There are some really, really, really sad verses in the Bible.
One is “Jesus wept” (John 11:35).
It’s the shortest verse in the Bible, and yet in two words, it shows the profound depth of God’s grief over what humanity has done to itself. His children brought death on themselves when they chose to disobey Him and do things their own way (Genesis 3).
Humanity left God and life left humanity.
Since that time, the soundtrack of life has continually played the chorus, “And he died…and he died… and he died…and he died…and he died… and he died…and he died…and he died” (Genesis 5). Eight times in one chapter! And now billions of finales in humanity’s tour on earth.
What is death? Separation from God. That’s it.
We’re born separated from God (Ephesians 2:1) and if we don’t find His way to reconnect with Him by the time we die, we will be separated from Him (Revelation 20:15) forever.
But thanks to our Heavenly Father, He has provided the divine reconnect – Jesus!
Jesus experienced separation from His Father through His death on the cross so we wouldn’t have to remain separated from our Father. Our Supreme Judge has accepted Jesus’ death as payment on our behalf so we can reconnect with our Father in Heaven and enjoy Him forever.
That’s why they call it the Gospel, meaning “Good News!”
Does that mean once we’re reconnected with God, we’ll never lose that salvation connection?
For the Calvinists (followers of John Calvin’s Reform theology), you can never lose the salvation connection. But does that mean God can’t “separate” from you in the sense of withdrawing awareness of His presence, or His favor, or His grace, or His strength, or His mercy, or any other benefit or blessing from you if you sin and stubbornly refuse to repent?
For the Arminians (followers of Jacobus Arminius’ Arminian theology), you can lose your salvation connection to God through continual, willful rejection and wind up in hell. Oh, and losing all the other stuff mentioned above as well.
Regardless of your position, both camps can experience the most unsettling and even devastating experience for a born-again follower,
God leaving us.
Worst of all, God leaving us and we don’t know it.
Don’t think He can’t or won’t. He’s done it before. And the recipients were His own people! Check out the experiences of Samson, Saul, and the nation of Israel.
Samson. Samson was one of God’s chosen judges in Israel (Judges 13-16). And yet, he sinned. How? Samson was a Nazirite from birth. A Nazirite is a person who is dedicated to God (Numbers 6). As a Nazirite, Samson was to 1) stay away from corpses, 2) stay away from grapes and byproducts, and 3) not cut his hair, all three of which he violated (Judges 14:5, 8 and 16:17-19). When Samson spilled the beans about his secret of success, Delilah went to work and cut his hair. Once Samson was shorn, she called her Philistine comrades in to arrest Samson, “Then she cried, ‘Samson, the Philistines are here!’ When he awoke from his sleep, he said, ‘I will escape as I did before and shake myself free’” (Judges 16:20a).
And then the tragic verse.
“But he did not know that the Lord had left him” (Judges 16:20b).
Yup. Presuming God’s tolerance for disobedience and sin had consequences for Samson. He wasn’t done in by the Philistines. Samson was done in when God left him. Blind. Powerless. Alone. Enslaved to his enemies. Mocked. Abused.
Saul. Saul was Israel’s first king, immediately preceding Israel’s most famous king, David. Saul started strong because God’s Holy Spirit was on him (1 Samuel 10:1, 10; 11:6). However, Saul was a rash and insecure man. These character flaws caused him to disobey God in two significant events.
First, he failed to obey God’s word through Samuel the prophet. Samuel had commanded Saul to not start a battle with the Philistines until the Prophet/Priest arrived to make an offering. When it seemed Samuel wasn’t going to make it in time and Saul saw his men beginning to desert, he stepped up and offered the sacrifice, a function reserved only for God’s anointed priests to perform (1 Samuel 13). Big mistake!
Second, Saul failed to obey God’s word through Samuel to kill all the Amalekite people and their animals (1 Samuel 15). This was a punishment for the Amalekite people from God in retribution for when they made a sneak attack on the Israelites some 500 years earlier (Exodus 17, especially vs. 16). But Saul decided to keep the goodies after the battle. He spared King Agag (likely as a pride trophy) and all the animals (the spoils of war). Saul’s disobedience not only cost him his kingship but God’s presence.
The Holy Spirit moved from Saul to David, “So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him (David) in the presence of his brothers, and the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully on David from that day forward” (1 Samuel 16:13). Now Israel had a Spirit-less King and a Spirit-filled man with no throne. Well, actually… Saul did have a spirit with him, just not the kind you would want. “Now the Spirit of the Lord had left Saul, and an evil spirit sent from the Lord began to torment him” (1 Samuel 16:14). See what I mean?
But was David perfect? Absolutely not! He committed adultery, and then murdered to cover up his adultery. When confronted with his sin, David knew exactly what was at stake – God’s presence. In a tear-filled psalm, David cried out,
“Do not banish me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me” (Psalm 51:11).
Why? He saw what had happened to Saul after God’s Holy Spirit left him. The demonic attacks (1 Samuel 18:10, 19:9), the uncontrolled rage, the fear (1 Samuel 18:12) and paranoia (1 Samuel 22), Saul’s attempts to murder his son Jonathan and David (1 Samuel 20:33; 18:11; 19:10), and the rabid pursuit of the innocent (1 Samuel 21-24). David repented not only because he wanted none of that, and because he knew how precious God’s presence was personally.
The nation of Israel. And now a quick mention, but an extremely important one. In Ezekiel 9-11 we read about the prophet Ezekiel who was taken to Babylon at the start of Israel’s Exile (around 586 B.C.). God transported him in a vision back to Jerusalem where God revealed Israel’s hidden sin of rank idolatry, even amid judgment. It was so bad the leaders had even set up idols in God’s Temple! During the vision, Ezekiel watched as God’s holy presence rose from its place over the Ark of the Covenant and moved through the temple building, out into the courtyard, and to the east over the Mount of Olives where it hovered.
God’s message to Israel? “You refused to repent, so I’m leaving. And after I leave, any protection you had will be gone. You’re all gonna die or be exiled, and this city will be destroyed.”
In these three examples we see there comes a point when God leaves you to your own devices. If you stubbornly want to do things your way and wallow in sin, have at it. Just don’t be surprised when you run into trouble, only to realize the Lord’s not with you.
What a terrible place in which to find yourself! Needing divine help, strength, encouragement, or comfort and… nothing.
Well, that’s the way you wanted it. You turned from God to live your own way. The Lord simply honored your demonstrated desire for Him to get lost.
What are the clues God has withdrawn from you? You might find yourself in a time of trouble and call out to God, but the heavens are as brass. You know God’s there, but He ain’t answering. Like Samson, you realize too late there’s no sense of God’s divine presence. You feel spiritually blind, powerless, and alone. You may find yourself enslaved to the very sin you once thought a momentary delight. You might suddenly find yourself under spiritual attack as God’s “absence” leaves you open for spiritual enemies to mock or abuse you.
You might suddenly realize the Bible just doesn’t speak to you like it used to. Gathering with other believers is uncomfortable or annoying, and your once vibrant church service is a redundant chore. Prayer? Forget that. You can’t remember the last time you talked to God.
What’s the worst part? Despite the brassy heavens and helplessness, you just don’t care. And if you reach that point, you are in grave danger. How long can we presume upon God’s grace until He switches from grace to judgment? How long can we test the Lord, pushing the boundaries of His mercy and forgiveness before he lets the leash out for our own punishment and discipline?
“I’ll just do this one more time.” “It’s just a little thing. God won’t mind.” Right. And then your world caves in because God has withdrawn leaving no one to hold up your life’s roof.
But as I said before, there is Good News that’s Great News!
Even though Samson was severely disciplined for his disobedience, his hair grew back, and God returned to Him, restoring his power. Samson is listed in the Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11:32.
God may have left Saul, but even in death, Saul would join the righteous prophet Samuel in Sheol, the place of the dead (1 Samuel 28:16-19).
And even though Israel sinned against the Lord and were exiled twice (Babylonians, 586 B.C. and Rome A.D. 70), God has returned them to their land in our day, May 1948, and will be faithful to fulfill all His promises to them, even though they had been faithless toward Him.
How about you, dear reader? Has God left you? Or were you unaware of His absence because you were too wrapped up in sin or the world? Are you just experiencing a general malaise because you don’t sense God’s closeness? Time for a heart and head check!
Take a tip from the Parable of the Prodigal Son, “But while the son was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion. He ran, threw his arms around his neck, and kissed him” (Luke 15:20). Even if we’re a long way from God, our Father runs toward the repentant.
Learn from one who knows, King David. “For you, Lord, are kind and ready to forgive, abounding in faithful love to all who call on you” (Psalm 86:5).
Don’t test the Lord. Rest in the Lord. Don’t leave Him and He’ll never leave you.
Pastor Jay Christianson
The Truth Barista, Frothy Thoughts