Dr. Thomas Lane Butts: When God Leaves Us Alone

When God Leaves Us Alone

Have you ever felt as if you were completely alone? Have you felt as if no other human being in your world understood you or had any idea of the depth of your struggle? It happens! It happens to people who are religious and to those who are not religious. It happens to young people in their struggle to gain personal identity and adulthood. It happens to middle-aged people who suddenly realize they have lived half a life-time and still have no idea who they are or why they are here. It happens to the elderly when they realize that their life is almost over and they have never gotten a grip on life. It happens when, as Andrew Marvell wrote: "And at my back I always hear time's winged chariot drawing near". It is a more common human experience than you think.

There are people who feel deep sense of loneliness and aloneness some of the time, but there are some who feel this way all the time. Some of the time is normal. All the time is dangerous. Some have referred to this experience as the ‘dark night of the soul' - an important element in our journey on the way to learning the meaning of life.

If you read the Bible, surely you have read, perhaps with some surprise, how frequently this feeling shows up in the Book of Psalms. The Psalmists were perhaps the most religious and spiritually aware people of their time and yet they so often wrote of great pain with existential loneliness. "I looked to my left and I looked to my right and there was no one who cared for my soul". And then there was the deepest and most serious loneliness in Psalm 22:1: "My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?" It happened to Jesus on the cross as he suffered the pain of crucifixion and in the darkness of that hour he borrowed the words of the Psalmist to say: "My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?"

Many were surprised to learn after her death that Mother Teresa was plagued frequently with an overwhelming feeling of doubt and ‘aloneness'. Does God leave us alone sometimes? When we have defied God and thought ourselves quite self-sufficient, do you think maybe God withdraws to let us see how well we can handle the hard spots of life by ourselves? I do not know. I only know that it feels that way, sometimes.

One of the great preachers and teachers of preaching of our time, Dr. Fred Craddock, tells of being at a retreat center and meeting a minister who was born without arms from the elbow down. His mother had taken care of him all his life. She fed and dressed him every day. One day when he was in his early teens his mother came to the bedroom and put his clothes in the middle of the floor and said: "Dress yourself". He cried out: "No, I can't. See, I have no arms". She said, "Dress yourself" and left the room. He cried and carried on for an hour - shouting at his mother: "You don't love me any more. Come help me". She never came and he decided that if he was going to have any clothes on he would have to dress himself. It took him more than an hour to get some clothes on, but he did it. He said it was not until much later that he learned while he was crying and trying to dress himself, his mother was in the next room crying.

Does God leave us alone sometimes to teach us to dress ourselves and tend to ourselves in ways in which heretofore we have depended on others? And when God leaves us alone, does God stay close by and weep with us and for us until we have gotten things manageable?

I think so. I hope so. What do you think?