“I will not leave you or forsake you.”
This promise found in Joshua 1:5 is given numerous times in Scripture. Every time one of God’s children or the whole community of God’s children faced something hard, new, difficult, or overwhelming, God greeted them with this promise. He never called them to a task, sent them to a destination, or led them into difficulty and then abandoned them. No matter how hard the situation or inadequate their response, God was with them and for them. The declaration that he would never leave them is a significant reminder and protection for everyone who suffers.
First, these words are a humbling reminder that God remains faithful to us no matter what, not because of what is in us, but because of what’s in him. If the consistency of my prayer or the faithfulness of my worship or the constancy of my obedience were what bought me his continued presence, he would have forsaken me long ago. I know it is true of me, and I’m sure it’s true of you, that in moments of travail, I often fall way below God’s standard. Sometimes confusion interrupts my prayer, or wonderment about what God is doing gets in the way of heartfelt worship. Sometimes I listen too much to the lies of the Enemy or feel too weak to do what God has commanded. Sometimes my heart is filled with more envy than gratitude, and my mouth speaks more complaint than praise. Sometimes I would rather have relief from pain than the sweetness of his presence. Sometimes I’m just mad that God has let such hard things enter my door. There are moments when I don’t want to read his Word or hear songs of his goodness. Sometimes in my travail, I avoid the fellowship of his people. Sometimes I take my pain out on those around me.
My track record is far from perfect. I couldn’t buy God’s faithful presence with my performance. If I had to earn the right to have him stay with me, I would have no hope. Suffering exposes weaknesses, not just in a physical body or in our relationships but also in our hearts. Difficulty exposes weak joy, weak love, and fickle worship. Suffering reminds us that we are not as righteous as we’ve thought and not as faithful as we’ve confessed to be. Suffering brings you and me to the end of ourselves. It exposes and confronts us. It makes it harder and harder to hold on to the delusion of our righteousness. This is why it is so important to remember that God is faithful to us, not because we are righteous, but because he is. He continues to love us, not because we perfectly love him, but because his love for us remains perfect. He remains near, not because we’ve never thought of running away, but because he would never turn his back on the promises he’s made to us. You didn’t earn his faithful presence by your obedience, and your disobedience won’t take it away. The central message of Scripture is that God is with us forever because of one thing and one thing alone: his grace!
In your suffering, with so many things to worry about, you don’t have to waste your spiritual and emotional energy on the fear that you will be forsaken by the One who has the power to do for you what no one else can. He is in you, he is with you, he is for you, and he will never leave.
God’s promise to never forsake us is not only a huge and comforting reminder as our sin and our suffering combine into a messy and embarrassing mix, but it’s a significant spiritual protection as well. One of the most regular and devious attacks of the Enemy is exposed, by these words, as a lie that it is. Like the lion who chases the herd of deer to get them running and expose the weak ones, so Satan does his horrible work when and where we are weak. His lies have the power to deepen your desperation and weaken your resolve. They have the power to make you feel that you’ve been taken advantage of and duped. They have the power to make you wonder why you followed God in the first place, why you believed so many things you couldn’t prove. Suffering makes us susceptible to the one voice we should never hear and that will always do us harm.
The central lie of Satan to all God’s suffering children comes in the form of this question: “Where is your God now?” The lie embedded in this question is that our suffering is clear evidence that we have been forsaken by God. And if God would leave us to such travail, how is he worthy of our trust? It is a direct attack on the truthfulness and goodness of God. Satan is not so much mocking us for having believed as he is attacking the character of the One who has “tricked” us into believing by huge promises that our suffering now proves were never true. How horrible to rob suffering people of their only place to look for hope. Satan’s question—“Where is your God now?”—doesn’t expose God’s untrustworthiness; it exposes the utter hatred of the Father of Lies.
God’s often-repeated declaration that he will not leave sits on the pages of his Word as a protection against the lies to which suffering makes us susceptible. He has told you he will never leave so that when Satan tries to convince you that you have been forsaken, you will not listen. His words are a warning of temptations that every sufferer faces. His words are meant to ease your panic and erase your fear. When Satan tells you that God has turned his back on you, God’s words are meant to remind you that he still holds you close and carries you near his heart.
With his here-forever presence comes his here-forever wisdom, his here-forever grace, his here-forever strength, his here-forever authority, his here-forever love, his here-forever mercy, his here-forever righteousness, and his here-forever patience. Everything in life ends or dies in some way. Nothing in this world remains the same forever. Many of the things we bank on end up failing us in the end. But God never will.
In an indescribable act of unmerited grace, he has made you the place where he lives, and in the faithfulness of that grace he will never walk away from you. In your suffering you will again and again fail to say or do the right thing. Under the weight of difficulty, you will lose your way for a while. You will drag yourself out of bed only to have a debilitating day of spiritual struggle. You will get very sad or very mad. One moment you will long for people to be with you and the next moment wish they would leave you alone. You won’t always be comforted by the words of your loved ones, and there will be moments when you will wish they’d stop saying the things they say. Sometimes you will rest in God’s rule, and other times you will be haunted by the future.
But in all the emotional and spiritual ups and downs, on the good days and the bad days, when you fight or succumb, one thing is for sure. Your Lord is with you, and there is no struggle without or war within that will ever drive him away. And his presence guarantees that in your suffering, you will have everything you need.
Content taken from Suffering: Gospel Hope When Life Doesn’t Make Sense by Paul David Tripp, ©2018. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Il 60187, www.crossway.org.
Paul David Tripp (DMin, Westminster Theological Seminary) is a pastor, author, and international conference speaker. He is also the president of Paul Tripp Ministries. He is the author of several best-selling books, including Suffering; Parenting; and New Morning Mercies.