Think about the person you are closest to. Your confident, your rock, your support, your partner. You may have a few close loved ones who you turn to for different things. Think about the person who you turn to for the tough stuff.
Think about the most difficult time in your life. The time when you needed the most support, when you felt the bottom fall out from under you. There may have been a few hard times, but think about the hardest time.
Is your supportive person the same person who helped you through that difficult time?
Has the person who you are closest to changed over time?
Chances are the person who you are currently closest to has changed since that difficult time.
Life’s struggles change us.
The things that happen in life change us.
The people who support us may shift roles in our lives.
Our relationships change as people come and go from our lives.
The most difficult time in your life may have been losing your partner who you used to turn to for support.
The most difficult day in Jesus’ life was the day of His crucifixion. Many count it as the worst day in human history. There Jesus hung, dying before crowds. Stripped bare, beaten, bruised, and bloody. His Disciples, His closest friends, many had abandon Him. He was surrounded by His mother and a couple Disciples. But, most of those around Him were strangers in a crowd who’d come for the show, criminals hanging on crosses beside Him, Roman soldiers who had nailed Him to the cross.
The person He longed for the most was God. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus says that He is One with God. God is the One He most relies on and feels most at one with. In John 1, it is said, “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is Himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father.” In John 14, Jesus says, “If you really know me, you will know my Father…Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.”
Hanging on the cross, Jesus longs for God’s presence, but He feels alone. Jesus cries out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” At the most difficult time in Jesus’ life, the One person He needs the most He feels has abandon Him.
We try to make sense of the cross…and our difficult times…because we want to understand how God works. Too often, we feel God has abandon us when we most need His presence. We question why God allows bad things to happen to us and if He allows bad things to happen to us we think He must have abdicated the throne of Heaven and left us to fend for ourselves.
These words are a prayer by Jesus asking for God’s presence in His time of need. There are many prayers and songs throughout the book of Psalms which are desperate words beseeching God to be present and protect the Psalmist from harm. These final words from Jesus are from Psalm 22.
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
So far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
By night, but I find no rest.
Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One. (Psalm 22: 1 – 3)
Jesus relies on the words of the Psalmist to cry out in His pain and feeling of loss and hopelessness. Jesus relies on these words because they are also words of hope. The Psalm goes on in remembrance of all God has done for Israel. No matter all that Israel has gone through, God has been their God from the beginning, God has been the God of the Psalmist from the beginning of life. The Psalmist trusts that just as God has saved the Israelites again and again, God will save the Psalmist. Jesus recites the words of Psalm 22 with hope that God will soon save Him somehow, some way.
When we face difficult times, we try to make sense of them by saying they are God’s test or trials from the devil. You know I hate it when we think like that. But, we try to theologize what is going on based on our understanding of God. For those of us that call God, Almighty, or all powerful, it is most difficult for us to understand why God allows bad things to happen. Because, if God is all powerful, then the bad stuff that happens was allowed by God.
When we understand God as all powerful, then everything that happens to us is allowed by God, the good and the bad. When the bad stuff happens, we try to make sense of it as a strengthening exercise or God testing our strength. We need to understand God’s role in the world. We definitely try to make sense of the cross by saying it has salvific effects. We call the day of Jesus crucifixion Good and say His death paid a ransom to the devil for our lives or that Jesus bore God’s wrath for our sin so that we wouldn’t have to face God’s wrath. There are lots of things Christians say about the reason for the cross as we try to make sense of why the crucifixion happened.
At the foot of the cross, or in the rock bottom of life, we need to know where God is and what God is doing, because He is not acting like the God we think He should be. He is not sparing us from harm, pain, death, illness, injury, or loss. So, He must be not there. But, He is there, just not there like we want Him to be.
If we were God, we would save those we love from all matters of pain and loss, anything that causes us hurt or brokenness. Just like a parent would take any harm away from their children, we think God as the Heavenly Father should protect us from everything because we are His beloved children. But, God is not the God we want Him to be. God is not the God we would be. God is God as the all-knowing, all powerful, ever present, always loving Divine One.
We can look to Jesus for what to do when we don’t understand God. We simply cry out. Jesus didn’t ask for saving or revenge. Jesus simply asked for God’s presence to endure His suffering. My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? God, be present in my life.
I’m reading a book about the 7 last words of Jesus written by a highly regarded theologian and preacher. In his commentary on these words from Jesus, William Willimon wrote this about God’s presence at the cross: “The Father is righteous, holy, nonviolent, and creative and in no way could bless such injustice and bloody wrong as that which occurs on Golgotha with His presence. So the Father sends the Son; the Father, as the Son, wades into the horror; and the Son calls out to the Father from the depths of despair.” (Thank God It’s Friday: Encountering the Seven Last Words from the Cross. William Willimon. Abingdon Press. p. 43.)
I’m not sure how to make sense of those words. They are tricky words. The Father won’t bless the mess with His presence. Willimon is trying to say that the Father is not there, but God is present as the Son. The Father, we know as Almighty, enthroned in Heaven. We seek His power to come and save us from all that breaks us. What we find is that we have a God that comes as one of us to wade into the depths of despair and cry with us. We want God on our terms and we’re disappointed when we get the Son who endures suffering like us.
We don’t have to try to make sense of why the bad stuff happens. Its just part of this life. This mortal life in a sinful world where Jesus’ servants are trying to work out the kingdom of God to bring an end to our suffering and pain. And, through it all, we can trust in the eternal promises of God for the coming of Heaven and endure this sometimes blessed, sometimes horrific life accompanied by friends and loved ones…and the Son.