“My God, My God why have you abandoned me?” While it hardly seems like lyrics from a Katy Perry song, these words remind me of a conversation at a bar last Friday night.
Sounds like a good time, huh?
Well, it was really. My girlfriends and I are were happy to unveil the sliver of ourselves that has nothing to do with kids, careers or cleaning. After all, the joy of laughter and friends is always worth toasting.
While out, one of my girlfriends ran into a friend she used to work with and her boyfriend. Having met this person before, I started talking to them. I mentioned my endeavor to do Works of Mercy figuring what’s a little spirits without spirituality?
It came up that the boyfriend is atheist. He was a nice fellow and I listened as he explained his disbelief. As someone who believes in God, I can’t really say I understand any explanations that are contrary to the basis of my faith. Nor do I think he understood when my emphatic belief didn’t include corresponding social security numbers or documents to justify that indeed, there is a God.
“Where was God today then, when that baby got shot and killed on his walk?” he asked.
He proceeded to tell me about a one-year-old in his stroller being shot in what was believed to be a robbery attempt while out on a walk with his mother in a neighboring city.
Obviously, this was unimaginable and horrific. Our world though, increasingly seems unimaginable and horrific and even though this was the first I heard of this particular evil – it seemed oddly familiar.
Still, this doesn’t change my belief in God. And as to where He was while this was going on, I feel sure God was right there with all of them.
He was with that baby and his Mama. He was there when someone else’s child, still a teenager, pulled the trigger eliminating an innocent life that was given from love and for the purpose to love. God was there.
He didn’t stop it either. And, as much as I believe there is a God, I also believe He could have stopped it.
Yes, that’s hard to wrap your mind around whether you call yourself a Christian or an atheist.
Likewise, it’s hard to understand how God let His only son suffer and die such a brutal and humiliating death. It, too, was unimaginable and horrific.
Yet, God was there.
And when Jesus was at His darkest hour suffering a brutal death as an innocent man, He called out “My God, My God why have you abandoned me?”
There is a message in those words that is easy to miss. Jesus did not turn away from God when He suffered or abandon Him as His God. He turned to Him offering a prayerful lament.
Because Jesus died for our sins, He also did something unimaginable. He changed death from a separation from life into a way to have eternal life.
And yes, that’s hard for me to wrap my head around too. But when I do get glimpses on what that means, I see the truth of joy. I get an inkling of why God let Jesus suffer and die on the cross, and I try to hold onto those glimpses of clarity for as long as I can.
It is easy to understand why Jesus felt abandoned on the cross. His words were a profoundly human cry that represents not only His suffering but ours.
“He did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him,” Psalm 22:24.
God didn’t abandon Jesus then. He made a seat for Him at His right hand.
He has also made a place to deliver us from the suffering of this world. Until then, we have to bring Him not only our praise and thanksgiving but our sorrowful laments.
We choose at the time of our darkest hour whether we turn to Him with our suffering or we abandon Him in disbelief.
When I went home and watched the news story of the teenager who took the life of the toddler, I listened to the interview of the baby’s father. It was clear the choice he made.
He said he had just come back from seeing his dead son, kissing him goodbye. He said he knew it was just a body now. His spirit was gone.
While he said that gunman and his companion must be punished, he offered forgiveness for what they did. He said he would pray for them.
How can you not believe in God then, when only through Him, could a father have the strength to forgive the murder of his innocent baby and the grace to offer the gift of prayer for the perpetrator?
It is a remarkable example of someone turning to God in darkness instead of away from Him. He imitated God’s mercy at a time when it is hardly plausible to believe forgiveness is possible. Only through God could this be.
Someone without faith can only see the horror of what is compared to the promise of what will be. They can only see the abandonment of a God that does not exist.
They see the sobriety of death, not the intoxicating joy it brings through resurrection.
“And about three o’clock Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani’ which means My, God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Matthew 27:46.
Those words are an important reminder of the extent of His suffering, His loyalty to God and His example for us to turn to Him during our own plight. But those are not the only words He said on the cross that fateful day.
“Then Jesus said, Father, forgive them, they know not what they do…” Luke 24:34