Why God Hides His Face From The Righteous

by Dr. Jack Hyles (1926-2001)

(Chapter 7 from Dr. Hyle's excellent book, From Vapor to Floods)

        "For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee. In a little wrath I hid My face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the Lord thy Redeemer." Isaiah 54:7, 8

Are you sitting here this morning as one who seems temporarily forsaken by God? Have you sought the will of God and found it evasive? Have you prayed and found your prayers bouncing back in your face? Have you ever come to the place in your life when you examined your heart and you honestly knew there was no gross sin in your life, you knew you were sincere and you knew you were willing to do God's will, yet when you came to God, it was as if He had turned His back on you and had hid His face from you?

        It seems that God sometimes says to His people, "Don't inquire of Me. Just don't bother Me."

        Often in the Bible God seems to hide His face. God hid His face from Cain. In Deuteronomy 31:17, 18 God said, "I will hide My face from them." In Deuteronomy 32:20 God said, "I will hide My face from them." In Job 13:24 Job said, "Wherefore hidest Thou Thy face?" In Psalm 13:1, David said, "How long wilt Thou hide They face from me?" In Psalm 44:24 David asked, "Wherefore hidest Thou Thy face?" In Psalm 88:14 David asked the Lord, "Why hidest Thou Thy face from me?" It seems that David lived in constant fear that God would once again turn His face from him.

        The worst thing about hell is that God has turned His face from those who are there. God's presence is not there. I do believe that hell is fire. I have no patience with these people-be they preachers, evangelists or theologians-who say that hell may or may not be fire. Hell is fire because God says hell is fire! However, the worst thing about hell is that God is not there. God has hidden His face. There is eternal separation from God.

        Do you recall the awfulness about the Garden of Eden? When Adam and Eve sinned they ran and hid themselves from God. Sin had separated them from God. I think that is the worst thing about the cross. Jesus prayed a prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, "Father, if Thou be willing, remove this cup from Me: nevertheless not My will, but Thine, be done." Perhaps the cup that He hated to bear was the cup of the sins of all the world. The Father would notice that the Son was bearing our sins, and being a holy and righteous God and not willing to look upon sin, He would turn His back upon His Son. The Son of God, Jesus Christ Himself, between Heaven and Hell, was alone. The Father had hidden His face from Him.

        It is easy to understand why God would hide His face from Cain. He had sinned against God and killed his brother. It is easy to understand why God would hide His face from David. David committed the sins with Bath-sheba and Uriah. Yet, why would God sometimes come to His people when they are not in sin and hid His face? Every person in this house this morning has come to this place. You pray every day. You read your Bible. You come to church. You love God. Yet for some unknown reason, you do not feel as you once felt. Some say, "I feel like God has turned His back on me." Sometimes, God does hide His face from us. Why? Why would God hide His face from a person who is trying to serve Him? I think I know why. There are three reasons to which I call your attention this morning.


1. He Wants to Keep Us Closer to Him.

        Did you know that one can get so busy building a school that he is not as close to God as he should be? Brother Helton, you can get so busy as Registrar of the school that God will say, "I wish you would spend more time with Me. I wish you would get closer to Me. When you got saved, you didn't have all the things to do you have now. You used to spend more time with Me."

        So God turns His face and Mr. Helton says, "Hey, Lord, where are you?"

        The Lord says, "I'm not going to tell him where I am. I'm going to let him fret for awhile."

        My mother used to go downtown a lot. The biggest day in the week was when we went downtown. We'd get on the streetcar and go downtown Dallas. We went to Grand and Silver's Five and Ten Cent Store. They had the best malted milks you have ever tasted. Mama would say, "Son, you stay close to me now." So I'd stay close. Oh, their popcorn always smelled so good. McCrory's was right next door and Kresge's was right down the street. I'd smell that popcorn, and I'd say, "Mama, could I have some popcorn?"

        Mama would say, "Son, I don't have any money for popcorn."

        So I'd sit around and every now and them somebody would drop some popcorn, and I'd catch it before it would hit the floor. Mama would say, "Son, you stay close to me."

        I'd say, "Okay," and then I'd smell that candy. There's nothing like a candy counter at a five-and-dime! (I don't go around them to this day. I used to couldn't afford it money-wise; now I can't afford it stomach-wise!)

        Mother would say, "Son, stay close to me."

        I'd say, "Okay," but I would keep drifting away. Then all of a sudden, I'd say, "Mama? Mama!" Then I'd holler, "MAMA! MAMA!" There were a thousand mothers who would say, "Yes?" A lot of "Mamas" were there, you know.

        I'd say, "Mama, Mama, I want my Mama!"

        I'd find out later what she'd done. Do you know what she had done? She had hidden herself. She hid behind a counter and let me cry awhile. Then all of a sudden she jumped out and said, "Now then, are you going to stay close to Mama?" I'll tell you one thing! My little hand hung on to her skirt the rest of the day. I never got away. I knew what it was to be away from Mama. I knew what it was not to be close to her. I knew what it was to be downtown Dallas, and all I could see were knew. I was just a little, short fellow. (Nowadays, you can see knees if you're a big tall fellow.) I'd say, "Mama! Mama! Mama!" I knew what it was to be away from Mother with no car fare to get back home. I would think, "Oh, what will I do? I guess I'll just die down here. I have no way to get home and nothing to eat and my mama's gone!" So, when she returned I would hold tightly on to her skirt. That's what the Lord does sometimes.

        God says, "I want to stay close to Me." I don't mean that you have gone into deep sin. I don't mean that you have killed anybody lately. I don't mean that you have gotten drunk or been lustful. I don't mean that you have cursed and lied. I don't mean that you have cheated and stolen. You have been doing good. You are busy with the choir. You are busy with the school. You are busy with the bus. You are busy with the visitation. You are busy with the church work. You are busy with the work of God, with the Sunday school department. Yet, you have forgotten that the whole purpose of the Christian life is that God might redeem to Himself a peculiar people who will fellowship with Himself. You are so busy. The Lord says, "Okay, I'm going to turn My back."

        We say, "Oh, God, where are You?" We go to the pastor and say, "I don't feel like I used to feel."

        After awhile the Lord says, "Okay, I'm going to come back now and turn My face toward you."

        Then you say, "Oh, Lord, it is so good to see Your face again! I thought you would never come back!"

        That is what the Lord means when He says, "I turned my back on you for a little while that I might redeem you with everlasting mercy. I have hidden My face from you for a moment that I might have you all the time."

        Let me ask you a question this morning, young people. Do you know you can get so busy even in a Christian school that you forget to be close to God?

        Dr. Billings and faculty, it is easy for a Christian to have the right skirt length and the right hair length, to teach scholarship, to require the boys and girls to say, "Yes, sir," and "Yes, ma'am," and yet lose God's presence. That can happen even though there are no riots or revolution. It is easy for us fundamental people who walk straight and live right to get so busy in our right things that we forget to stay close to God. Sometimes the Lord comes to a school teacher behind the desk and says, "I am going to hide My face awhile. She is not talking to Me enough. She is not close enough to Me."

        Let me say, dear friends, the thing that God wants more than He wants anything else in this world is for His children to walk with Him.

        When Becky was a little girl about five, I said, "Becky, do you want to go to the grocery store?"

        Becky said, "Oh, goody, goody, goody! I get to go to the grocery store with Daddy. Goody, goody, goody!"

        When she got to be about seventeen, I said, "Do you want to go to London, Paris, Jerusalem, Nazareth, Jericho, Capernaum, Rome, Athens and Cairo with Daddy?"

        She said, "No, I want to stay here with Tim."

        Who is Tim? He was her boyfriend.

        Becky was home visiting not long ago and I was leaving the house. She said, "Where are you going, Dad?"

        I said, "I'm going up to the store."

        Becky said, "Can I go? Can I go?" What joy it gave to me!

        The dear Lord says, "Dr. Billings, I can recall when you were a young Christian. You would go with Me to the store and we would talk and fellowship. You didn't have to take care of all the faculty in those days. You didn't have to take care of the schools, Baptist City, the carpets, the lockers, the colors of the walls, the wallpaper, the foundation, the ordering of the furniture and the chairs and all of that." I think that the Lord sometimes says, "I wish old Bob Billings would get closer to Me."

        He could say about me, "Hyles gets so busy traveling and trying to save the country, to stir the preachers, to get the people right, to get the job done and to get preachers on fire that I think I'll turn My back."


2. He Wants Us to Depend More on Him.

        I have a sermon that I consider the best sermon I have. I preached it here and we had a great service. I preached it somewhere else and we had a great service. So one time I was in a hurry and I had about fifteen minutes to get from the airplane to the service. I ran to the pulpit and was huffing and puffing. (I needed a shave.) I said, "Lord help me. I'm going to preach the best one I've got because this one never has failed." I opened my Bible and said, "Now open your Bible to a certain-certain passage," and I started on the introduction. Do you know what? The Lord forsook me! I got in the middle of that sermon and I said, "Is this the same sermon?" I began to stutter and stammer. The people were wiping their eyes, not from tears, but from boredom. I thought, "Good night! I thought I was a pretty good preacher. I thought this was a pretty good sermon. This is the best one I've got. Boy, what if I had preached the worst one?" After I got through, I went to my room and I said, "Lord, what is wrong?"

        The Lord seemed to say, "I had to turn My back on you a bit to let you know that it is not the sermon that gets the job done; it's walking with Me and depending on Me."

        Oh, I wonder sometimes if we get to the place where we think "Well, we've got the machinery here at the First Baptist Church; we have the school; we have the church; we have the Sunday school," but we don't depend on God.

        My dad was a big man. Oh, he must have weighed 235. He was a wrestler when he was young. The strongest man I ever met was my dad. Really!

        We had an old clunk of a car. We would pay $25 for a car. Sometimes it would run and sometimes it wouldn't. I used to say, "Daddy, can I 'dwive'?"

        I'd get in my dad's lap. (I can still feel his hands around mine.) I'd put my hands on the steering wheel and drive and say, "Hey, Mama, I'm driving!" Daddy would hold his hands on mine.

        Then I'd say, "I want to drive by myself."

        "Now, son, let me help you. You're a good driver, but let me help you."

        "I want to drive by myself."


        "I can drive by myself, can't I, Mama?" She never answered for some strange reason.

        Daddy would say, "Now you're a good driver, son, but you'd better let Daddy help you."

        "I want to drive by myself!" We'd get out on some country road where the ditch wasn't too deep, and I'd say, "I want to drive by myself!"

        Daddy would say, "Okay." So I'd drive by myself. All of a sudden, I'd see something that I wanted to see out at the side. When I'd look at that, we'd run off the road out in the field.

        Then I said, "Daddy, help me drive! Help me drive!"

        There are a lot of people this morning in this room who are the same way. Oh, there was a day when you said, "Oh, God, give me strength. Lord, help me to have the victory. I used to drink. I want victory over the bottle. I used to smoke. I want victory over the cigarette. I used to curse. Give me the victory." Every morning you got up and said, "Help me today, just today." The day came when you said, "I want to drive by myself."

        The Lord said, "You had better let Me keep My hand on your hand."

        "I want to drive by myself!"

        I got a letter the other day from a fine man. He said, "I'm not much the kind to seek counsel."

        He is a fool. Nobody ever gets to the place where he can drive by himself.

        Solomon said, "In the multitude of counsellors there is safety." Proverbs 11:14; 24:6.

        Young people, there is no wisdom in driving yourself. Somebody somewhere has gotten the idea that it is manly to say, "Nobody tells me what to do." It is not manly; it's idiotic!

        One of our preacher boys said a few years ago, "I make my own decisions now."

        Brother Jim Lyons asked him, "Why?"

        "Well," he said, "I used to call Brother Hyles, but now I figure I'm big enough. I'm going to have to do it my own some of these days. I'm just going ahead and making my own decisions."

        He did. He went in the ditch. His church died. He had to quit the church. It wasn't because he didn't call me; it was because he said, "I want to drive by myself." Nobody does that.

        Oh, sometimes we drive and the Lord says, "Let Me hold your hand." The Lord holds our hands and everything is okay. Then we get a little cocky, don't we? Our only hope is that we let the hand of God be on our hand and let the hand of God direct and steer us.

        Yes, sometimes the dear Lord turns His back. Recently I went to the pulpit with a burdened heart. My heart was broken, and I said, "God, I can't do it by myself. I can't make it by myself. I have to have Your help! You know, that is the time when we have our best services.

        Other times someone has gotten up and said, "We are glad to have Dr. Hyles with us this morning. Dr. Hyles is pastoring the great First Baptist Church in Hammond."

        I said to myself, "Yeah, that's me."

        "Dr. Hyles has written eighteen books."

        "Yeah, and nineteen coming up, too."

        Then I got up to preach and stuttered and stammered. The Lord wants me to know that it is Dr. Jesus, not Dr. Hyles! The Lord wants me to know that it is His mighty arm, not my little weak arm. If only we could learn the lesson that our very sustenance depends on Him; our breath depends on Him; our hope depends on Him; our strength depends on Him; our Sunday school depends on Him; our college depends on Him; our high school depends on Him. We have to say, "Oh, dear God, we are weak. We may be Dr. Hyles, Dr. Billings and Dr. Evans, but we are just a bunch of helpless, needy people that can do nothing without the hand of blessing of God!"

        I used to play every kind of sport in the world. I am a "Jack-of-all-sports" and a master of none. I can play all sports fairly well. I am not an expert in any of them. I know all sports and follow them and can play most any sport. As a boy I would get up in the morning and play sports until it was so late in the evening that we couldn't see the ball. Then I would hear mother's voice, "Son, come in!"

        "Just a minute, Mama!"

        "I said, 'Son, come in!'"

        "Just a minute, Mama."

        One night when I went in it was dark. "I'm home, Mama!" There was no mama. I was only about nine. "Mama, I'm home!" There was no mama. I said, "Mama. Mama? I want my mama!"

        Mama had hidden in the closet. I cried and I cried. I was thinking that my mama was dead or that my mama had gone off or that my mama had been kidnapped. When she came out of that closet, she never looked so pretty. I said to myself, "I'm going to come home right away next time."

        The Lord says, "Jack, I want you to depend on Me."

        I say, "But Lord, I can make it by myself."

        We are like the fellow sliding off the roof of a two-story house. He said, "Help me, Lord! Save me!" All of a sudden his britches caught on a nail on the roof. He said, "Never mind, Lord. I can make it by myself from now on." That's the way most of us are.

        There were two fellows out in a life raft on the ocean. A storm was coming up and they were about to starve to death. One said to the other, "Do you ever talk to God?"

        "I never have."

        "One of us had better talk to God now! Dear Lord, I come to you now. I haven't prayed in fifteen years, and if You can get us out of this mess, I promise You that I won't bother You for another fifteen either!"

        That is the way most of us are. God wants us to bother Him! God wants us to depend on Him! When you sing a solo, let His hand be on yours. When you preach a sermon, let His hand be on yours. When you face a trial, let His hand be on yours.

        Sometimes the Lord turns His back, not because we have been in deep sin, but because we have just not been depending on Him like we should. It isn't because we've been out drinking and cursing and swearing; it's because we have not been depending on Him like we should.


3. He Wants to Make His Face Sweeter to Us.

        Not only does God sometimes hide His face from the righteous because He wants us to walk a lot closer to Him and not only does He do it because He wants us to depend on Him, but God also does it to make His face sweeter to us. Never is His face sweeter than after the time when we haven't seen It for awhile. Have you ever come to pray and said, "Lord, why did You turn Your face from Me? Why did You hide Your face from me?"

        Did you ever play hid and go seek? I can recall when Becky was a little girl we played hide and seek. I would say, "Okay, Becky, it's my time to go hide. You close your eyes." She put her little hands over her face and peeked through.

        I'd say, "Hide your eyes." She squinted her eyes tightly behind her fingers pressed against her face. After awhile I said, "It's your time to hide."

        Quickly she would cover her eyes with her hands and say, "Come find me!" She thought she had hidden from me because she covered her eyes.

        The Lord sometimes turns His eyes from us. He hides His eyes and hides His face. Have you ever been to that place? I have. Oh, listen. I preached one time about six months ago when I was tired and weary and it seemed like there was so much to think about. I had dictated over a hundred letters that day. I had so many decisions to make, money to raise, bills to pay, property to buy and sell, things to approve, staff members to advise and help, and folks to counsel (I counseled about twenty people that day). I was so tired and weary. I went to preach, and oh, the freshness was gone. While I was preaching, I said, "Lord, where are the tears?" I tried to cry and couldn't. I went to my room and said, "Lord, I'm going to pray all night if I have to; I'm going to get the sweetness back! I must have the sweetness!"

        The next morning I stood to speak. It came so easily. The tears came and the joy came. When I thought about Heaven, I wanted to shout. When I thought about hell, I wanted to weep. When I thought about the love of God, I wanted to clap my hands and praise the Lord. When I thought about sin, I wanted to fall on my face and confess. Oh, how sweet it is! How sweet is the face of Jesus!

        A mother died leaving a father and a little boy. They had the days of waiting for the funeral. Finally the day came when the funeral was conducted. The father and the little boy sat at the front, as many have done so often in this auditorium. Their hearts were crushed, for in the casket lay the body of their wife and mother. They followed the hearse out to the cemetery and heard the thud of the dirt as it beat on the casket that held the body of Mama and wife. They soon got in the car and drove back home. There was an empty place at the table. The little boy was tucked in bed that night and the dad went to his room. Out of the darkness of the night the boy said, "Daddy, are you there?"

        "Yes, son, I'm here."

        The little boy missed his mother. He missed the kiss on his brow, the tuck of the cover, the pat on the cheek, and the "good night." Again he said, "Daddy, are you there?"

        "Yes, son, I'm here."

        Then out of the darkness came the voice of the little boy. "Daddy, could I come and sleep with you?"

        "Why, of course, you may."

        The little boy got out of bed, ran in, crawled in bed and turned his face toward his daddy. The daddy went off to sleep, but soon was awakened by his little boy's voice in the darkness, "Daddy! Daddy!"

        "Yes, son?"

        "Daddy, is your face turned toward me?"

        "Yes, son."

        "Would you hold my hand?" The daddy reached out and took the little boy's hand in his.

        The little boy whimpered and said, "Daddy, it's so much easier when you hold my hand and your face is turned toward me."

        I thought about that night when my dad left home, never to come again in our house. I recall when my mother said "good-bye" to my dad. Our home was broken. My dad went away, never to walk back over our threshold again. I slept back in the back room of our little three-room apartment. I can recall that night. A big clock was up on our wall. It was a big grandfather clock.  Everytime it would strike the hour, I would be awake. When Dad was gone for the first night, I called my mama and said, "Mama, can I come and sleep with you?" I don't know why, it just made it easier.

        Oh, ladies and gentlemen, that is why God sometimes in His mercy has to say, "I am going to turn My back on you for a few minutes. I don't want to, but I'm going to. I don't want to turn My back on you. I don't want to hide My face. You haven't been in deep sin. You just haven't been as close to Me as you ought to be. You don't depend on Me like you ought to depend on Me. Our fellowship isn't as sweet as it used to be." So the Father turns His back.

        I look up and say, "Oh, God, why? Why? Are You ever going to turn back again?"

        The Lord turns His face back again and His face is so sweet to me!

                And He walks with me,
                And He talks with me,
                And He tells me I am His own;
                And the joys we share as we tarry there
                None other has ever known.

                What a fellowship, what a joy divine,
                Leaning on the everlasting arms!
                What a blessedness, what a peace is mine
                Leaning on the everlasting arms!


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