children (Mt. 18:3). This is not about immaturity but rather childlike trust, weakness, and the reflex of calling for Dad. When tempted to worry and overcome with weakness we are not to hide behind the fig-leaves of self-sufficiency but cry out like children, “Dad!?” To which he answers, “I am here. I will never leave you nor forsake you. I am with you always.”