Echos from the Cross: A Second Lesson on Suffering

We are looking at the different interpretations of this text that come from the way the key words are emphasized.  In the first blog we looked at, “why have you forsaken me?” and we contemplated the purposes of God.  Here we will look at, “why have you forsaken me?”  This is a question of the character of God.  It is direct, stinging and personal.  It skirts the universal, theoretical form of the question and goes right for the heart.  It is you who have forsaken me, and that is the problem.

Perhaps Jesus could understand why the crowds turned against him.  Perhaps he could reason why his disciples abandoned him and even why his beloved Peter would deny him.  But not his heavenly father.  That was a forsakenness so intensely personal and so horrific that it pulled this cry of dereliction from his chest.  “Not you, not you, too?” we can hear Jesus cry.

For us this cry is a protest of lost trust and defeated faith.  It comes when the pain is so intense that the very nature of the God we thought we knew as love and grace is called into question.  And we have all been there at one time or another.  It is truly a godforsaken place where evil seems victorious and our faith looks like so much simplistic, sentimental religiosity.  We feel abandoned, betrayed, forgotten.  What hurts is not just the suffering of the situation, but the sense that perhaps God is not who we conceived him to be.  How do we know?  How can we be sure?  Is God in his hiddenness a different, less loving God than the revealed God we know in Jesus Christ?  Is there a devious side of God that we see in these times so that when we do sense God’s loving presence we must cry out, “why did you forsake me?”

Again the answer lies solely in the only one who has a right to ask this intensely personal question of the nature of God.  God’s own Son, the second person of the holy and eternal Trinity hangs on a cross for sins he did not commit, bears pain he did not deserve, and cries out to God with an accusing question he did not need to have answered.  But we did!  We needed to hear this question asked in all its intensity on our behalf.  We needed to hear it because we are so often tempted to ask it.  But we cannot ever again.  For it has been asked for us and answered for us in Jesus Christ.  On the cross Jesus bore that forsakenness that was rightfully ours, for which we would have place to make this cry for ourselves.  And he has taken it from us.

We will never know the forsakenness of God again.  We cannot.  It is impossible.  We can only know that God in Christ is our God, for us in every way and always seeking our good.  Even in his hiddenness, he is the “lover of our souls.”  This we know for sure from our vantage point at the foot of the cross.

“Gracious and most holy God, this Lenten season let me hear again from this cross the words that are for me eternal life.  Speak to me, Lord, through Scripture, music, preaching and devotion that I may know you more intimately than I ever have before.  In this time of trial, bring me even closer to you.  For I love you and I give myself anew to you today.  I believe that you will never forsake me.  Help my unbelief.  In Jesus’ precious and holy name, Amen.”