I will not leave you comfortless, Jesus says in John 14:18, in his last words to his disciples before his crucifixion. I will come to you.
Another translation says orphaned, instead of comfortless. I think you could also read it as abandoned.
Over the last seven months, I’ve wrestled hard with isolation and loneliness. There’s a narrative of abandonment that runs through my head anytime a friend seems to forget me or leaves me behind, and last year, that happened twice, leaving me feeling hollow and expendable. I sunk deeper into darkness than I ever remember going, arguing with myself the whole way down. Help me was my one consistent prayer. My shame-filled eyes wouldn’t dare look up.
I reached a breaking point toward the beginning of this month. Sick of the gloom I was living in, I started developing a hatred for my own sinful patterns that put me there.
It’s a hard truth to swallow that we are often the source of our own pain. Not that others never hurt us or are absolved of all responsibility. But our own evil hearts—my own evil heart—try to salve the wounds inflicted by others with ointments that can only cause infection.
My loneliness, my isolation, my sense of abandonment, is painful and in some sense real. But how do I respond to that pain? Do I run to distractions, to temporary pleasures that only leave me feeling more alone? Or do I seek connection? Bring myself to people I can trust, communicate my needs honestly, and seek to be a giver, not just a taker, in relationships?
The idea—in fact, the promise—that Jesus himself will not leave me comfortless, orphaned, or abandoned enables me to rest. Take a breath, ask God to help my unbelief, and lean in to the terrifying possibility of new friendship, new depths of relationship, that though painful at times could lead to fuller healing of myself and a sharpening of God’s image in me.
What could this promise mean for us now, in the time of coronavirus?
First of all, welcome to that work-from-home life. I’ve been working from home since I started freelancing in 2017 (with a break last year during my internship). Working from home is hard and it can be lonely. The fact that this home life isn’t just for work, but for play and everything else in between, just makes it harder.
What we’re living through is unprecedented and it remains to be seen exactly what it will be. We are living through history and it’s not glamorous.
Coronavirus is raising a lot of worthwhile questions about:
- who we should value as a society (healthcare workers, teachers, grocery store staff)
- what is crucial for survival (toilet paper, obviously)
- what the heck corporate responsibility is (foreign idea for Americans)
and on the spiritual side, the age-old question of how a good God could allow horrible suffering.
I won’t attempt to answer that question here, but in the face of pain and confusion, I offer John 14:18:
I will not leave you comfortless [orphaned, abandoned]: I will come to you.
These are the words of Jesus before he goes to the cross, before the God of the universe embraces our suffering in his undeserved death.
God is good and suffering is real, but God does not hold us or our pain at arm’s length. He’s not distant. He enters in, takes the weight of both our sin and our suffering upon himself. He’s come to us. And perhaps now he is closer than before.
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