Sometimes it feels like God has forsaken us.
We don’t hear his voice. We don’t feel his presence. We struggle even to see his hand at work in the world.
We cry with the psalmist, “My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Ps. 22:1).
We know the theological truth: God will never forsake his children. But some of us wonder if we’ve ever been his children. Others have this assurance, yet they still feel forsaken.
We do not understand why. If God is a loving Father who desires closeness with his people, why would he allow this experience that numbs any feeling and clouds any sight of him? This dark night of the soul whispers lies that we will never see dawn again.
I remember one incident when my nephew, four years old at the time, was expressing anger after a disappointment. One of my siblings kindly suggested he ask Jesus to help him. “But where is he?” he asked, throwing up his hands and looking around wildly. “He’s in your heart,” my sibling replied. “But I don’t see him! I don’t feel him!” my nephew exclaimed and then burst into tears, frustration giving way to sobs.
I have never identified so well with a four year old.
How, when we neither see God nor feel him, do we keep following? How do we keep walking with him when we have no assurance that he’s beside us? How do we keep putting one foot in front of the other without the sure hope that comes from assurance, not just the assurance that we’re saved but that we’re seen, known, and loved?
Walking through such an experience truly illuminates the meaning of “walking by faith.” Whether we have scrupulosity or not, this is reality: We are not called to walk by what we see, hear, taste, touch, smell, sense, or feel. We are called to walk by faith.
Author and pastor Mark Meynell says it well:
“This is the way of faith—trusting in God’s good purposes in the darkest of nights, when emotions are wrought and perspectives completely distorted. This is living by faith, not by sensory perception.”1
With scrupulosity, our perceptions are often distorted. Such perceptions become evidence to us that we’re in spiritual danger. Even though these symptoms are more indicative of the condition—scrupulosity—than our relationship with God, they nonetheless become entangled with that very relationship.
In the dark, our perceptions are distorted. But our hope was never in our perceptions. Though our senses may not bear him witness, God’s promises and his goodness remain. They are true whether we feel them or not. When all around us and within us we feel the mounting evidence that we are alone, the reality of his presence is untouched by the voices of scrupulosity.
Once, my counselor asked me this: “What does it mean to lean on Jesus as your sufficiency, not even your own sense of assurance?” In other words, what does it mean to trust Jesus over my own sensory perceptions?
Honestly, I want an ultimate answer, an unspeakable peace in my soul, a deep, unshakeable sense that I’ll be alright. I want to lean on my feelings of God’s presence. Yet at the end of the day, even the person with a deep assurance and tangible sense of God’s presence can’t depend on this alone. Their dependence must be on Christ, the object of such confidence, even though they feel no confidence themselves.
Sometimes “walking by faith” can seem too much to manage, an ideal we can’t grasp. But here’s the thing about faith: the faith itself isn’t what is important. We can feel like our faith is weak, faltering, barely existent. But it’s the object of our faith that’s important. God doesn’t need our faith to be a certain standard. In fact, he’s the one that gives us our faith in the first place.
And this faith is not a blind faith, but one built on the promises of a God who has a track record of keeping his promises and blessing his children. In fact, he even entered into our very pain.
Many years after David penned his psalm, Jesus echoed his words: “My God, why have you forsaken me?” His was a true rejection. God turned his face away from his Son. The result of God forsaking Jesus brought pure agony and despair, such as we have never known. We have this comfort that he knows this experience and the isolation, confusion, and desolation of it. As he walks beside us, he knows intimately what it is to suffer sorrow and not just the feeling of being forsaken by God, but the reality of it.
And we have further comfort. He also assures that though we may experience an absence, it will never be our reality. He bore it in our place that we may never be forsaken.
Of course, the scrupulous person might say, “But what if I’m not saved in the first place? Where then is my hope?” We have no other hope but Jesus, and we can take heart in his kindness.
A couple years ago I read The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis and found this part especially poignant. (The book is written from the perspective of the demon Screwtape who is mentoring his nephew Wormwood. Note that “Our cause” refers to the demons’ efforts to tempt the Christian away from God, and “our Enemy” refers to God.)
Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.2
Doesn’t that sum up so much of our experience? In the dark, it can feel energy-sapping and even futile to continue forward, even if we may know it’s our only option. Furthermore, because of scrupulosity, our sight of God is clouded. And yet these are acts of faith: looking around, not seeing or feeling God, even asking him, “Why have you forsaken me?” and yet taking the next step forward.
Take heart. This is what it means to walk by faith, not sight, following in the path of the Man of sorrows.
And faith need not be strong, triumphant, or unshakeable to be faith. It need only to say, “Help!”
1. Mark Meynell, When Darkness Seems My Closest Friend (Inter-Varsity Press, 2018)
2. C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (HarperCollins, 1942).
Amen! You’ve probably realized that one “blessings” of the scrupulous one is that you do not fall prey to the deception of assurance of salvation based on feeling. You will never be duped into believing you are a Christian because you “feel” God’s favor upon you. Many people are deceived, but not the scrupulous one. Praise God for how He is working in you in the present! I see growth and strength in your writing.
I loved your focus on the object of faith being more important than the feeling of assurance.
As always, thank you for the reminder to pray for you!
It’s certainly a struggle not to rely on our feelings with scrupulosity, but yes, it’s something we do have to learn! Thanks, Mari 🙂