Sunday, February 12, 2017

ABANDONED BY GOD

One of the saddest words in all of human speech is the word abandonment. It brings to mind the terror in a child’s eyes the moment that he realizes that his mother no longer wants him. Or the sense of despair that a starving refugee has after having walked and crawled a hundred miles to what he thought was a feeding station, only to find when he arrives at the place that there is nothing.

Abandonment is the worst kind of despair because not only is it a feeling of hopelessness, but it also comes with the blow of having placed one’s trust in someone, only to be forsaken by them. When we trust someone, we become vulnerable to that person. We give that person the power not only to help us, but also to hurt us to the core of our being.

These cases of abandonment can be great or they can be small. Many times, we are able to rise above and overcome this abandonment by someone whom we had trusted, but even the small cases can have a cumulative effect that might bring us eventually to a breaking point.

The sense of abandonment can also come from what seems to be a hopeless situation. We drop our bucket into a well that we have stumbled onto in the middle of a dry and barren desert, only to hear it hit a bottom as equally thirsty as our own parched throat. It would have been better if there were no well at all, rather than to have our hopes elevated and then shattered. 

With the feeling of abandonment comes a depth of despair difficult to imagine for one who has not experienced it. Even the will to rise above the circumstances is gone. The Apostle Paul relates the story of his shipwreck in the Mediterranean Sea in Acts 27. After the ship was caught in the storm, the sailors first tried to face the tempest by maintaining control of the ship, but feeling the strength of the winds, in the end they decided to allow themselves to be carried along by the forces that were controlling the storm.

To keep the ship from breaking up, the sailors used the supporting cables to wrap around the boat in order to lash it together. Then they let down the sea anchors. Knowing that still more needed to be done to keep from sinking; the men then began to throw the cargo overboard to lighten their load. Finally, the crew jettisoned the ship’s own tackle.

After having taken all these steps to save the ship, the crew saw that their situation was still very precarious. Paul put it this way, “From then on all hope of our being saved was gradually abandoned.” In their feeling of abandonment, the men on board the ship gave way entirely to the strong winds of despair, just as they had earlier let the ship be driven by the winds of the storm. Even their appetites failed them. In their despondency, they went fourteen days without eating. Their courage was completely gone.

This is what it means to despair. This is abandonment. It was not until Paul was able to encourage them a little by telling them that he had a message from God, which said that no lives would be lost, that they were lifted out or their depression enough to eat a little bread. “All of them were encouraged and they themselves also took food.” 

Abandonment by God?

There are many things in this world that we can almost expect to forsake us at one time or another. Men can and will forsake us, as will circumstances. But what about God? Will he ever abandon us?

Do we not read in the Bible, “He Himself has said, ‘I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you,’ so that we confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What shall man do to me?’” (Hebrews 13:5-6 NAS).

We take the writer of Hebrews at his word, but have you ever felt abandoned by God?

Some have. I think of Gideon as he was threshing a few stalks of wheat hidden away at the winepress in order to save them from the Midianites. Every year when the grain of the Israelites was ready to be harvested, the Midianites and their allies would bring all their livestock and drive them through the golden fields of wheat. The ravaging animals were like locusts in number and every year they devastated the crops and the land like a great plague.

Considering this situation, Gideon received a very strange greeting from the angel of the Lord who appeared to him as he huddled over his small treasure of grain, hoping he would remain undetected from the invaders. The angel said to Gideon, “The Lord is with you, O valiant warrior.”

“O my lord,” Gideon responded, “If the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all His miracles which our fathers told us about, saying, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian” (Judges 6:12-13 NAS, emphasis added).

The prophet Jeremiah laments another situation in the book aptly called “Lamentations.” There, Jeremiah says, “The Lord has rejected His altar, He has abandoned His sanctuary; He has delivered into the hand of the enemy the walls of her palaces” (Lamentations 2:7 NAS, emphasis added).

The words that Jesus cried from the cross were words that David had cried years before in Psalm 22. “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” (emphasis added).

A few Psalms later, David again cries to the Lord, “Do not hide Your face from me, Do not turn Your servant away in anger, You have been my help; Do not abandon me nor forsake me, O God of my salvation” (Psalm 27:9 NAS, emphasis added).

Indeed, these were not just mistaken impressions of these men who were feeling sorry for themselves. Consider the following words of God himself: “I have forsaken My house, I have abandoned My inheritance; I have given the beloved of My soul into the hand of her enemies” (Jeremiah. 12:7 NAS, emphasis added).

Or listen to the words of Zechariah as he stood before the people of Judah who were living in apostasy and had repeatedly rejected the message of the Lord to return to Him. “Thus God has said, ‘Why do you transgress the commandments of the Lord and do not prosper? Because you have forsaken the Lord, He has also forsaken you’” (2 Chronicles 24:20 NAS, emphasis added). 

Can God be Unfaithful to His People?

Seeing all of these examples, dare we then call into question the very faithfulness of God? No!  We should rather react with the same astonishment as did Paul to this question: “May it never be! Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar!” (Romans 3:4 NAS).

As David also spoke to God, “You are justified when You speak, and blameless when You judge” (Psalm 51:4 NAS).

We must never act with such arrogance that we think we can sit in judgment of the Word of the Almighty God. No matter how deep our feeling of abandonment, we must not abandon hope in God, as did the sailors on Paul’s boat when they had abandoned hope of being saved.

Others may fail, but God will never abandon us. There are those who may have known abandonment by God, but this is not the same as being forsaken by someone else. Despite all the feelings of abandonment that David experienced, he was still able to say. “The LORD also will be a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. And those who know Your name will put their trust in You; for You, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek You” (Psalm 9:9-10 NAS). 

God’s Purpose in Abandonment

As followers of Jesus Christ, we first must realize that persecution by others does not mean we have been abandoned by God. Ours is an evil age when wicked men who do evil things try to extinguish anyone who attempts to shine a light on their iniquity.

The apostle Paul knew this better than most men. He was persecuted and beaten to the point of death, and even left for dead. Nevertheless, by his own words he could say, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9 NAS, emphasis added).

This is that same assurance that allowed Ezra of the Old Testament to say, even in the midst of the troubles of his nation. “For we are slaves,” he said, “yet in our bondage our God has not forsaken us” (Ezra 9:9 NAS, emphasis added).

Then why did Gideon and the Israelites feel so abandoned by the Lord? Why did Jeremiah see God as abandoning God’s own sanctuary, and for what reason did David cry, “Why have You forsaken me?” Lastly we might ask; how is it that God himself say in those occasions that he had abandoned and had forsaken his own people?

The times that God forsook his people were times when they as a nation were in rebellion against him. God's purpose in abandoning his people was not to give them up permanently, but rather for the purpose of bringing the people to the point of coming back to him.

Perhaps the clearest statement concerning God’s motivation in abandoning his people is given by God himself: 

“For a brief moment I forsook you, but with great compassion I will gather you. In an outburst of anger I hid My face from you for a moment, but with everlasting lovingkindness I will have compassion on you,” says the Lord your Redeemer (Isaiah 54:7-8 NAS). 

The Two Sides of Abandonment

Those who have passed through a period of being abandoned by God have had their hearts broken, but we sometimes do not take into account that there was also a heart much greater than theirs that was broken. Did you notice the last phrase of the words that God had given Jeremiah as a message to his people? “I have given the beloved of My soul into the hand of her enemies" (Jeremiah. 12:7).

The beloved of his soul?! Is this how God views his people?

In times of great difficulty and even great persecution, it may seem to us that we have been abandoned by all, even by God. But God wants us to know that to him, we have always been and will always remain the beloved of his soul.

Isaiah the prophet expresses as well as anyone the feelings of the immense heart of God. In this passage we come to understand better the seeming contradiction between what the people were experiencing and what God was doing: 

“Shout for joy, O heavens! And rejoice O earth! Break forth into joyful shouting, O mountains! For the LORD has comforted His people, and will have compassion on His afflicted.”
But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me, and the Lord has forgotten me.”
[The LORD responds,] “Can a woman forget her nursing child, and have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you” (Isaiah 49:13-15 NAS). 

In the book of Hosea, we see the broken heart of God as he mourns the fact that despite his great love for his people, they kept on forsaking him. What is God to do with such a people? He says of them: 

“Yet it is I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them in My arms; but they did not know that I healed them... How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I surrender you, O Israel?... My heart is turned over within Me” (Hosea 11:3-8 NAS). 

Abandonment with the Final Goal of Restoration

God expressed the same sentiment to the prophet Jeremiah. “Is Ephraim My dear son?” God asks. “Is He a delightful child? Indeed, as often as I have spoken against him, I certainly still remember him. Therefore My heart yearns for him. I will surely have mercy on him” (Jeremiah 31:20 NAS).

David also knew that though a man should fall, “he shall not be hurled headlong; because the Lord is the One who holds his hand.” 

“I have been young, and now I am old,” David further said, “yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken, or his descendants begging for bread” (Psalm 37:24-25 NAS, emphasis added). 

The Psalmist Asaph, in Psalm 77-78 gives us some very good advice when we are feeling abandoned. If any felt abandoned, Asaph did. In his forsaken state, he could not even find sleep. “My soul refused to be comforted,” he said, “You have held my eyelids open; I am so troubled that I cannot speak...Has God forgotten to be gracious? Or has He in anger withdrawn His compassion?”

Since he could not sleep, Asaph decided that he would recount the times that the Lord had been faithful. “I will remember my song in the night; I will meditate with my heart and my spirit ponders.”

Asaph’s meditation led him to remember the faithfulness of the Lord in past situations. Not only did Asaph remember the times in his own life when he had seen God’s faithfulness, but also throughout all of history.  It led him to conclude, “Thy way, O God, is holy. What god is great like our God?” 

When our soul is parched and we find no water in the dryness of our experiences, we do well to follow the example of the Psalmist. Speaking of God, the Psalmist said, “He split the rocks in the wilderness, and gave them abundant drink like the ocean depths. He brought forth streams also from the rock, and caused waters to run down like rivers” (Psalm 78:15-16 NAS).

To everyone who thirsts let him come to drink freely from the river of life (Revelation 21:6 NAS).

In that river of blessing from God we will find no abandonment.

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