The following is an excerpt from Jesus, Continued…: Why the Spirit Inside You Is Better Than Jesus Beside You.

If you think being filled by the Holy Spirit means an endless series of miracles, burning bushes, still, small voices, warm fuzzies, and sensations of peace that pass all understanding, then you are going to be disappointed.

The greatest (and most honest) saints have always confessed that they had to walk through many valleys with no sense of God’s presence. Sometimes they nearly went deaf from the heavenly silence. Often they stumbled helplessly in what felt like total darkness. C. S. Lewis wrote that during one of the most painful times of his life, he cried out to God and got:

…a door slammed in [my] face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence. You may as well turn away. The longer you wait, the more emphatic the silence will become.[1]

Somehow, these honest words seldom make it into anyone’s list of “favorite C. S. Lewis quotes.”

Have you ever felt this way?

Just because God feels absent doesn’t mean that he actually is. Just because you can’t track his footprints doesn’t mean he’s not walking beside you. If you’re a believer, that feeling of being alone is always an illusion. Here’s how I know:

Right before Jesus died, Jesus experienced true aloneness, true abandonment—and he did it so that you would never have to experience it. He had come to the garden of Gethsemane to commune with the Father and found instead an eternal coffin gaping open before him. The crucifixion, you see, started long before the nails pierced Jesus’ hands. In the garden, God already had begun to turn his face away.

Why is this good news? The essence of the cross was substitution. Jesus faced our aloneness—the utter abandonment we had brought upon ourselves through our sin—so that you and I would never have to. The Father turned his face away from his Son so that the Father would never have to turn his face away from us.

So when we feel abandoned—that’s all it is, a feeling. A lying, deceptive feeling. It has to be. Jesus faced the full measure of our aloneness in our place and put it away forever. By his death, he reconciled us to God, so that we can know he will never leave us or forsake us. In some strange way we can never hope to comprehend, he was abandoned . . . for us.

The Father turned his face away from his Son so we could boldly approach the throne of grace with confidence. Because of Gethsemane, we can know he feels our every pain, hears our every petition, and never takes his affectionate eye off of us. We are literally “engraved on the palms of his hands” (Isa. 49:16). Because Jesus prayed, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” we can cry with confidence, “Abba, Father” (that is, “My Daddy”)!

So what do you do when you feel alone?

Simply: walk by faith, not by sight. You must re-believe the gospel, that God has removed the full extent of the curse—all that could ever separate you from him—and has given you Christ’s complete righteousness in its place. You must re-believe that in his finished work you couldn’t be closer to him than you are right now, regardless of how you feel. And you must reclaim the promises of God, almost all of which are made to us for times in which God appears distant.

The gospel declares to us that God has made himself close to us in Christ, holding us even tighter than a mother holds a newborn child (Isa. 49:15). When our feelings tell us that is not true, we must defy those feelings with faith in God’s promise.

So when you can’t “feel” God, be assured, he’s there. The cross assures you that he is. He will never leave you nor forsake you. Nothing can ever separate you from his love. He has united himself, through his Spirit, inextricably to you. And just as with David, and Esther, and Moses, and Joseph, and Paul, the Holy Spirit is likely doing his best work in you in those dark times.

[1] C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1961), 17.