We don’t know how, when, or even if our difficulties will end. And this uncertainty tests our hearts. Some people have said to me that the main narrative of my imprisonment was trusting God. I’m not sure about that. Often when we talk about trust, we link it to an outcome. But I couldn’t find any verse that said, “Andrew will get out of prison.”
During difficult times, a real danger for the Christian is to become offended at God. I struggled with this. In fact, I came close to losing my friendship with God. My imprisonment, the isolation, the loneliness, the fear that I would never be with my family again — all these were difficult, but I understood intellectually that this was persecution. I didn’t like it, but I understood it to some degree.
What I could not understand was that during my imprisonment, I had no sense of God’s presence. Instead of a supernatural sense of strength and joy as I expected, I lacked any sense of strength — and I had no joy. Instead, I was breaking down emotionally and physically. I was going into spiritual crisis.
For years, I had drawn close to God, especially focusing on His kind, gentle Father’s heart. But now I couldn’t discern my kind and gentle Father in any way. Now — at the most desperate time in my life — He had removed any sense of His presence.
Objectively, I can say God did not abandon me, but it felt and looked like He had. It was agony to my soul. I can see now that I had grace, but mostly it was an unfelt grace. My heart was deeply wounded, leading to doubts, anger, and accusation. I questioned God’s existence. Then I questioned His character. I knew He loved the whole world. But did He really love me?
Was He really faithful? Was He completely good and truthful? I wasn’t so sure anymore. The offense in my heart was strangling my relationship with God.
This is what Jesus warned about when He said that “the love of many will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12). Many will turn away because they become offended at God. When something bad happens, many people become angry at God. They blame Him. “God, if You’re all-powerful and loving, why don’t You intervene? How can You let this happen?”
In the years ahead, I think we will see what happens when a nation’s leaders turn their backs on God. Believers are not under judgment, but we are embedded in a nation that is entering a period of judgment. Believers will be offended because of the intensity of their persecution and suffering. They will ask, “God, how could You let this happen to me? I’ve been an obedient son.” That’s what I said in prison.
But God intervened. At a very low point, I visualized a valley of testing — like the valley of dry bones from the Book of Ezekiel — filled with the skeletons of believers who had failed. God drove this scene into my heart. I realized I was very close to losing my friendship with God. So I made a decision. I could not do much to fight for my freedom, but I could fight for my relationship with God. I made a decision with my will — not with my emotions — and said:
“God, whatever You do or don’t do, I will follow You. If You do not let me sense Your presence, I will still follow You. If You don’t speak to me, I will still follow You. If You don’t show me Your gentleness or kindness, I will still follow You. If You leave me in prison, I will still follow You.”
Setting aside my demands and conditions for God, I determined to turn my eyes toward God. I couldn’t turn my eyes very far, but turning them even one degree toward Him rather than one degree away made all the difference in the world.
And He started to rebuild me.
I had to make this decision again and again. Every time I was in a pit, at every setback, I chose to turn toward God rather than away from Him.