Does God Ever Desert His People? - by Dr. C. Matthew McMahonThe Tract Series
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“Desertion.” Webster’s Dictionary defines the word in this manner: Abandonment without consent. When a man or woman desires a divorce, and they walk out on their spouse without advanced notice or communication, that is desertion. When a mother leaves her one month old child in the alley trash can, that is desertion. When a soldier defects from one country to another during the war, that is desertion. But does God desert His people? Can the same be said of Him? When desertion is applied to God, it is not applied in the same manner as the three illustrations above. When God deserts someone, He is not mentally incapacitated, or anxious, or in a state of sin. But it must be noted that in a certain sense, God may at times, desert His people. This is God’s withdrawing of Himself in areas of empowering for service, rescuing the distraught spirit, or comforting the soul. This idea may be new to you, the reader. You may be holding onto Christ’s words, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” However, you have not taken in the entirety of the Biblical picture. Some may read this and be distraught. People do not realize that God may desert His people; but for reasons which may be to mysterious and incomprehensible to us, He does. The purpose of this article is to illustrate how He does this, why He does this, observations about those who have been deserted, and offer some cures to dejected souls.
First, it is important to accept the truth that Scripture demonstrates examples of God’s desertion to His people. A powerful illustrative passage is Isaiah 54:6-8, “For the Lord God has called you, like a woman forsaken and grieved in spirit, like a youthful wife when you were refused,” says your God. “For a moment I have forsaken you, but with great mercies I will gather you. With a little wrath I hid my face from you for a moment.” God may hide His face from us and forsake us for a time (e.g.. Ps. 42:7-9; 88:6-9; 2 Cor. 4:16ff). He did this for a little time with Israel. For a moment they were forsaken. For a short time they were without His comfort, help and solace.
How or in what sense does God desert us? It is important to note that God may seem to have deserted someone when this is not really the case. It may be only in appearance and not really in truth. This is where people, in their emotional distress and trials, believe themselves to have been deserted by God. They may be in some desperate situation which seems insurmountable, and where they think God is not listening to their prayers or rescuing them from tribulation in a timely manner. There seems to be no deliverance in sight. Nevertheless, we must never let our emotions deceive us. Our faculty of emotions may mislead us thoroughly. Teenagers believe they are in love, when in fact, they have no idea what love is all about. Emotions are a very tricky animal. Emotional deceptions may also manifest themselves through besetting sins in the life of a believer. This raises a feeling of doubt that God is near. Our doubt and emotions should not be allowed to overwhelm us. They cause us to believe that God has departed, when in fact, He is still very near. Still, sometimes a frowning providence draws near to us and God may desert us for certain reasons for a time.
Desertions are not the interruptions of God’s love, but the acts of His love. When God deserts a believer, He withholds those acts of love which bless them in their spiritual growth. He never deserts us in our salvation, justification or adoption. Our salvation is secure in Christ. Once the eternal decree is set for our election in Christ, it is irreversible. Philippians 1:6 states, “He who began a good work in you will continue it until the day of Christ Jesus.” Our salvation is not at risk, for we have the promises of God to stand on in this matter. But empowerment may be withheld, comfort may be neglected and the need for rescue in troublesome times may not come quickly. This is desertion for the Christian.
Though God deserts us, He never deserts us totally. 1 Samuel 12:22, “For the Lord will not forsake His people for His name’s sake.” He will never leave Israel in the wilderness. He will never allow David to live forever among the Philistines. He will not leave the Christian wandering aimlessly for all time, but He does for a season.
Desertions are of two kinds: 1) the withdrawing of grace, and 2) the withdrawing of comfort. When God withdraws His grace, it is not that He is taking grace out of you, but rather, He is not putting needed grace into you. This kind of grace would be called, “assisting or sanctifying grace.” God may withhold His mercies for a time, and withdraw this grace that the Christian hungers for it. By withholding this grace God creates a tribulation in the Christian’s life. It is a tribulation of learning and teaching, for God does not desert us just for His amusement, but for specific purposes; He does this to teach us to utterly rely on Him and to remember afresh our desperate need of Him. When God withdraws comfort, it is a comfort which is needed while in tribulation. The soul is in dire need of grace because it is in a perilous situation, but God does not bring the comfort. This is when turmoil, distress, dryness, spiritual declension and complacency of the soul results because God does not comfort us as we need His everyday grace while we live in the world. This is desertion.
When God is pleased in withdrawing and refusing His grace from us, He is keeping the Spirit from further sanctifying us. But though He gives us this cup of affliction, He is earnestly desiring to bring us through to the end, where there is a cup of consolation. Again-God never deserts us forever. And though, on the surface, it may seem to us that it is detrimental to our sanctification to be deserted, God will ultimately use this for our greater good.
God deserts His people for very good reasons. The needs and desires of the soul are widened and enlarged in affliction. Heavenly communion with God is sweetest after an evil day, and after tribulation. It is sweetest because after the soul longs after Him for such a lengthy time, it may find all the supply and grace it lacks in the world in the Lord Christ. When people are deserted, they quickly try to fill themselves up with the world instead of God. When this happens, they see their need for God unlike at any other time, though this takes some time to find out. Then, they have such a hunger for Christ, that the world becomes as dark and black as night. They desire it no more, and they cling to the light of Jesus Christ and His cross as the Morning Star.
The regaining of grace is a task to be taken up by a Christian who has been deserted by the Lord. There are some important observations to make about those who seek to remedy their situation. 1) There cannot be true comfort without the quickening of the Spirit of God. You will labor in vain unless the Spirit quickens you into a higher degree of grace. Without this gracious quickening, there is no cure for desertion. Prayer, then is key. 2) Sometimes, when a man is deserted, he becomes complacent about spiritual things. This is the last place you want your soul. It is a dreadful disease that takes up a hardened form of laziness and procrastination. If a soul desires to stay complacent in its desertion too long, that soul will shrivel up and wither into a sick spirit. It is so much harder to regain grace when a soul is in the state of complacency than in any other sin. Complacency sets the mind at ease in the sin and thus continues to build up more sin. It is, in and of itself, a sin. A deserted soul must wage heavy war against such thoughts and lack of action. 3) When a soul is deserted, sometimes it will not see God as its end when God must be its end. The desire of a Christian is to follow Christ. Many times a deserted soul will not see Christ after the soul has been deserted, and thus, it does not see Him as important. Desertion by God often moves us to sin. That does not mean God is the author of sin, but by His withdrawal or lack of comfort through grace, the soul always finds itself looking to something other than God because grace has diminished and is not seen as very important. 4) Desertions can be handled by a soul in three ways, a) hypocritically – which is when a man intends something other than what he does. Here a man will never get himself back to receiving God’s grace. For his complacency makes him hypocritical in His action. He goes to church out of duty instead of desire, and so is hypocritical in his action. b) Conscientiously a soul may try to escape his desertion. This means that the good things he needs to do (pray, read Scripture, or the like) is done out of a sense of duty instead of a sense of need. The prayer is prayed, but still, the soul is no better off than before since he is only conscientious instead of spiritual. The last sort is c) spiritual. When a man spiritually does some good, it is accomplished so they may please and enjoy God as their aim and goal. When a man enjoys walking with God, God is his whole life. Christ is his all and all. The deserted soul desires to regain lost grace again, and desires to be filled up with God. The last observation is this, 5) those who are deserted by God often deserve to be deserted in order that they go through a time of testing for the regaining of grace again. Deserted people are those who go through a time of harsh instruction and correction by the Lord. Many times, these souls are deserted for good reason: a prideful heart, or carelessness in some besetting sin. Here, Christ allows them to experience this tribulation and this desertion for a good end (cf. Romans 8:28).
Keeping these five observations in mind will help you when God deserts you for a time. For there is no Christian who remains on the same level of spirituality day in and day out. Varying degrees of grace are always at hand and desertion is not far from any one of God’s children. The experience of the Shulamite woman in Song of Songs in 5:2-6 should be a constant reminder, “He knocks saying, “Open for me my sister, my love, my dove, my perfect one…” I opened for my beloved, but my beloved had turned and was gone. My heart leaped up when He spoke, I sought Him, but I could not find Him. I called Him, but He gave me no answer.” Christ comes, and if we are not ready for Him, He turns and goes to another house to knock. We may search and seek for days, weeks, months, maybe even years, and still not find Him. The Shulamite was not ready, and so He left and was not found by her. But Christ is always ready to receive a soul that seeks Him in earnest.
Though we may be deserted, there are cures and remedies for this ailment of the soul. 1) Fly to prayer and the promises of God. Prayers are presenting our desires to God, and the one who is full of desires is full of prayer. Go, run quickly into your prayer closet and speak forth all your heart’s desire to the Lord. Do not do this once or twice or three times, but do it until He answers without doubt. Pray without ceasing until the throne room of heaven itself resounds back to you in grace and comfort; and remember the promises of God. His word is true and steadfast. He has promised to return to you after a time. Trust with all your heart that He will fulfill His word, for He is a faithful God. Guard your mind with the Word for emotions and feelings can often shoot us down. They deceive us, where the promises build us up and make our desires into strong towers. 2) Remember that God is your end, and that you are to do all you can to make Him your end. Glorify God in your satisfaction of Him. Our desires for Him will call forth grace to rain down from heaven upon our souls. 3) Quicken your desires after God. The more you labor the more you will receive. The more you reap in Christ, the more you will sow through His grace. It is imperative that you find the cause of your desertion, which may be a sin you have committed. Find the root of that sin and despise it. Pursue your desertion to the birth of that condition and you will find a sin lying there. You may have blatantly sinned, or you may have neglected to do something God pressed you to do. Whatever it is, find the root of it and tear it from your life by the power of the Spirit of God. Many times Christians must retrace their steps back to the place of departure to get back on the road towards the Celestial City. Finally, 4) It is a vain thing to think God will help you if you do not endeavor to help yourself. Christians think sanctification is a free ride. They think this until they are deserted and then find themselves scrapping for bits of grace. But if a soul desires to do the will of God with all its might, God will bring grace to his doorstep once again. You must strive to be the one who runs the race instead of being a spectator.
Desertion is a weighty matter. If you are deserted, do not stop looking for the grace of God until you have found it. The Scriptures exhort us to continue to labor in our work before God, “And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart (Gal. 6:9).” And we should be constant to “work out [our] salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12).” Our desertion is for our good; that we may once again be back into the arms of the Father. Though rain comes today, and the day is miserable, it cannot last. God will move away the clouds and allow the rays of His grace to shine through. But let Him not catch us off guard. Let us be ready before the door to open it quickly before He moves on to another house again.