Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? which is,
My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?
Matthew 27:46, Mark 15:34
Oh this ineffable moment of Christ’s despair on which hangs the lifetimes of our hope! In the most broken of circumstances, the most desperate of cries, we have never known a moment over which God’s hand did not reign, over which His face was not turned to this world, etched with both patience and anger. We have never known a moment where the grace of redemption did not frame the story. We have perhaps uttered this cry, but we have never actually known it. And not only that but Christ, from eternity past, had never known a moment where He and the Father did not dwell in perfect intimacy and oneness. It is a union we think and study and talk a lot about, but we do not really know, not in the experiential definition of knowing. This moment of separation, then, is a rending which we are dependent on, but cannot fathom the terrifying darkness of. When the writer of Hebrews reminds us that Christ has in every way suffered as we do, this is yet another miraculous indication of that truth: Christ knows the full weight of human loneliness and abandonment, beyond even what we will ever know, facing the utter silence of God.
This darkest moment of all history, however, is not without hope. It’s absolutely woven through with it! Jesus was a Jew: He knew what He was quoting with these words. Even if the full psalm did not flow from his lips in the impossible exhaustion of that moment, Christ was proclaiming to Himself (and to us, for all eternity) truth, at the very moment it was most impossible to believe. He knew that it only takes David two verses before he exclaims what must be the second breath of all anguish: yet You, God, are holy. You are worthy to be trusted. You delight in me, and that is not contingent, as the voice of the mockers would try to proclaim, on delivery from the cross. So neither will my trust be contingent on that rescue. Neither will my unswerving proclamation of truth be moved by circumstances which seem opposed to it. Yet, the psalmist wrote. Not only “you are holy,” but YET you are. Yet, but, despite, in the midst of, however, nevertheless. The holiness of God is not always plainly evident in our circumstances, and the believing feel of it does not always come, no matter how we cry by day and by night. It is simply true, and it is enthroned in our praises. It is lifted high by remembrance, proclaimed by faith. And for even this, we have the example of Christ.
We do not discipline ourselves to learn truth to no end.
We do not preach truth to ourselves everyday as an empty rhythm.
We immerse ourselves in truth so that in the very moments our human hearts cannot believe it, when the deliverance has not come, when the dream is dying, when the abandonment feels absolute, the truth of who God is is the unconscious thought to our minds, the practiced word to our tongues. And we know it; somewhere deeper even than feeling, we know; by remembrance and by discipline and by experience. So the question of forsakenness is followed by the truth of holiness, and the response of trust.
The other gift of these words of Christ, however, is that they show us that even for One who knew all this perfectly, who proclaimed it perfectly, the knowing did not negate the ache, the cry, the truth of that feeling. God is holy, yes, but it also feels like we have been forsaken. The unfathomable piece of it all is that this feeling of God’s abandonment, which is still to us only a perception, even in our very darkest moments, to Christ was a reality only He could bear. Only He could bear it for us then, only He can bear it for us now. He was born to bear it for us, to save us then and to intercede for us now. Without the death of Christ, our darkest moments really are absolutely dark, precisely because God is holy. But holiness becomes a hope through the transforming faith and unmeasurable pain of the only One who could ever hold the knowledge of truth through actual forsakenness. By His wounds, we are healed.
These words of Christ have pierced me with pain, wonder and unspeakable thanks:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Precisely because even at that very moment, He was, is, and will always be – holy. And that is our only hope.