Several years ago my wife and I took my son Jordan to St. Louis and Hannibal, Missouri. She had some sales calls to make which gave the two of us time to visit different sites and attractions. Jordan and I decided to take a tour of the Mark Twain cave. Along with the tour guide and others, we descended into the depths of the earth. At one point the guide stopped all of us and then did a demonstration; the guide turned the lights out. It was pitch black. There was not a speck of light in the deep darkness of the cave. You literally felt as if you were completely alone except for the breathing and murmuring of everyone around you; that told you that you weren’t alone. It was a unique and strange sensation – to perceive that you were alone but in reality know that you weren’t.
A few weeks back we took our grandsons to the Wizard of Oz display at Crown Center in Kansas City. Walking in there was an attendant and next to him was a crying boy; he might have been 7 or 8 years of age. The attendant told him it would be okay, to stay with him, and they would locate his parents. The boy was surrounded by a crowd of people and yet was all alone.
There may have been times in your life when you have felt alone, abandoned or forsaken. Actually you might be feeling that way right now. And there might be the rare few of us who have not experienced this feeling before. But the simple fact is that every single one of us will face a time when we will feel forsaken, abandoned, and alone. It will happen when someone we dearly love dies. It could happen when we find ourselves in a battle that we never thought we would face. Or it could transpire when someone humiliates us or makes us feel small. ALL OF US will eventually experience this part of our humanity.
Stanley Hauerwas in his book Cross-Shattered Christ states: “It is not surprising…that of all the words of Jesus from the cross, we most identify with ‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?’ We do so because we think we have some idea about what it means to be forsaken.”
But if you take nothing else away from this moment, please hear this one thing. God does not forsake us – to do so would go against the understanding that God is steadfast and faithful. It would be out of character for God to forsake us.
That is what makes Jesus’ cry of dereliction from the cross so perplexing. How is it that the incarnate one could feel abandoned by God the Father?
From a human relations perspective it is pretty easy to see how Jesus could feel alone, abandoned and forsaken. The religious and political leaders never supported Jesus. The storyline of the Gospel According to Mark portrays a gradually abandonment by all of his supporters. Jesus family apparently never understood his ministry, his hometown rejects him, and the crowds that welcomed him turned and handed him over to be crucified. Judas betrays him for silver pieces, Peter denies ever knowing him, and the other disciples flee out of fear.
And from a spiritual perspective various commentators, authors and interpreters note that it was necessary for Jesus to feel isolation and doubt. Morna Hooker who wrote a book simply titled Mark notes that some “…interpreters fail to grasp the significance of Mark’s picture of Jesus as utterly desolate. Jesus now experiences the most bitter blow which can befall the religious man: the sense of being abandoned by God.” Jesus suffers all the fears and doubts that death brings as well as the physical pain and suffering many of us have or will endure. In the grand drama of salvation, Jesus’ feeling forsaken was a necessary element.
According to Jürgen Multmann and other theologians it is the blessed Trinity that is crucified and dies. And in self-giving love there is ultimate abandonment. Adam Hamilton in his book Final Words from the Cross notes that it is a mystery that we cannot comprehend because of our Trinitarian theology. But Judith Mattison in her mediation called The Seven Last Words of Christ says that “…the fault line has been bridged. Jesus, the sinless one, cried out for us, ‘My God, why?’ And God’s answer soon came: You, my Son, will die so that all the others will know–nothing can separate the love of God from the people who cry for mercy and comfort. I am the Lord their God. I have sent you to bring them back–to me.” And that is our hope.
In the midst of despair, pain, suffering and the feeling of being alone, abandoned or forsaken we are assured that God is with us. In the Son of God and Man our deepest anguish and darkness have been experienced and shattered; they are no longer a prison in which we have to dwell. God has been there and God has been victorious; God is still victorious. So no matter what dark cave you are in at the moment, God is right beside you and will never leave or forsake you. Cry out “why?” and the reply you will hear is “I am with you always because you are mine and I am thine.” Amen.
Blessings for the journey.