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What is the most forsaken you’ve ever felt? I know—that’s not very fair of me to begin this article by calling forth such difficult memories. But some questions must be asked. So what is it? Maybe you were on the playground or in high school and all your friends abandoned you, believing whatever lies some jealous kid decided to tell. Or was it when a parent moved away or a spouse told you they wanted a divorce? How must it feel for a soldier on a battlefield, when he falls behind and realizes that his buddies aren’t coming back to get him? How about when your friends at church tell you they’ll back you at that important business meeting—and then they don’t show up? Did you put in a lifetime of work for one company, only to have your devotion repaid by being laid off just before retirement? Have you cried, “How could you leave me?” over your spouse’s grave? It’s not very nice of me to bring such painful feelings to the surface, especially at the very beginning—but it’s important to understand that everyone has felt forsaken at some point. Sometimes that feeling of abandonment is justified and sometimes it’s not—but whether the rejection is real or imagined, it shakes you to the core.
Jesus knew times of rejection and abandonment as well. When his teachings were too hard, the crowds left him. When He wouldn’t become what they wanted Him to be, they forsook him. He was arrested, and his disciples fled. Crowds that once shouted “Hosanna” now screamed, “Crucify Him!” On Golgotha, physical torment was amplified by the taunts of former supporters. From a position of outstretched agony, the only words Jesus could formulate to express his feeling of utter abandonment were the words of David, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me (Psalm 22:1 // Matthew 27:46)?”1 Jesus drew comfort from the knowledge that even in this kind of agony, He was not alone. Somebody had felt that way before. In your times of agony, you too can know that you are not alone. Even Jesus felt this way.
Perhaps some of David’s symptoms of despair seem familiar to you. In Psalm 22:2, he feels like God isn’t listening. He can get no rest. Verse 6 shows his self-esteem taking a hit: “But I am a worm and not a man, a reproach of men and despised by the people.” Verses 14-15 describe how this feeling even results in physical pain: “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; My heart is like wax; It is melted within me. My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue cleaves to my jaws; and You lay me in the dust of death.” David feels this way because his friends and supporters have abandoned him, and because he is surrounded by enemies. “All who see me sneer at me,” he says in verse 7. Speaking of his enemies he says, “Many bulls have surrounded me; Strong bulls of Bashan have encircled me. They open wide their mouth at me, as a ravening and a roaring lion (vv. 12-13).” Again, he says, “For dogs have surrounded me; A band of evildoers has encompassed me; They pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones. They look, they stare at me; They divide my garments among them, And for my clothing they cast lots (vv. 16-18).”
These chilling words remind us so much of the crucifixion that it is no wonder David’s psalm comes to Jesus’ mind when He is on the cross. Perhaps it is even prophetic of the Lord’s suffering. One thing it says is that if you’re feeling this way, you’re in good company. Even David and Jesus Himself could feel forsaken during times of suffering. At some point, we all feel abandoned by a loved one. And yes, when we’re honest we must admit that at some point we feel abandoned by God. These feelings are normal. They don’t mean you have truly been abandoned. Just as God will not turn away from those who call on Him, God neither rejected David nor abandoned His Son. The feeling is real—but false. 2 Timothy 2:13 says that even “If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.” When Christ is in us, it’s impossible for God to abandon us, because He can’t reject Himself.
So what do you do when you feel this way? First, Charles Spurgeon recommends that, like David and Jesus, you should “cling to God with both hands.” They did not just cry out to God once, but said, “My God, my God!” Hold on as tightly as you can, and don’t let go. Second, even in your abandonment, give praise to God. In Psalm 22:3, David says, “Yet You are holy, O You who are enthroned upon the praises of Israel.” This tiny word “yet” means “even though I’m suffering so much” I’m going to recognize Your holiness. Praise and worship are weapons that defeat the power of the enemy who seeks to kill us with despair. Then, remember God’s faithfulness in the past. Verses 4-5 say, “In You our fathers trusted; They trusted and You delivered them. To You they cried out and were delivered; In You they trusted and were not disappointed.” Finally, imagine a better future and commit yourself to it. In verse 22, David says, “I will tell of Your name to my brethren; In the midst of the assembly I will praise You.” This moment doesn’t have to defeat you. God has something better in store. Even Jesus on the cross could look forward to the resurrection—and that’s what sustained Him.
What’s the most forsaken you’ve ever felt? Maybe you felt that way—and the moment has passed. You’ve moved on from it, gotten some perspective, and gotten some healing. But maybe that moment of greatest forsakenness is right now. Remember that God will bring you through this, to the other side of glorious resurrection. Walk in the strength of Deuteronomy 31:6, which says, “Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or tremble at them, for the LORD your God is the one who goes with you. He will not fail you or forsake you.”
1 All scripture quotations taken from the NASB.
© 2017 by Gregory T. Smith.
Reprinted with permission from revgregsmith.blogspot.com