My God, my God, Why have you forsaken me?
This isn’t the last words uttered by Jesus from the cross but they are the most terrible. We have see in the first three saying something emerging. The first words speaks about forgiveness, the second about salvation and the joy of Paradise and the third about the birth of a community whose central figures are Mary and the Apostles. Now we encounter this cry of utter dereliction coming from the mouth of Jesus.
If we were ever tempted by a naive gnosticism to think that Jesus would be somehow protected from the full weight of human suffering by his divinity, then this cry of dereliction denies us that illusion. This is the narrow way of discipleship to salvation that we are invited to take. We are required, although we would rather not listen and look and long to hurry on by, to dwell here a while and enter into the mystery of this desolation. Basil Hume said, ”How he who was God could experience such pain, know such abandonment, such emptiness, we do not know. We can only ponder upon the fact in silent prayer.” What we seem to be witnessing is that even this experience of desolation, at the absence of God, is somehow brought into the life of God.
Jesus is quoting from psalm 22 when he utters this cry, making its words his own. These words of anguish, pain and loneliness fit into a spiritual tradition reflected in the sufferings of Job, psalm 44, Jeremiah, and the suffering servant within the oracles of Isaiah. They are not words that doubt God’s existence and are more than the absence of a loved one. They are words of desolation that reflect what Timothy Radcliffe says is “the collapse of all meaning as if the centre of one’s life has been sucked out and one is left hanging over a void of darkness.” It is a darkness that no light seems to penetrate.
St Paul tell us that our mind should be that of Christ’s, “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality something to be grasped, but made himself nothing …. and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!” In this cry of dereliction we begin to glimpse something of what it cost Jesus to become nothing and be obedient until death. St Paul tells us we need to embrace this way of loving obedience where ever it might lead. Our journey’s are all different but the one stopping off place we can all guarantee is Calvary and at Calvary we will have to face moments when the question, ‘why?’ seems to make no sense.
Primo Levi, an Italian Jew, who was in Auschwitz, recounts how one day he was raging with thirst. He saw a beautiful icicle and as he was reaching up for it was stopped by a guard. He asked “why?” the guard replied, “Here there is no Why?” Elie Wiesel recounts another story from the same meaningless suffering of Auschwitz – the hanging of three, two men and a young boy. The boy was chosen because he was liked by many in the camp. The rest of the prisoners were forced to watch. Someone asked after the particular long slow death of the boy, “Where is your God now?” Wiesel answered, “Where is He? He is – He is hanging here on the gallows”.
Pray God, that we will not have to face suffering and desolation like those in the Holocaust, Rwanda, the Central African Republic, Iraq or Syria. However, there may have been or will be moments when we feared that we would be swallowed by the void, where our lives seem to be without sense and meaning, because God seems to be absent – gone. Words will often fail us and bring little comfort. Cardinal Hume again: “There are no tidy rational answers to the crushing burden of suffering. we cannot work out easy answers about why it should be. God gave us not an answer but a way to find the answer. It is the cross that will reveal it, but it has to be a personal discovery. You cannot begin to see the pattern and purpose unless you have known the cross and in the darkness let Jesus lead you from despair to hope”.
In the light of the Cross we have to give up all romantic notions of ‘suffering for Christ’. The brutal reality of sin is revealed. Evil seeks to reduce all that is full of meaning and beautify into nothing but complete despair. Our own desolations are real and come to us via the hands of others, circumstances out of our control or at our own hands out of fear, doubt, feelings of inadequacies and acts of self loathing. Whatever the source, the cry of dereliction is real and a common human experience.
Jesus in his love and obedience to his Father and his redeeming love for humanity has carried the presence of God into the darkest void of human experience of alienation, loneliness and despair so that there is no-where where God cannot be found. The cry of dereliction is not banished or done away with and is an authentic experience of the disciples of Christ as we are called to take up or cross and follow him, but it need no-longer be the last word of our human experience, as it is not Jesus’ last word.