Last month I wrote about Jesus teaching us to pray like this: ‘My Father, who is in Heaven…’ and the significance of personalizing and confidently coming before Him. This month I’ll take a different road about relating to God. A wonderful thing about our Faith is that it’s championed by a loving God and an obedient Savior who wished to hide nothing that can be revealed for our heart’s benefit. He reveals all with Truth, even those things that make no ‘mythical god sense’, things that a made up god would never use to communicate with the lowly human creature. Things like, well, our hero seemingly losing it at the very pinnacle of the Gospel story.
It’s been a couple years ago that I first wrote about the phrase: ‘My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ The word forsaken there most commonly means to ‘leave someone behind.’ That’s the only place in all of scripture that Jesus called out to God, rather than calling on the Father. Here, it was not the personal, intimate calling but a call to the Creator (Elohim). At that moment, Jesus’ humanity was paying a price for us. As a man, not as the Son of Man, he was crying out to the Creator of the universe. As a man experiencing all that could be experienced for us, every thought of loneliness, despair, hopelessness and isolation fell upon Jesus. Today, there seems to be a great awareness among us, many having those same feelings in this world. No wonder we’re a bit gun-shy. Our enemies surround us and our own leaders can’t seem to find a way to share a positive vision or purpose. (There surely must be a college course somewhere where they teach our politicians to fib but do so with great ‘compassion for the folks.’) We live in a time, because of the rejection of the Love of God in the earth, that many of us feel all alone, more isolated and less hopeful. Those kinds of feelings are not uncommon and are not to be ashamed of; those feelings, as we have seen, were evident at the cross in Jesus.
I suppose we really can’t imagine the intensity of the hopelessness of Jesus at that moment. Some would say, that because of who he was, the cross was ‘no step for a stepper’, passing off the agony of Jesus as though it were a drama to be acted out on a world stage, not a pressure cooker of despair. There should be no mistake: the immense burden of the Cross was not less because Jesus was more. Picture it like this, that the most sensitive being to the Spirit of God, the loveliest, the most related to God, the most true, the one most touched, was the one most deeply swallowed up by an undesired isolation and abandonment! Imagine that that moment was tenfold our life experience. It was the most unjust, the most undeserved, of all divine interaction. Never before had Jesus not been able to know that God was with him, his Father was part of him. This loneliness was as deep and as full as was possible for any human to experience. The earlier temptations came with a feeling, a knowing, his Father’s presence. The Cross came with antagonism, physical pain and a deep loneliness. Those other times had come with an easy ability to raise his eyes to Heaven and say ‘My Father’ and find comfort. This time was not like any other time; never before had there been a challenge like this. This was a time when nothing else meant anything to him. Jesus’ humanity was consumed in real pain and disappointment; this was not a drama but real blood, bruises, cursings, and piercing death. The humanity of Jesus had become like us in every way, being tempted in all things as we are, all things that are common to each of us, and probably more intensely so.
Forsaken? No, God does not leave us behind, but simply stands to the side being a companion. He does so, so that we can act from ourselves, choosing or abandoning His Will, embracing or rejecting ours. Each day He leads us, pushes us, and hopes that we will choose Him and so become more and more His children. That space in between us and Him is permitted, created, as an opportunity to bind us further to Him. Freedom comes not from being independent from God, but rather from becoming more and more captured by His Love. In His creation, with the opportunity to choose Him as Lord, comes His striving to make us free.
(Pressure brings pain but also always brings a choice. Will we run toward Him or away? Adam and Eve hid themselves. Moses’ confrontation with Pharaoh placed a choice before the ruler to draw near or to separate further from God, hardening his own heart toward God. The love of God always calluses our hearts or it softens. He comes over and over with the offer of relationship and love. How we receive that offer molds our futures. What was created to send us into His arms very often, and more times than I wish, ends up identifying our independence, or more harshly, our rebellion.)
Jesus, at the moment he uttered the word ‘forsaken’, felt (in his humanity) just like we feel sometimes, but even more so. He and we feel we’ve been abandoned by family, friends and even the God we believe in.
In times like we find ourselves in today, we could use some assurance in our own hearts that He is there with us. Scripture is our tutor to finding the nature of a never changing God. From Psalm 22, we know that Jesus was ‘thinking’ abandonment; however, that same scripture teaches us and we know that God was with him, in him. Jesus felt like a worthless worm, the reproach of all men, despised by all, the wicked surrounded him. And, just as then, now we have that same assurance that God is a constant companion, even being purposely called Emmanuel (God with us) so that we might remember His promise. Jesus felt forsaken, but more importantly his statement was a question. Jesus was asking for affirmation of something he believed. In that moment humanity had crashed in upon him with a weight most unbearable; Jesus actually did feel like God had left him behind. His response was from the most perfect believer of us all! However, the next word from Christ was ‘yet not my will but Thy Will be done’, a word of Trust. God hears us in the desperate situations, is with us then, is always present even in the times we feel abandoned the most. As I mentioned in the earlier letter, we should always remember that after the disturbing description of the crucifixion found in the 22nd Psalm, David wrote what most people consider the most comforting Psalm of all, the 23rd. Now we have circled back to last month’s letter: ’My Father who is in Heaven…