This weeks 'thought' comes to you from a classic written in 1659 by two Dutch pastors: Gisbertus Voetius and Johannes Hoornbeeck. It's title, "Spiritual Desertion," speaks of the common Christian experience its pages address.
Both authors affirm the words of Thomas A'Kempis who states: "I have never known a godly person who did not at times sense the removal of grace." Says Hoornbeeck, "All those who want to live a godly life in Christ have to expect such oppressions" (ie: times when the soul feels like it has been deserted by God). They affirm the quote of Otto Casmannus who wrote: "No one becomes saved who is not trained in this battle, before, or in death."
Anyone who has merely read their Bibles knows how common such an experience is, since they will have read the words of such people as: Job (Job 6-7); David (in Psalm 13, 32, 38, 39, 42, 44); Asaph (Psalm 77); Heman (Psalm 88); Jeremiah (Jer. 15:15-20); Paul (II Cor. 1:8-10); Peter (Luke 22:62) and even Jesus Himself (Matt. 27:46).
Most all believers - if they are honest and don't feel the need to play the part of the superChristian - will admit to wrestling with this common experience to one degree or another, at one time or another. Thus I offer their words as comfort to those who may be in that place of feeling deserted by God, or may know a friend who is in that place.
I have taken the liberty to cut and paste, update the language, paraphrase awkward sentences and insert explanatory phrases. I trust you will find the thoughts helpful. Enjoy.
"No matter how great and heavy you feel your trial and abandonment may be, it is not a complete, total abandonment from God. It is not an abandonment of all grace, but only the feeling of grace. You do not feel the grace as you would like. But really, is it so serious to miss this feeling when you keep the greatest--the grace itself? You do not really lose God. As with your stomach or your heart, even though you do not always consciously feel them, don't you still have them?
What do you think -- can that feeling not become somewhat shocked, darkened and burdened?... If not, think about Christ! Consider (although he did not deserve this) that the feeling of his Father's grace was becoulded and burdened completely -- for you! And since this suffering you experience concerns only the feeling of grace, and you have kept what is of greatest weight and all that counts for your salvation, can you not be satisified and comforted? Since God left you so much, and especially that which is of greatest weight, should you be ungrateful when you miss only that which is off less importance [the mere loss of feeling his grace and presence]?...
God cannot completely leave you. He shall not and will not do so. God's gracious favor and salvation cannot be destroyed... That God's grace in the soul cannot be destroyed is shown in I John 3:9, 'for his seed remains in him'; or John 10:28: 'I give them eternal life and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand'; or John 14:17, 'He sends another Comforter who will abide with you forever'; or John 6:39-40, 'This is the will of the Father who sent me, that I shall lose none of those that he has given me, but raise them up on the last day. And this is the will of him who sent me, that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.' Or consider as well Psalm 37:24: 'Though the righteous fall, he shall not be cast away, for the Lord upholds his hand.' [We see the same in Philippians 1:6 and Romans 8:28-39.]
The beleaguered soul cannot reach such a state that it would be rejected by God or could completely fall from grace. After all, it earlier shared in God's grace and bore the certain evidences of such grace. The beleaguered soul must remember this -- it may not have a righteous and strong desire for grace now, but it truly enjoyed this grace earlier.
The soul can draw comfort from this knowledge: Whatever happens, even if heaven and earth were moved, yes, even if the terrors of hell sneered at this one soul, yet it would be kept and would surely remain God's possession, even if it went through the valley of the shadow of death... In view of what you experienced earlier, you can calmly go into the future because what you are going through now is only a temporary black cloud for the hour of trial. And since God never regrets that he granted his grace to us, you will soon again have what you desire so heartily.
The saints of old comforted their souls in present times of spiritual desertion by reflecting back on former days of grace. In light of the fact that his soul was downcast, one of the 'Sons of Korah' asks in Psalm 42:2 -'Where can I go to meet with God?' He confesses that his tears have been his food day and night, and that people are asking him, 'Where is your God?' And what does he do to comfort himself? 'He says these words: 'These things I remember as I pour out my soul; how I used to go with the multitude, leading the procession to the house of God, with shouts of thanksgiving among the festive throng.'
Former proofs of grace stand as anchors for the soul and comfort us during present states of affliction when we suffer the sense of God's absence. Remember this: God never leaves your soul completely, even though it may appear that he, for a time, hides his face, and you do not experience the feeling of his loving favor. Truly the Lord does not forsake his beloved; they are kept unto eternity...
Consider as well that these trials [of desertion] come only to God's children. Other burdens are general -- many of the same things happen to the righteous and the ungodly. But this cross is sanctified only for the pious; for God's beloved. Other people do not know this cross; it is foreign to them. The believer has many burdens in common with unbelievers; but the sense of abandonment by God is one he does not have in common with them... And thus when one experiences this sense of abandonment, we can judge that his state with God is good. For only God's children are chastized with this rod."
I conclude with the words of a song which helped me when I was going through one such extended time of desertion. They are from the group "Selah" who sing to the struggling soul: "Hang on, a little bit longer... my God will never let you down." Such times do end, although when you're stuck in the midst of one of them its easy wonder if (or when) they will.
With you in those occasional times of struggle,