At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34)
This week during our Lenten midweek worship we read from Psalm 139. It is a magnificent Psalm filled with many images and beautiful language. While it isn’t the focus of this post, it’s message is essential to understanding it. The bottom line for the writer of Psalm 139 is this: There is nowhere you can go where God isn’t there with you. This is true whether you have wings like a bird and fly off to the farthest or highest points. This is true whether you find yourself dead and in the depths of Sheol (which mean “the grave” or “the place of the dead.”)
In other words, the notion of something being “God forsaken” is a real human experience but at the same time it is also always an illusion and a lie. There is no place where God is not. We just sometimes are so low and so trapped in our pain that we can no longer sense it or hang on to that important truth.
That’s why the cross is so central to the Christian faith. At the cross the gospel writers tell us that Jesus was in anguish and suffering so deeply as to lose sight of God. We might wonder how Jesus (who is the Word made flesh and the incarnation of God in the world) could somehow not at least remember that, by definition, he has to be in the presence of God since he is the presence of God! But suffering and pain, if they are real, have voices of their own. Jesus was a fully human being as well. His pain and his impending death were as painful, real and threatening to him as they would be to you and me. The voices he heard nagging him as death approached and his breathing grew labored are the same voices we often hear when we are suffering.
In the end, we know something about Jesus’ at the cross that his experience shouted down for him. We know that even though Jesus felt like the cross is a God forsaken place, it is at the cross that we actually most clearly see the depth of God’s love. What pain and suffering blinded Jesus to, our faith informs us in ways that we can see it. God was in Jesus! The cross is not a God forsaken place. The rabbi hanging on the cross is Lord and Savior, God in the flesh.
Hopefully that gives us strength when we suffer. We are not alone. “God forsaken” is a phrase that has no meaning. It is a lie. No such place exists. No matter what is happening, God is with us.