April 29, 2008

“Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

These words are perhaps the saddest two lines in all of history. Not only did Jesus grieve in the Garden of Gethsemane, not only was He deserted by His best friends and mocked by the religious rulers, He now feels abandoned by His Father. Out of love He has done all God asked of Him. He has surrendered even unto death. But in that moment of agony,  He feels alone.

Has that ever happened to you? I mean on a lesser scale. Have you surrendered to God and accepted a cross in life—something really hard—only to feel forgotten? Abandoned. Forsaken. Alone?

Scripture says that as Christ hung upon the cross, darkness descended, covering the world in shadows for three hours. Then Jesus shouted those famous words, gave a loud cry, and breathed His last breath.

As a young Christian I was taught that Christ felt forsaken because God turned from him as he bore the sins of the world.  

Lately, I’ve questioned that theology. It was so ingrained in me that I actually re-read the crucifixion account in all the gospels looking for something to verify that way of thinking. But I didn’t find it.

Instead, I found a sense of Jesus feeling abandoned—of the very real agony He felt as God left Him to die. There was no miraculous rescue, only the carrying out of the greater plan. Even as Jesus did the will of His Father, His humanity felt the full force of the cross.

Maybe you’ve felt far from God even though you were sure you’d done His will. Maybe in times of pain you wondered where God was. I know I have.

And the popular schools of thought have only added salt to the wound. I’ve come to hate the bumper sticker that says, “If God feels far away, who moved?” I question the people who believe that every time God feels far away it is because we have unconfessed sin. Doesn’t that kind-of negate the power of the cross? We have never been allowed into fellowship with God because we’re good enough. It is a gift because Jesus is good enough and purchased our place in the throne room with His blood.

What if we’ve misunderstood Christ’s feelings of abandonment on the cross? What if those famous words were more a statement of Christ’s human experience of pain than a response to His Father’s rejection?

And what if the silence of God is not a withdrawal due to our sin, but a loving part of God’s training for our spiritual maturity?

It changes things, doesn’t it?

Friends, we know when we’re in out and out rebellion, when we push God away. But I feel certain that you, like me, have felt far from God when you’ve felt no rebellion in your heart, only an overwhelming desire to be close to Him.

When we feel this way, it’s good to remember Job. Though he was the most righteous man on earth, God allowed incredible hardship, and Job felt abandoned. His friends accused him of sin, but Job’s test was a result of his faithfulness, not his disobedience.

Sometimes it is the most devout who experience God’s silence.

It was in Jesus’ moment of greatest surrender that He felt the farthest from His Father. If even our Lord experienced feelings of abandonment, why would we think we won’t?

I don’t think our Lord withdraws His manifest presence to be mean, rather it is part of our maturing process, part of taking up our cross, part of entering into Christ’s suffering.

And so, rather than beating ourselves up during silent seasons, perhaps these are the times to pray for supernatural faith, to cling to Scripture which promises that He loves us and works all things for our good, and to ask Him to help us move in obedience even when we don’t feel like it.

Father,

I don’t like times of silence. There is no gift greater than experiencing Your presence, and when You feel far away it makes me sad. Please do what You need to with me and empower me to love you well when you feel far away, even as I love You when You feel close. But please don’t let these seasons last a moment longer than is necessary for Your purposes to be accomplished in me.


A home schooling mother of four, Paula Moldenhauer is passionate about God's grace and intimacy with Jesus. Her website offers home schooling hints, book reviews, and a free weekly devotional, Soul Scents. Subscribe to Soul Scents at www.soulscents.us. You can contact Paula at Paula@soulscents.us.