The Book of Psalms

How Long? How Long?, Part 1


Theme: When You Feel Abandoned by God
In this week’s lessons we are reminded that although there are times when we might feel abandoned by God, we must persevere in prayer in order to enjoy the sense of God’s presence once again.
Scripture: Psalm 13:1-6
You may have noticed in your study of the psalms that at different places in the psalter we find increasing intensity and even apparent desperation as we move along. We find this movement as we pass from Psalm 12 to Psalm 13.
In Psalm 12 David feels himself to be alone in the sense that godly or faithful persons seem to have disappeared from around him. Instead of upright persons, he is surrounded by “people of the lie.” This is bad enough, of course. If we feel alone in any trying situation, we feel desperate. But when we come to Psalm 13, we find that David feels abandoned now, not only by godly or faithful men, but by even God himself. Can anything be worse than that? It is hard to think so. When Jonah was trying to get away from God, he thought that being abandoned by God would be desirable. But when he was thrown into the sea, was swallowed by the great fish and finally did sense himself to be abandoned by God, he found that he did not like the feeling at all. He compared his state of abandonment to Sheol or Hell and cried out in distress, asking God to save him (cf. Jonah 2).
Before beginning to explore Psalm 13 in detail, I have two observations to make about feeling abandoned by God. The first is this. As a result of counseling people over more than two decades of my ministry, I am convinced that a feeling of abandonment is far more common than it appears to be at first glance. Many people feel abandoned by others, first, but ultimately also by God, which makes this a spiritual problem and not only a psychological one. Moreover, I find that counselors confirm this. A psychiatrist friend says that she deals with it frequently in her practice, particularly when someone feels depressed. She says, “The amount of despair and false guilt result in a feeling of a deep chasm between the person and God.” The person feels that no one cares about him or her, and since no person cares, God must not care either. God seems to have left such persons to themselves.
Here is the second observation. Although this is a common problem, I have not been able to find much helpful writing about it, particularly by Christians. Even D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones in his excellent book, Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure does not specifically deal with feelings of abandonment.1
Why do you suppose this is? I think it is because we have been taught that Christians are not to experience such things, that we are only to have “life more abundantly” or to “live victoriously.” In the last study I quoted the dying French atheist Voltaire, who said, “I am abandoned by God and man.” We are not surprised for an atheist to say that. But if any of us should admit to such feelings, many of our friends would look askance at us, shake their heads and wonder perhaps whether we are Christians at all. Isn’t that true? Isn’t that the chief reason why you do not talk to other Christians about this, and probably other problems too.
How good then to find that David does talk about it! David is a giant in Scripture, a person “after God’s own heart” (1 Sam. 13:14). Yet here is a case, reflecting some period in his life, when David felt that God had left him entirely. And he doesn’t cover up his feelings. To use Howard Cosell’s famous phrase, David “tells it like it is.” He feels abandoned by God and says so. Well, if he says so, we can say so too. Even more importantly, we can learn from him and can experience the same good movement from despair to settled trust in God that this psalm shows.
Study Questions:

How does David’s intensity increase from Psalm 12 to Psalm 13?
Why do Christians hardly ever speak about feeling abandoned by God? How does this psalm address that avoidance?

Application: Have you ever felt abandoned by God? What was the cause of it? What means did God use to minister to you and encourage you during this dark experience? How did the situation strengthen you spiritually and deepen your holiness?
For Further Study: Order your copy of James Boice’s three-volume study on the Psalms at 25% off the regular price.
1D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965).

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