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
If you’re a church-goer, you’ve maybe heard someone teach on this moment at the cross before. It’s another hard one to reconcile in some ways, because again if Jesus is God then how can God forsake God’s self? Aye carumba. In a more practical, emotional way, it’s hard to understand what exactly Jesus was enduring. What did he mean and what did it feel like? Some of us have felt forsaken by God before; some of us have done a lot of wrong, or done that thing we promised never to do again, for the 100th time, and we are convinced that God must be finally done and gone from us. Some of us have even told God to leave, or tried to voluntarily turn our backs on God, or uninvited or un-“Friended” him from our hearts. It brings up the question, can we ever really “shake” God, or depart God’s presence, or sin ourselves into being forsaken? Most us know, NO. But it can certainly feel that way.
Anyway, back to it, when we’re taught about this moment in Jesus’ execution, we’re usually reminded of the fact that God cannot tolerate sin, so in the instant that Jesus truly took on all of our sinfulness on the cross, it was like he was utterly separated from God. Like the scapegoat in the Old Testament, the sacrifice for the people’s sins, Jesus had the burden of all our wrongdoing laid on him and it was like a pitch-dark and impenetrable wall was thrown up between him and God. We can reflect on those times I just mentioned when we’ve felt distanced from God, and try to imagine how terrible such a thing would be for Jesus, who had always (since before time) been intimately one with God, to be thrust into sin-saturated blackness, if that’s what did happen. Ridiculous. Really, Jesus being God, it was like something happened that the universe had never seen — a momentary division in the community of the Trinity.
Now, again, some of us know much about how truly sucky it is for our tightest community to be fractured. Whether it’s your closest family, a group of friends, a fellowship or church family, etc. Whether because of tragedy, or betrayal, or even just circumstances, when there’s an impassable distance between us and what we love, it is HARD.
Have you tried the long-distance romance? How did it go? If it worked, then you beat the odds, because I think that distance does funky things to our emotions. Karen and I did it with the Bahamas at a sensitive time in our relationship, and it was RIDONKULOUS HARD. No matter how good it was between us, it could be terribly frustrating because we were STILL a thousand miles apart. When things were bad between us, it was one more stress log to throw on the long-distance bonfire and make me consider just quitting. When things were middle-of-the-road, I wondered what that meant for us. When we talked everyday and couldn’t get enough of the conversation, I wondered what that meant for us. When we had no contact for weeks, I wondered what that meant for us. When we didn’t have anything left to say on the phone, or email conversation was awkward, I wondered what that meant for us. Is this annoying you to read? Good. Then you have an idea how aggravating it was to live it, to have that distance cause such over-analysis and brain-cranking. We made it, but I say now that distance jives with the heart.
Psychology describes to us “separation anxiety” between child and parent, or dog and owner, etc. For instance, lately I can tell something is whacked up with our dog, Mia, because she refuses to sleep on her blanket-bed and keeps crawling under our bed to sleep. She’s trying to get as close to us as she can, and no amount of commands, yelling, or light whooping has made her listen, so far to date. Something in her head has her hating to be apart from us.
And with human relationships we know there are far more serious implications, like when children go without a mother or father figure, or when we have a loved one who is estranged or imprisoned or otherwise permanently different in how we relate to them. I mean, think about why “time out” is an effective punishment, or being ignored gets under our skin, or solitary confinement drives people slowly insane. I think a part of our being, a part of God’s image that we bear, is our need for connection/community. You, the most introverted among us, even you need somebody else, sometime. I guarantee it. Take Jeremiah Johnson. This great, lone hermit of a man didn’t, in his heart of hearts, just want to be in total isolation. Remember in the film it was war and atrocity that had driven him to the mountain. And later it was the sudden loss of his new home and family that drove him back into isolation. No, even us the most lone of wolves, I bet you, are made for some kind of mutual touch, love, kinship. “The Hangover” says any strange wolf can find his own wolfpack.
Last and more seriously, don’t even get me started on the ultimate separation that we all know and in some ways dislike, or even hate — being apart from our loved ones who have left this world. When it comes to death, the most faithful of us have moments when we loathe the fact that we are here, and they are not; it can be heart-breaking.
Separation is difficult and damaging to the human heart.
Now, not only do I think all of that’s true, but also the flip-side. Many of us strongly celebrate when great distances are crossed, when separation comes to an end, when reunions happen. The Proclaimers tell us about true love:
How many of our stories and legends are about people reconciling great differences? The father finally understands his son and tells him he loves him; the son forgives his father, and they connect again. Or the childhood friends who slowly grew apart as they came of age, some circumstance thrusts them back together again into deep friendship. We can go on and on. Seeing people come together again is powerful to the human heart.
And I think all of that is true — we hate division/separation and love reuniting/reconciling — because it is the absolute root of human history. In the very beginning, the first people had never known a time when they were not deeply, intimately bound to God, heart to heart. Since Adam’s first breath, and Eve’s, God in all God’s unadulterated love and glory was just always there. It was our home of homes, and we use the word “paradise” for it. I bet when God gave them that one warning, to avoid that particular fruit, it was a completely foreign idea that the consequence would be to somehow be thrust away from God. What could that even mean to them?
But the junk went down. They chose the other-than-God option, indeed the anti-God option, and risked being totally undone and ultimately, permanently cast out of God’s presence. The word for that was “death.” But as a result of the junk a new and mighty thing appeared, not just *poof* out of nowhere, but because God intentionally brought it forth: grace. Although our race was marred forever, the death sentence wasn’t fully wrought. There was still a hope to know and be connected to God, and it rested on the future coming of one man. The One, even God in the flesh. And while he was on earth, it was as near to paradise as the people had maybe ever known — God was THERE. Talking, breathing, even touchable. But it wasn’t totally like it had been in paradise, because the sentence, the curse, still hung over everyone’s heads and worked in their hearts. So the Man went on through with his somewhat secret intentions: to walk directly into harm’s way, even having the weight of the entire curse thrown on his own back, to the point of death.
That’s why it’s worth wondering how Jesus felt when he said these famous words. As foreign to us as it must be, and truly inconceivable, what was he really doing to himself? What did this separation, this being forsaken, mean? Even if we never know how much it hurt, or how hard it was, we should know what it means in terms of our shared story. It meant that the great death we could’ve earned back in the beginning, the great curse that set to work on our race, was effectively undone. We live with its vestiges, still, its dregs, but in terms of our hearts and a reunion with God that is getting back to paradise, we now have a word for those who believe in that great God-man, Jesus, who rescued us: Victory.
Because Jesus entered into this experience, and felt the moment of crying out these words, the great reunion, between God and God’s children, has begun. Today, don’t fall for the deception that you have been forsaken by God, as real as those feelings can seem. Today, again, prayerfully consider that it was after all Jesus who was utterly forsaken. And, today, live with the hope of the great reunion between you and all you love, and the return of anything good you feel like you’ve lost, and the total reconciliation of your heart to God’s. Thanks be to God.