On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”
Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”
From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.
“You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.
Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”
Then Jesus replied, “Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!” (He meant Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, who, though one of the Twelve, was later to betray him.)
- John 6:60-71
Be not deceived, Wormwood, our cause is never more in jeopardy than when a human, no longer desiring but still intending to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe in which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.
- C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters
It is important when reading The Screwtape Letters, to understand that the Enemy is God. Screwtape, the senior demon who writes the letters, may be a made up name, but his nephew Wormwood is named after the star in Revelation 8:11.
How many times have you been in this situation? You call upon God every day for a month of Sundays, and it’s like no one is there. Could it be that God is busy doing other things? Or could it be that your ‘great idea’ that needed God’s backing was your idea and not God’s idea?
I’ve been there. King David had been there too. Just read Psalm 13. There are a few more Psalms that ask where God is, making allusions to the concept that God is either hiding or God has other things on His mind. If you read these psalms of frustration and lament, note that David always has at least a verse or two about praise to God.
That leads us to the passage from the book of John. Jesus has just talked about being the Bread of Life. The disciples grumble about the teaching being too hard. Note that Jesus had already fed the 5,000, but these disciples were taking things too literally. They were thinking that Jesus was saying that He is bread, thus He multiplied the bread. Some drifted away. But we know that at least twelve remained.
Their confusion seemed to perplex Jesus. He knew who was His. He knew that they would eventually understand with the help of the Holy Spirit, but he asked why the twelve were still there.
Peter replied, in essence, “We are kind of stuck here. We have no place else to go.”
Could this be what motivated C. S. Lewis to write the quoted line above in the letters from the senior demon, Screwtape?
Peter does as King David had done. He laments his lack of understanding, but he leaves the sovereignty of the Universe up to God. Peter praises Jesus by saying that Jesus is the Holy One of God. Sure, we don’t have a clue what You are talking about, Jesus, but we will still obey and follow You.
At times, you will fear that you are praying to the wall instead of the God who loved you so much that He gave His Son to die for you. (Okay, you may be built of stronger stuff than I am.) When that happens, pray Psalm 13. It’s only six verses.
How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
for he has been good to me.
- Psalm 13 (NIV)
When you have prayed Psalm 13 once, pray it again and again. At some point, you will start feeling a little silly. Has God ever forgotten us? No! But, we have forgotten Him at times.
Pray it some more. Then, you will realize that God knew the sorrow in our hearts, but we were too busy feeling sorry for ourselves, for God to heal that sorrow. At this point, we might even laugh at our own situation. Not the problem that we couldn’t solve that led to our despair, but the situation that we put ourselves in by not trusting God in the first place.
We might look at the remaining verses. Will our enemies laugh at our misfortune? Of course, but we’ll have the last laugh. The laughter of our enemies should mean nothing to us. Yes, the school yard taunts still carry bad memories. Words can hurt, but God is the Great Healer.