I’m posting this one a bit earlier than usual for a Friday, but I hope Shabbat is already on your mind. We’re having a house full of teenagers over for a Youth Shabbat. Hope yours is as adventurous as mine will be!
I was riding with my daughters to the grocery store and we were listening to Barlow Girl, a Christian band. They have this one song that I would have to say is as good as any spiritual song I know, “Never Alone.”
Here are some of the lyrics:
I waited for you today
But you didn’t show
No no no
I needed You today
So where did You go?
You told me to call
Said You’d be there
And though I haven’t seen You
Are You still there?
Who is the you she is speaking about? God, of course.
That got me thinking about the idea of God being hidden and our sense of abandonment in this world. The sense is real. Our feeling of abandonment is real. God really is not always out in the open.
It’s funny. I know some believers in God will take me to task in one direction, “God is always there.” Agnostics and doubters will take me to task in another direction, “God out in the open, you’ve got to be kidding!”
I’m talking to believers right now, the faithful. We know the ways God is out in the open. We know the subtle encouragements and the footprints of God in our lives.
But there are dark nights and lightless days. They may be objective (real things are bothering us) or subjective (we cannot feel what we should inside). We say to God, “Where are you? You said you’d be right here.”
“Heal me, O Lord, for my bones are troubled, my soul also. But you, O Lord, how long?” said David (Ps. 6:2-3). “Why, O Lord, do you stand far off?” he says in Psalm 10:1. “How long, O Lord, will you forget me forever?” David prayed (13:1).
Our problem sometimes is that we pray too weakly. God knows our doubts and frustrations.
Barlow Girl’s song continues, “I cried out with no reply and I can’t feel You by my side.”
I thought of a story of abandonment, or at least a time a man thought he was abandoned. His problem was not merely subjective. Real things were happening and God was not preventing them.
He saw friends die. His own life was in danger and he was a fugitive. He was somewhat suicidal, at least to the point of asking God to take his life. And he was the kind of holy man who got what he asked for. He could really expect God to honor that prayer — but, again, silence. The silence hurt worse than death.
He walked the mountain where God gave the Torah to Moses. He figured God would have to meet him there. He went up to a cave and God spoke, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
He complained about all the things and most of all that God was not there, as far as he could tell. Where was the God of fire who consumed the animals on Mt. Carmel? Where was the power he had seen before? Why would God act at some times and seem not there at others?
So, are we right to feel abandoned sometimes. I would say so. Is there hope?
David always thought so. He was more honest than most about God disappearing. Yet his complaints always ended in statements of trust. As he wrote songs, prayers about his troubles, his spirit resolved within him. He worked to a place of resolution. He saw the truth.
”The Lord has heard my plea; the Lord has accepted my prayer,” he believes (Ps. 6:9). “The Lord is King forever and ever . . . O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted,” he assures himself (1o:16-17). “I will sing to the Lord, for he has dealt bountifully with me” (13:6).
It was there for Elijah to see also. He just missed it. Yes, Jezebel was out for his life. Yes, he asked God to kill him. What was God’s response? “And behold, an angel touched him and said, ‘Arise and eat.’” (1 Kings 19:5).
In our lightless days and dark nights, we will find God’s footprints if we look hard enough. He is King forever and ever. He accepts the plea of the afflicted. He does send subtle encouragements, even if he is mostly silent.
David saw it. Elijah missed it. Barlow Girl sings about it:
So I’ll hold tight to what I know
You’re here and I“m never alone
And though I cannot see You
And I can’t explain why
Such a deep, deep reassurance
You’ve placed in my life
We cannot separate
‘Cause You’re part of me
And though You’re invisible
I’ll trust the unseen