Pastor Ray Ortlund experienced this, sharing in a blog post that “...some years ago, I was compelled to dig back down to the very foundations and ask, ‘Have I been wrong, thinking God loves me? Isn’t it possible that God hates my guts? After all, look at the facts. Look at this bombed-out, smoking rubble called my ministry. Has God rejected me?’”
It is in the dark and difficult experiences of life that we most need to be reminded of the great love that God has for us, of the direction he gives us in times of uncertainty, and of the joy he provides in our times of great pain. George Matheson found God to be the one who both is and gives love and light and joy in the dark places of life, and he shared that discovery in his hymn, “O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go.”
O Love that wilt not let me go, I rest my weary soul in thee.
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow may richer, fuller be.
In our dark times we think we are abandoned, but God is never far from us. God spoke through Isaiah the prophet to say: “. . . I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands . . .” (Isaiah 49:15-16 NRSV). Too often we think we must hold on to God, when the truth is that He holds on to us. It was Paul’s prayer that the Ephesian believers would understand “. . . what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ . . .” (Ephesians 3:18-19 NRSV). God, in his love “. . . wilt not let me go.”
O Light that followest all my way, I yield my flickering torch to thee.
My heart restores its borrowed ray,
That in thy sunshine’s blaze its day may brighter, fairer be.
The children’s Sunday School song proclaims that “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.” But in our dark times our minds become confused, and we often do not know the next step to take. Our light of daily guidance seems to “flicker.” We only see our problems and uncertainties. We are like King Jehoshaphat of Judah who, when facing an invading army, cried out to God, “. . . we are powerless . . . we do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you” (2 Chronicles 20:12 NRSV). Our task is to hold on in these times – to keep our faith focused on the Lord – and know that He will restore our brokenness, and the brightness and joy of life will be brighter and fairer as the Lord’s light guides us in our difficult experiences.
O Joy that seekest me through pain, I cannot close my heart to thee.
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain that morn shall tearless be.
Feeling abandoned and losing our way in dark times is a painful experience, but I love how Matheson describes God’s work in us and for us during these times. He is our “Joy” who seeks us amid our pain, and his pursuit is irresistible. God helps us to “trace the rainbow through the rain” – what a beautiful phrase! The Lord works to help us see that “. . . all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28 NRSV). “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 30:5 NRSV). Praise His name!
O cross that liftest up my head, I dare not ask to fly from thee.
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
And from the ground there blossoms red – life that shall endless be.
In our dark times we must remember the One who faced the deepest of darkness – the One who sweat drops of blood as He agonized in the garden prior to crucifixion – the One who cried out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46 NRSV). Our Lord Jesus Christ endured the abandonment, darkness, and pain of the cross to provide “. . . life that shall endless be.” It is in remembering what Jesus endured on the cross that can reassure us that He understands our circumstances.
As well, it is in remembering what Jesus accomplished by his death on the cross and his resurrection that can reassure us that He will be for us – and give to us – the love and light and joy that we need. And because we can rest in the love and light and joy that Christ gives to us – and is for us – then we can also share in the sufferings that comes in this life – the crosses we must bear. Jesus has gone to the cross for us, and as his followers, we have the privilege of “. . . sharing his sufferings by becoming like him in his death” (Philippians 3:10 NRSV).