We all face it. Sorrow. Pain. Grief. Depression. However it manifests for you, you’ve gone through it, too. We might pretend it’s not there. Christians are supposed to have joy at all times, right? We might hide it from other Christians, even from our pastors. But we can’t hide it from ourselves. Beneath the smiles, there’s just a broken heart.
When Christians are in this state, we can feel like God is far away. We believe that our emptiness reflects his absence. Does God hear our prayers for mercy? Does he hear our prayers at all? Does he care that we’re in pain? Even worse. Is he far away?
The Bible Emergency Numbers Christian T-Shirt gives us a passage from the book of Psalms to help us when God seems far away, Psalm 139. David wrote this Psalm as a way to plead with God for protection from his enemies, from the people who would do evil around him.
Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God!
O men of blood, depart from me!
They speak against you with malicious intent;
your enemies take your name in vain.
Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord?
And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?
Most of David’s life was pretty great, but he had his share of difficulties, as bad as any we face. When David went to fight the Philistines, King Saul became jealous and sent troops to kill him. When David slept with Bathsheba, God struck the resulting child with an illness, and the child died. Later, David’s son, Absalom led a rebellion against him. He forced David into hiding, and Absalom took the throne. David’s armies defeated Absalom’s and Absalom died. Despite the rebellion, David mourned the death of his son.
David’s must have written this Psalm in a time when he faced human enemies. Perhaps he was running from Saul. Perhaps he fled from Absalom. Maybe it was one of the many problems a king faces in his reign. Whatever the situation, he was not happy.
But David knew that God was always near, no matter how he felt about it. It’s true for us, too. God is always near. David tell us just that.
O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
David tells us that God is with us intimately. He doesn’t just look from afar, as if he is glancing down at us from heaven. God is in our hearts. He is in our thoughts. He knows our words even before we do. He is intimately connected to us, body and soul. That’s because God is everywhere, and he knows all things.
God promises Christians his special presence in ways that others do not have. He unites us with Christ. Romans 6 reminds us that baptism unites us with Christ’s death and resurrection. God could never be far away when Jesus Christ is in us.
Not only do we have Christ’s presence, God also gives us his Holy Spirit to dwell in us. In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul tells us that our bodies are temples for the Holy Spirit. In John 14, Jesus tells us that the Father will send the helper, the Holy Spirit. He dwells in us.
But God isn’t just near us with his presence inside us. We also can’t escape him and his help.
Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.
David knows that God is in both the highest places and the lowest places. He is in heaven and he is in the grave. If David flew away toward the sun and the stars, God would be there. If he dove down into the depths of the sea in the darkest places, God would still be there.
That might be scary for us, if God just looked at our sins, at our darkness. But he doesn’t. Because of Jesus, we know that God loves us no matter what. When we dive into the deepest darkness of depression, God is there. When we fall into the worst shame and sin, God is there. When all we feel is the depth of sorrow, God is there.
That’s because he was there with Jesus. Jesus went into the depths of our pain. He felt sorrow when his friend, Lazarus, died. He felt betrayal when all his friends, his disciples, abandoned him. He felt humiliation when the people he came to save falsely accused him of terrible crimes. He felt pain when they tortured him on the cross. He even entered into the pit of death, into the deepest darkness anyone can know.
Because Jesus did all that, you know that God is with you. Because Jesus entered the pain of humanity, we know that he is with us in our pain. So, when God feels like he’s far away, he’s not. That’s just your pain talking. That’s the hurt, the darkness, the depression.
Listen instead to God’s promises. Hebrews 15 reminds us that God says this to us, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” In Romans 8, St. Paul tells us that nothing can separate us from God’s love.
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword...No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
When God feels far away. He’s not. His promises are true no matter what you feel. No matter your pain, no matter your loneliness, no matter what you think, God is with you. He will never leave you.
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