Have you had a time when things were so hard that you concluded God was too far away to matter? Maybe it seemed like he couldn’t even hear you. Perhaps it felt like he didn’t care about what you were facing. I believe this is a common experience for Christians. It’s challenging to do relationship with an invisible God! I often sit with people in counseling who wrestle with these feelings and I have certainly struggled in these ways as well. I have often guided people to a place in Scripture that God used in my life years ago.
Let me tell you the story.
I had been in a romantic relationship that seemed good and promising—but it came to an abrupt end. I had dated a man who seemed to honor God and care for me, but he had been caught lying by a number of people all at once. I was filled with grief, hurt, and anger. But I was not only angry at the man who had lied and cheated and broke my heart. I was also angry at God for allowing these things to happen. I felt even more betrayed by God.
One spring day, I drove out to a beautiful place, hoping that being out in creation would remind me of God’s love and fill me with gratitude at his presence and blessing. Unfortunately, the opposite attitude exploded. I sat in my parked car with the windows rolled up and yelled. I did not cry out to the Lord. I yelled at him. “Don’t tell me that you care for me! You allowed me to enter a relationship with a man who was lying and serving only himself! You could have prevented this pain. You are not my loving father! You have not helped me!”
I heard no answer from God that day—but he did have a plan to respond to me.
I was in seminary at the time and the next day someone asked me to go to chapel. I went but inside I was still raging against the Lord. And yet there was a small part of my heart that was hoping against hope that I would hear a message of comfort. Maybe something from the gospels illustrating how Jesus cared for one of the broken people around him. Or something from John’s writings that was centered on love.
The preacher started off by saying, “I’m going to speak to you today from Exodus 6.” Immediately my heart swelled with indignation. “What?! What could Exodus 6 have to say to me and my broken heart?“ I lost whatever bit of hope that I had. I could feel my heart hardening again. “Sure, that figures. How could I think that God would speak to me through his Word today? I temporarily forgot, but I can’t expect any sign of care from the Lord. He will not help me. I am on my own.”
The preacher went on to relay familiar details about Moses: Moses was born to a Hebrew family while the Jewish people were slaves in Egypt. But through God’s intervention, he was raised in the household of Pharaoh, survived a long exile, and was called back to Egypt by God to lead his people out of slavery.
Moses went to Pharaoh as the Lord had instructed and asked him to let the people go into the desert in order to worship the Lord. Pharaoh’s response was, “Who is the Lord? I don’t know him and I will not let these people go!” He thought the people were lazy, so he doubled their workload. The people were now discouraged and horribly overworked so they went to Moses to complain, and Moses in turn went back to the Lord.
Moses cried out, “Why have you brought this trouble on your people? Is this why you sent me? My speaking out has brought much trouble on these people and you have not rescued your people at all!” The preacher closed this section with these words, “So Moses’s last word to the Lord was, ‘You have not helped your people!’”
Bam! It was word-for-word what I had said—no yelled—at the Lord the previous day. The preacher now had my rapt attention. He went on. “Listen to what God says: “Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh because of my mighty hand… I am the Lord… I have established my covenant and I have remembered it.” God reminded Moses and the people all that he had done for them already.
God continued with promises for the future: “I am the Lord. I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians and I will free you… I will redeem you…” Then comes the promise that must have pierced their very hearts. It pierced mine that day. “I will take you as my own people and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God… I will bring you to the land that I swore with an uplifted hand. I am the Lord.”
We know the rest of the story. God used Moses to free his people from bondage at the hands of the Egyptians—a foretaste of his plan to redeem us all from the bondage of sin by sending Jesus to suffer, die, then rise again. God fulfills every promise to his people and proves himself faithful. He does not abandon or betray. He is near and active.
The Lord spoke to me that morning through that sermon and I do not believe it was a coincidence. God had heard my cries and he knew my heart was broken. He knew that I needed to hear the story of his faithfulness to his people and he wanted to remind me of his faithfulness to me. He also knew I was harboring a bitter spirit and an unjustified anger. He allowed me to pour out my emotions freely—and then led me to a place where I could hear him.
I left that service and went to a quiet place to ask his forgiveness for my petulant accusations and anger. I asked him again to help me, but now it was to help me trust him rather than to receive a particular blessing or accomplish my own ends. I felt his nearness in such a personal way through those events. I hope I never forget the sweetness of that comfort and that conviction.
The Lord’s help to me that day was as unexpected as it was sweet. But that is his way, isn’t it?
Could anyone have predicted that he would save his people through a gentle carpenter who preached love and repentance? By One who would die so that we could live? The people were looking for a bold, forceful champion that would lead them to freedom through triumphant victory. But the Lord knew that in spite of what they expected, the greatest bondage lies within the human heart. That was true for the Israelites in Egypt. That was true for the Jews in Jesus’ day. That is true for me and you.
If you are in that hard place where it feels impossible to believe that God is near and actively caring for you, remember that he works in unexpected ways. Pray for him to strengthen your faith in the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen (Heb 11:1).
The Lord wants to comfort your broken heart and bring freedom from whatever bondage holds you captive. In pouring out your real emotions you will come closer to the Lord and learn what is truly in your own heart.
Please don’t hold back. God loves you, he will embrace you, and, if it is right, he will gently convict you.
And yes, I can say with certainty, he will help you—though it may be in an unexpected way.