Friday, 8 May 2009

“My God, my God. Why have you forsaken me?

From a short talk I gave on Monday of Holy week. “My God, my God! Why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1) There are various reasons given for what happened to Jesus on the cross when he felt so abandoned by God that he cried out, using the words of the psalmist, “My God, my God, wht have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1) Let’s consider a few this evening: One reason that is given is that God could not bear to look on Jesus because, in taking on himself the sins of the world, he became an offence to God’s purity and perfection. The reasoning is based on logic. If God is light and in Him is no darkness (1John 1:5) – the light referring to God’s perfection and the darkness to sin – then God’s ‘abandonment’ of Jesus is His distancing Himself from the sin Jesus had taken upon himself. For a long time I accepted this argument but now to me it is a bit too clinical. It is also far from fair or loving. It’s not fair because in 2 Corinthians 5:21 Paul tells us that: “God made him (Jesus) who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” If God made Jesus ’sin’, it seems far from just to then go and abandon him. And its not loving either. If God “so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son so that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life”, then to send him and then abandon him for doing what he was sent to do just makes no sense – not to my definition of love. Another reason I have heard used is that Jesus was so badly bloodied and beaten that God could not bear to look on him. If our children were in such a state we would find it hard to look on them too – we would want to look away. God turned away because it was too painful for him. But God turning away from His Son and Jesus feeling abandoned are two different things. To be abandoned is to be bereft, cut off, ignored and forgotten. Its more serious than the mere averting of the eyes. I think the real reason is something much more straight-forward. What Jesus was experiencing was what it was like to be fully human. In his letter to the Philippians Paul quotes an early hymn or creed: Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8) One translation renders verse 7 as “he emptied himself of everything of what it meant to be God”. In other words he experienced the full gamut of what it is to be human including what it is to die. Not just to die physically, but to die spiritually, to experience separation from God which is far, far worse. And as someone so familiar with the language of the psalms it is natural that as he suffered in agony of the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” I can identify more with a saviour who rescues us from below rather from above. Someone who is not immune and unsullied by what I, the object of his salvation, suffers. Jesus is such a saviour. His agony is ours, his death is ours, his abandonment is ours, and therefore his resurrection is ours.

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