May 29, 2013

Deserted by God?

3 Min Read

Ever have the nagging worry that maybe God has turned His back on you? Or perhaps, less dramatically, do you sometimes feel numb toward the spiritual things that used to be so exciting? Does the Christian life seem to give less than it promised when you began it? Sinclair Ferguson's experience as a pastor tells him that many more Christians feel these things than will admit to it. If you ever feel this way, or if you work with others who sometimes do, you will find Deserted By God? to be an invaluable resource. At least, that will be the case if you're willing to agree to several of its basic premises.

One of those premises is that a quick fix, much as we long for it when we're hurting, is of little value. Deep, soul-deadening discouragement needs deep treatment, which can only be effected with diligence and over time. Deserted By God? offers help that requires rigorous study of God's Word, both during dark times, when we especially don't feel like rigorous study, and preemptively, to prepare ourselves for the dark times that are sure to come. Here the book proposes two metaphors for preparing oneself for spiritual hard times. One is that of a squirrel burying food now so he can retrieve it when winter comes. The other is that of a pharmacist with shelves stocked full of remedies he knows well and can use to treat whatever ailment should arise.

Another of the book's premises is that nothing heals damaged emotions like good theology. Christians are so often in a hurry to cut to the chase and get to the "practical" part of any lesson or study. Ferguson maintains that it is diligent, disciplined reflection on the nature and attributes of God that will restore our ability to see clearly and to know true joy, in spite of what our emotions might be telling us about our circumstances.

A third premise of Deserted By God? is that, while there are all kinds of legitimate causes for discouragement, and while discouragement itself is not sin, we have choices as to how we will respond. Ferguson's style is pastoral throughout. He deals with human frailty gently and with understanding, recognizing a multitude of valid reasons for depression. Yet he insists that there are specific actions we can take and particular thoughts we must think if we're not going to continue to wallow in our misery.

Ferguson offers those solutions by working through a number of psalms that were written as expressions of human distress. Among other things, he looks, through the lenses of psalms, at human responses to physical suffering (Ps. 102), emotional discouragement (Ps. 42-43), circumstances that create the desire to escape (Ps. 55), disappointment with what we have (Ps. 131), and the weight of the evils and injustices endemic to a fallen world (Ps. 73). Of course, he also looks at depression caused by guilt (the chapter discussing Psalm 51 was my personal favorite), and at the discouragement that comes from the fear that we never will be righteous like we should be (parts of Ps. 119).

The book offers studies on ten psalms. Each study is a thoughtful, mini-commentary, highly practical in nature. Since, in every case of discouragement, the solution comes in our seeing who God is and how He meets our particular need of the moment, the book is highly devotional and worshipful as well.

Nor does Ferguson fail to keep Christ at the center of the Psalms' teaching. For example, as he discusses that best-loved of all psalms, the twenty-third, he draws these conclusions in considering the line "Your rod and your staff, they comfort me." Jesus is our Shepherd; He told us so in John 10. A shepherd uses his rod to fight off the sheep's enemies. Our Shepherd's rod is His cross, where He defeated all who would prey on our souls. A shepherd uses his staff to guide his sheep and to pull wandering ones back to himself. Our Shepherd's staff is His Word, with which He directs our steps. Since this Shepherd laid down His life for us, going even to the cross to meet our needs, we can be sure that we "shall not want." And when we fall, He will restore our souls—not grudgingly, muttering that we've failed yet again, but, as He Himself said when describing the shepherd in His parable, in a spirit of joy and celebration that His lost sheep has been found.

Gently, faithfully, and with compassion, Deserted By God? answers its title question in the negative, as far as any of God's people is concerned. Reasons for being certain that we have not been deserted by God and means for restoring peace and hope to our discouraged souls are held out, in the hands of the psalmists, to any who will reach out to receive them.