My God, my God why have you forsaken me?
Words from the opening of Psalm 22, usually interpreted as a cry of desolation from the dying Jesus. No matter the people round about, the curious and condemning, the sorrowful and sympathetic. No matter the two either side. Where was God?
I wonder what you were thinking, Lord…
“First Peter and the others. It’s understandable. Frightened, worried for their own futures. Better to run than be arrested. Then rejected by my one-time supporters, now baying for blood. Turned over by the religious establishment. Discounted by an indifferent and uncaring government. To be expected.
But you…? Why have you forsaken me?
What have I done that you should treat me like this?
Haven’t I served you faithfully?
Haven’t I taught and preached and cared and challenged and prayed and loved?
Didn’t I hear you say, “Here is my Son whom I love; with him I am well pleased?”
Haven’t I acted justly, loved mercy and walked humbly?
But now, at my hour of need, you seem to have gone walkabout.
Deus absconditus. Hidden God.
The others melted away as predicted. Or turned against me as anticipated.
But why you?”
Yes, I know; it’s simply speculation about what Jesus might have thought and felt. Did ‘God forsake God’? And if so, in what sense? Some Christians find it difficult to countenance. But if we deny the reality of at least the feeling of abandonment implied by Jesus’ words, do we not also deny something of the humanity of Jesus? Can we hold together both feelings of forsakenness and, despite those real and deep emotions, belief that God is somewhere, somehow, still within reach, still “my God”?
Jesus has good company. I think of two people. One has been canonised by the Catholic Church. In her early years Teresa of Kolkata enjoyed mystical experiences, felt an intensity of relationship with God. But she said that in her later life she didn’t feel her Lord’s presence too much. Nonetheless, she continued her compassionate, loving outreach to those whom others ignored. The God she had experienced intimately in her younger days is the God she continued to trust latterly.
The other is also a saint, although his repute is largely familial and local. John (as I’ll call him) loved Jesus and faithfully served God over his long life, overseas and at home. Racked by cancer in his last couple of years, he and I would have conversations in which he expressed doubts and questions. Yet he believed. He prayed. Despite his feelings, his relationship with God, forged over many years, persisted.
Jesus cried out to the God he had known and knew. He might have felt forsaken, but the psalm that he draws on in his hour of darkness goes on to speak of good things. Despite the desolation, in the words of the preacher, “it’s Friday, but Sunday’s a-comin’. The day will dawn when Jesus bursts from the tomb to declare that death is dead.
But right now it is Friday and the clouds have gathered.
We should be careful not to hurry to Sunday without acknowledging the darkness that many people feel in their lives at times, notwithstanding belief in God and God’s goodness. Christians imprisoned for their faith, debilitated with illness, long-term unemployed, living alone. The skies aren’t always clear. The sun doesn’t always shine. It’s partly a matter of being honest and authentic about the Christian life as family and friends look on.
Perhaps we might consider Jesus on a cross on Golgotha on a Friday 2000 years ago and in his words of desolation hear our own cry. Jesus understands when times are bleak and lonely, when we suffer loss or betrayal, broken promises and unfulfilled dreams. He’s been there.
And he’s here now.
Talk to him….