My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
This cry from the cross is the most terrible verse in the Bible. God’s own Beloved, whose intimacy with God was so foundational to his existence that he could say “I and the Father are one,” here experiences the inexplicable loss of the Presence in which he has lived and moved and had his being. And God’s reply to Jesus is even more chilling: Silence.
Uncomfortable with this image of a Christ seemingly abandoned to the void of a godless universe, some have said that Jesus is merely quoting the first verse of Psalm 22, as though his piety outweighs his pain even on the cross. But Jesus was not just quoting Psalm 22; he had become Psalm 22. The Christ who was truly human had to taste even the most painful extremities of the human condition in order to redeem us fully. The one revealed to be God-with-us had to become, in that most bitter hour, us-without-God.
Have we not been there ourselves? Whether in the personal hour of trial when our own cries go unanswered, or in modernity’s cultural house of mirrors where the interventions of a loving God seems not only unnecessary but unthinkable, there are times when the Presence feels beyond our reach.
But as Paul says, Jesus became sin itself in order to save us from it (II Cor. 5:21). Sin is wherever God is shut out and we are walled in. And in making even the hellish absence of God as integral a part of his own experience as the intimacy of divine communion, Jesus performed the ultimate paradox: even when God seems most absent, God is yet present.
Good Friday means that whatever happens to us happens to God. From now on there is no place where God is not, for God has taken into Godself even the experience of separation and forsakenness. The Presence now includes the absence.
And we who have turned from God, or lost God, we who have cried out into the SILENCE, can yet live in hope. The One who died abandoned and bereft now keeps us company on our own crosses. As the Psalmist affirms with his possessive pronoun (“My God, my God!”). the relationship remains firm and unbroken even when God seems most mute and distant. We are not alone.