Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Emmanuel, God With Us... forsaken

"Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?" My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Matthew 27:46. This is without a doubt one of the most important and most puzzling passages concerning our Christian faith. I've just finished writing 4,000+ word paper on this one phrase, these few words. In this post, I want to relate some of what I've learned and been thinking about.

The Hebrew word for God here is '─ôl, which by its very nature refers to the strong, acting God who is mighty to save. In this question, Christ is saying, "My God, you are strong, and you do not abandon your people... and yet you have abandoned me!" It is extremely important to note that Christ has not lost his faith. He cries out to his God, twice affirming his faith in this mighty God. But he is absolutely terrified. His God and Father, with whom he's had the closest communion possible through his entire life on earth, is gone.

Christ, the Son of God, most likely spent his entire life in close communion and fellowship with his Father. In fact, this passage in Matthew is the only time when Christ does not address God has "Father." Christ was accustomed to the Father's tangible, felt presence. When Christ was baptized, God the Father opened up the heavens and said "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased." Later on in Matthew, when Christ was transfigured, God again speaks, this time from a bright cloud, and says, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him." And now, when Christ has been beaten, and whipped, and hung on a cross, he searches for his Father, and he finds nothing. Terrified, he cries out with a loud voice, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" And there is no answer.

Can you imagine? All your life, you've been able to feel your Father's presence. Whenever you ask him something, he hears you and grants your request. Twice he has visibly affirmed your status as his beloved Son. And now, after three hours of total darkness, when you can hardly think for the pain from the whips, the staff, the crown of thorns, the nails through your wrists and feet, and you are slowly suffocating, finding it harder and harder to breathe as you hang on this cross... you search for your Father, who has always been there–and there is nothing there. You scream out to God, pleading with him to come back... and there is no answer. You cry out to your mighty Father, knowing that he could save you, he could come back to you and comfort you... but there is nothing. Where is the bright cloud? Where is the voice from heaven? All is darkness, and out of the darkness comes the mocking laughter of the very ones you came to save, are dying to save.

And yet this passage, so terrifying and horrifying for Christ, is one of the greatest passages of our faith. This passage is the great apologetic for Christianity. In this moment, in refusing to answer Christ, God answers the world. The world asks how a loving God can allow suffering in the world and is made silent by the cry of "Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani" echoing through the ages. The world says, "God is far from me, I suffer, I am lost in the darkness, it isn't fair." All of their objections are met with this same cry from the cross. In this cry, God says, "I, too, have suffered."

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