My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me? - A Good Friday lament

April 19, 2019

 

 

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

 

As he hung on the cross close to death, the gospels tells us that Jesus spoke these words.

           

He wasn’t the first person of faith to experience abandonment.

 

The words are from Psalm 22 - written hundreds of years before Jesus was alive.  Old Israel knew, long before Jesus, about being abandoned by the God in whom they trusted.

 

Jesus wasn’t the first to speak these words.  And he won’t be the last. 

 

“My God, my god, why have you forsaken me?”

Why are you so far from saving me?”

 

Could these be the words of families in Mozambique: Their homes, towns, and lives destroyed by floods, their friends and neighbours dead?

 

The words of a mother in Christchurch: her child gunned down at worship?

 

The words of young men in Gaza: their sense of powerlessness growing each and every day?

 

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

 

Perhaps too, it has been the cry of your heart.

Some of us know this sense of abandonment acutely.

 

Today, to people like us, this cry of God-forsakenness very quickly moves to a question about God’s existence: Is God even there? And from a question about God’s existence, it moves to an argument for his non-existence.  Stephen Fry has famously used just four words to sum up his objection to religious faith:  “bone cancer in children.”

 

We can blame ISIS for Syria, and we can blame Boko Haram for what happened in Nigeria. We can blame corrupt governments for the devastation in East Africa.  We can call out nationalism and racism, selfish hearts and weak leaders for our treatment of refugees. But who’s to blame for bone cancer in children?

 

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

 

But do you notice the intimacy of these words? They’re personal.  Not:  “God has forsaken me.” Or “There’s no-one out there.”  It’s “My God, my God.” 

 

My God.

 

My God.

 

And do you notice the tension between the two halves of the sentence?  Are we speaking to one who is not there?  Jesus addresses the God who is absent. And in so doing, summons him. Calls him out of absence.

 

We cry out in anger about the distance of God. But that very cry says that there is someone there to cry to. Someone for whom that absence is not what we have come to hope or expect.

 

That cry itself is an act of faith

 

And so we see in these words that faith can hold space for even the deepest of darkness. Even the darkness of death

 

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

 

These words ask the questions that many of us have asked:

            Where is God?

            What is he doing about this?

            What will he do about this?

 

On the lips of Jesus these words are shocking!

Certainly, they have puzzled theologians for centuries.

 

But on the lips of Jesus they become also an affirmation – not just of these words, but of all the feelings that lie beneath them. They become an affirmation that this too is a true expression of faith.

 

"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

 

The Psalm ends with another striking phrase:  “He has done it.” 

And we might think that these words, too, were on Jesus’ heart as he hung on the cross. For he knew that that agonising, lonely, and brutal event was God’s answer to these very questions.

 

The questions uttered from the mouth of Jesus that day – Where is God? What is he doing? - are also answered by the death of Jesus that day.

 

Where is God?

            He is here.  On the cross.

            Suffering and dying.

            He is with you in darkness and despair.

 

What is God doing?

            He is doing this.

            Giving himself over to death.

                        So that even death can be defeated

                        So that life, beyond death, is possible.

 

Even as he cries out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus reveals to us a God who has done the very opposite. God has not forsaken us. God has acted to save us.

 

He has not despised the affliction of the afflicted,

He has not hidden his face from us,

He has heard our cries (Psalm 22:24).

 

Jesus’ death and resurrection become the firmest piece of evidence yet that God is not indifferent to our suffering. We remember it each year at Easter, recount it like the Israelites recited Psalm 22.  God enters in to our suffering. And by entering into it, with the power of God to overcome it, he makes a way out of it, for us all. In his death is the promise of newness.

 

But, that newness is still a way off, isn’t it?  Three days until Jesus’ resurrection.  How many days until the rest?

 

And so for now, there remains lament. Cries of grief and loss and darkness and despair. But cries which, perhaps paradoxically, are also cries of faith.

 

And so this Easter, if this is where you are I will not tell you to move.  I will not tell you that you must rejoice.

 

Enter wholeheartedly into Jesus’ cry of dereliction. Lament for war, for famine, for violence, for disease, for loss, for abuse, for greed, for apathy, for arrogance, for short-sightedness, for pain. Lament for yourself and for others. Lament for our world.

 

God is crying too.

 

God is dying too.

 

Lament as an act of faith.

Lament as an act of hope.

Summon God.

            Call him in to presence.

            Call him to action.

            Speak of his promised future.

            Speak of his faithful past.

            Speak of the unspeakable loss of the present.

 

See Jesus on the cross.

            God has not forsaken us.

            God is near.

 

*Adapted from a reflection given on Good Friday 2017, at St. Michael’s Anglican Church, North Carlton.

 

 

Hannah has, until recently, been an Anglican minister in a church in North Carlton - on the fringe of Melbourne city. She is wife to Tom & mother to Liam & Amber.

Hannah is currently studying at St Andrew's College, Scotland 

 

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