I Have Questions Week 2- Never Gone
WHAT? What are we talking about today?
STORY | Talk about a time you felt abandoned.
Last week, we started this series by talking about how the pain and problems in the world can sometimes leave us wondering where God is. But today I want us to get a little more personal. Today I want to talk about how it feels when pain and problems show up in our own lives.
INSTRUCTIONS: Tell a story from your own life (or ask a student or volunteer to tell a story) about a time you felt abandoned, either by God or by people. It doesn't matter what the problem was — what matters is identifying a moment when you were hurting but felt like no one was by your side.
On November 17, 2012, Jose Salvador Alvarenga, a fisherman from El Salvador, set out from the fishing village of Costa Azul, off the coast of Chiapas, Mexico. An experienced sailor, he was intent on a 30-hour shift of deep-sea fishing, during which he hoped to catch sharks, marlins, and sailfish. His usual fishing mate was unable to join him, so he arranged instead to bring along the inexperienced 23-year-old Ezequiel Córdoba.
Shortly after embarking, their boat, a 23 foor topless fiberglass skiff, was blown off course by a storm that lasted five days, during which the motor and most of the portable electronics were damaged. Though they had caught nearly 1,100 lbs of fresh fish, the pair were forced to dump it overboard to make the boat maneuverable in the bad weather. Alvarenga managed to call his boss on a two-way radio and request help before the radio's battery died.Having neither sails nor oars, no anchor, no running lights, and no other way to contact shore, the boat began to drift across the open ocean. Much of the fishing gear was also lost or damaged in the storm, leaving them with only a handful of basic supplies and little food.
The search party organized by Alvarenga's employer failed to find any trace of the missing men and gave up after two days because visibility was poor. As days turned to weeks, they learned to scavenge their food from whatever sources presented themselves. Alvarenga managed to catch fish, turtles, jellyfish, and seabirds with his bare hands, and the pair occasionally salvaged bits of food and plastic refuse floating in the water. They collected drinking water from rainfall when possible, but more frequently were forced to drink turtle blood or their own urine. Alvarenga frequently dreamed about his favorite foods, as well as his parents.
According to Alvarenga, Córdoba lost all hope around four months into the voyage after becoming sick from the raw food, and eventually died from starvation by refusing to eat. Alvarenga has said that he contemplated suicide for four days after Córdoba died, but his Christian faith prevented him from doing so. He said that Córdoba made him promise not to eat his corpse after he died, so he kept it on the boat. He sometimes spoke to the corpse, and after six days, feared he was becoming insane, so he threw it overboard.
Alvarenga reported that he saw numerous container ships but was unable to get help from them. He kept track of time by counting the phases of the moon. After counting his 15th lunar cycle, he spotted land: a tiny, desolate islet, which turned out to be a remote corner of the Marshall Islands… in ASIA! On January 30, 2014, he abandoned his boat and swam to shore, where he stumbled upon a beach house owned by a local couple. His journey had lasted 438 days.
The length of his voyage has been variously calculated as 5,500 to 6,700 miles.
He was in bad shape, but survived this ordeal as being completely alone for a year.
Have you ever felt all alone in life?
In life, sometimes we'll experience hurt that makes us question if anyone cares and wonder if we're all alone. Has a hurt or challenge in your own life ever left you asking questions about God? Maybe you wonder why God hasn't fixed it. Maybe you wonder if God even cares about you, or if God has just abandoned you. Whether it's a bully at school, the loss of a friendship or loved one, an unexpected illness, or a difficulty at home, it's inevitable that we'll experience some pretty deep hurt. When life is painful, it makes sense to wonder, "When I'm hurting, why does God feel far away?"
SO WHAT? Why does it matter to God and to us?
IMAGE | City Streets During the Pandemic
INSTRUCTIONS: As you teach, show two images of the same street — once before the COVID-19 pandemic and one during. Here's a "before" image and a "during" image of 6th Avenue in New York City.
In March of 2020, at the start of the United States' shut down due to the COVID-19 virus, New York City, known for its busy streets, saw its city change nearly overnight. It sometimes seemed like everyone had disappeared.
Everyone felt the hurt caused by the pandemic in some way. You may have . . .
Been stuck at home for a long time. Seen family members lose their jobs. Had an important event canceled or postponed. Gone too long without a hug from someone you love. Experienced fear and anxiety like you hadn't felt before. Or even lost a friend or family member. Even though the whole world was impacted and hurting at the same time, so many of us felt alone, isolated, and far away — from others, but maybe from God too.
SCRIPTURE | Psalm 22
I don't know about you, but I've sometimes thought I wasn't allowed question God. I've believed it's sinful to doubt, shameful to be angry with God, or a sign of weak faith to have questions. But if you open the Bible, you'll find its pages are full of people expressing questions and frustrations about what God does or doesn't do when they're hurting or in trouble. Check out some of the words to this psalm. It's a song written by King David, a man the Bible calls "a man after God's own heart."
INSTRUCTIONS: Read Psalm 22:1-2, 6-8, 11. These may be some of the loudest and most painful words any person could ever pray. "God, why have you abandoned me? Why are you so far away?"
SCRIPTURE | Psalm 42:9-11
In another psalm, the author expresses something similar.
INSTRUCTIONS: Read Psalm 42:9-11
I say to God my Rock, “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?” My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long, “Where is your God?” Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.
The authors of these psalms felt abandoned by God in their pain and they said so. If God didn't want us to be honest about those feelings, do you think these words would have made them into the Bible? Probably not. So what are we supposed to do in moments like these? How does the author of this psalm manage to move from questioning God in verse 9 to trusting God would save him in verse 11?
SCRIPTURE | Matthew 27:39-46
Centuries after these psalms were first written by people who were in pain and feeling far from God, they were quoted by someone else who was in pain and feeling far from God. When Jesus was suffering and dying, He cried out to God and quoted these psalms. Jesus asked, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?"
INSTRUCTIONS: Read Matthew 27:39-46
Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!” In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’ ” In the same way the rebels who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him. From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).
There has been a lot of discussion about why Jesus would say this. After all, He was God, so His faith in God was perfect . . . right?
It's thought Jesus quoted these passages to make it clear He was the Savior humanity had been waiting for. Many think it has to do with Jesus carrying the sins of the whole world, and how all of that sin really did make God turn away from Jesus for a moment. And everyone would agree Jesus spoke these words from a place of deep pain, physically and spiritually.
SCRIPTURE | Hebrews 1:1-3a
The psalmists asked if God had abandoned them. Jesus asked if God had abandoned Him. Now, as I read this next passage, I want you to wonder about the question, "When I'm hurting, why does God feel far away?" See if you can come to any conclusions. INSTRUCTIONS: Read Hebrews 1:1-3a
In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.
Through Jesus, this passage says we know that . . .
With Jesus, God didn't just speak through words or through prophets. God became a human named Jesus so we could hear from God Himself. Jesus is the exact representation of God. If you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus. So if we want to know if God would abandon us when we're hurting, all we need to do is look to Jesus for an answer. When we look at Him, here's what we see:
God isn't far away.
In Jesus, God came to earth to be close to us.
God doesn't leave us when we're hurting.
In Jesus, God actually came to earth in order to reach out to us.
God isn't disconnected from our hurt.
In Jesus, God lived a whole life on earth, then suffered and died. Because of Jesus' humanity, God understands our pain.
God doesn't ignore our hurt.
Jesus shows us God's heart is full of compassion, care, and love for us. So if you've ever wondered,
"When I’m hurting, why does God feel far away?" remember this: Jesus does not abandon you. In fact, He does the opposite. In your pain, He's not far away. He's actually reaching for you.
NOW WHAT? What does God want us to do about it?
VIDEO | A Clip from "Coping With Trauma As a Family," by Beleaf in Fatherhood
If you think about everyone in this room right now, there are so many things going on in our lives — and so much hurt. For many of you, your hurt might just be a small thing you'll have forgotten about in a few days. But for others, your hurt is ongoing. No matter what kind of hurt you're feeling right now, here's a question. When you're hurting, do you ever pause and consider what you're feeling?
When we're hurting, it is hard to decipher all of our emotions in the moment. We might feel angry, sad, anxious, tired, lonely . . . But when we pause, God is better able to meet us where we are, help us see what we're feeling, and then meet us there. When we're hurting, I imagine God responds to us like this dad responded to his baby.
INSTRUCTIONS: As a teaching tool, play a short clip from a video like this one (1:10-1:45 and 2:53-3:53) of a dad teaching his crying daughter to pause and breathe.
Just like this dad, God knows it's not surface-level struggles that cause our meltdowns. It's piled-up hurts — little things and big things, like . . .
A fight with a friend. Tension at home. A disappointing performance or grade. Insecurities. Often feeling lonely or out of place. An embarrassing moment you can't stop thinking about. A secret fear or struggle few people know about. When life hurts, it takes time for us to sort things out. But God is there with us, like the dad in this video, ready to hold us, help us breathe, and teach us to work through the pain.
RESPONSE | Pause and . . .
INSTRUCTIONS: Before your teaching time, print and cut the handouts provided in your Week 2 folder on card stock. Place one under each seat, along with a pen.
In that video we just watched, that dad did a lot of things right, but did you notice where it all started? It started with a pause. When we're hurting, it's not always easy to remember or believe God is with us, but here are some practical ways we can try to remind ourselves of what's true. Write down one, or two, or three of these things you think could help you next time you're hurt, frustrated, or feeling abandoned by God. Pause and then . . .
TAKE A MINUTE: Collect yourself. Find a place to be alone and silent.
BREATHE: Literally. With each breath in, tell God how you feel. With each breath out, ask for God's help.
MOVE: Go for a walk in the park or around your neighborhood — somewhere you can get away from noise and distractions. Talk to God while you walk.
JOURNAL: You don't need to write in a journal every day if that's not your thing, but see what kind of a difference it can make to write out your thoughts (either by hand or on your phone) once every few days. Write what you're feeling, thinking, wrestling with, or praying about. You might find that slowing down long enough to write out your thoughts is already a step in the right direction.
GO TO YOUR FRIENDS: When you're hurting or questioning God, don't do it alone. Instead of isolating, engage even more deeply with your friends who are trying to follow Jesus. Text each other. Pray for each other. Encourage each other.
GO TO GOD. Open the Bible, start a new reading plan, or just simply pray — because, remember, God isn't far away, even when it feels like it. God is always available to you.
MUSIC | “Our Psalm 23” (Common Hymnal)
When we read from the psalms a few minutes ago, we read some passages of frustration, fear, and doubt. But the same psalmists who wrote those words also wrote words filled with trust and praise.
Sometimes, when we're feeling like God is far away, the best thing we can do is to reach out through prayer or worship. When we do, we always find God was reaching for us first. As we sing, tell God how much you believe these words. And if you're not sure if you do or not, ask God to help you believe them.
INSTRUCTIONS: Play the song Psalm 23 by Phil Wickham
Remember, you're not alone if you've ever asked the question, "When I'm hurting, why does God feel far away?" The authors of the psalms asked the same question. So did Jesus. So have I. So have many people in this room. I hope you're able to leave today believing a little more strongly that God is always close. But it's okay if you're still wondering and understandable if you're still hurting. Just remember . . .
God isn't angry at you for having questions. God isn't disappointed in you for having feelings. God isn't fazed when you wonder if God has abandoned you. Whatever you're feeling, thinking, wondering, or questioning, God can handle it. In your pain, God hasn't left you. Jesus is present, He understands, He loves you, and He's reaching out for you too.