This post is my fourth in a series on dealing with feelings of abandonment along the way in our life and ministry here in Mozambique. To read the previous posts, check them out here, here and here.
There is a quote attributed to Uncle Screwtape that I find fascinating. C.S. Lewis' book, The Screwtape Letters, is a fictionalized series of correspondence between two demons where the more experienced one attempts to pass on his knowledge of the human condition to his young apprentice.
"You must have often wondered why the enemy [God] does not make use of his power to be sensibly present to human souls in any degree he chooses and at any moment. But you now see that the irresistible and the indisputable are the two weapons which the very nature of his scheme forbids him to use. Merely to over-ride a human will (as his felt presence in any but the faintest and most mitigated degree would certainly do) would be for him useless. He cannot ravish. He can only woo. For his ignoble idea is to eat his cake and have it; the creatures are to be one with him, but yet themselves; merely to cancel them, or assimilate them will not serve... Sooner or later he withdraws, if not in fact, at least from their conscious experience, all supports and incentives. He leaves the creature to stand on its own legs - to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish... He cannot 'tempt' to virtue as we do to vice. He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away his hand... Our cause is never in more danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our enemy's will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of him seems to have vanished and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys."
As I have wrestled with feelings of abandonment, this quote has done as much as any other to help weather those emotional storms. Lewis speaks of abandonment in the way God removes himself and allows us, as his creatures, the freedom to choice. God risks his hopes and dreams for humanity to allow us to choose to love and trust him. And from Lewis' perspective abandonment is a key element in spiritual formation. The end of Uncle Screwtape's description of the state of abandonment, though, has particularly captured my imagination. It is powerful enough to warrant quoting again:
"Our cause is never in more danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our enemy's will [God's will], looks round upon a universe from which every trace of him [God] seems to have vanished and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys."
Whatever I may think about the origin of my feelings of abandonment, this quote reminds me that the most appropriate and powerful response on my part is endurance and faithfulness.
Let's not be mistaken, though. What Lewis is referencing is not a "blind faith." He is not saying that Christians should be unthinking automatons, robots that run on pre-programmed trust. No, what Lewis is doing here is painting a picture of real faith. Real faith means counting the cost, knowing that God's hand has been removed for that moment (or moments) and still choosing to step, eyes wide open, into the dark, trusting that at some point down the pitch-black path that there will be a ray of light.
And the part that gives me strength is remembering this: when we make that choice to remain faithful even when we feel we've been abandoned and left on our own, the powers and structures of this world that are opposed to God's kingdom purposes have absolutely NO defense for that. If we consistently take Jesus' path in those moments, there is nothing that can defeat us.
May we be a people who even in the midst of abandonment, choose faithfulness and endurance.
Grace and Peace,