My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?
Good Friday 2017 was a fairly typical day – except that my youngest daughter had been taken from us just about four weeks prior. I stood in my kitchen chopping vegetables and let my mind wander with the warm breeze that was traipsing through the open doors. And, it hit me.
Let me back up for just a second. Faith, at least for me, has always come with nagging questions. Certain questions have bugged me for as long as I can remember – like – Why did God send his son, Jesus, not merely to die on our behalf but to endure untold suffering in doing so? Why didn’t God come and sacrifice Himself? And other questions have been renewed over the last year – like – what kind of God causes me so much suffering? What kind of God abandons me in my darkest hour? Where is this God when I’ve been kicked in the gut – again?
Maybe these types of questions have never bothered you. Maybe they have, and you’ve been afraid to voice them. God invites our questions. He even provides answers. As I stood in my kitchen, it was as if the afternoon breeze were whispering to me. A glimpse of understanding spoke to my heart.
At a very basic level, sacrifice is fairly run-of-the-mill. We make minor sacrifices without giving it much thought – letting a spouse choose dinner, going with a child’s choice for the radio station, helping with a science fair project instead of watching your favorite show, showing up to comfort a friend in crisis, and so on. Why? Because we love our family and friends. We put their needs above our own as an expression of that love.
That love even breeds within in us a natural inclination toward larger sacrifice. Most of us have never had to make a decision to push a loved one out of the way of serious harm without concern for our own well-being. Even so, most of us would likely profess that we would – and we’d mean it. We’d take a bullet. We’d put ourselves between a loved one and a speeding vehicle. Love is that powerful. Love overrides self-preservation – one of the strongest of all human motivations.
Some people – police officers, first responders, the military – even put the lives of complete strangers ahead of their own safety. This tells us a great deal about willingness and the capacity for humans to offer themselves to the ultimate sacrifice.
And that’s when it hits me. No one would ever volunteer their child to suffer in their place. NEVER. Not in a million years. Even people who’ve never had the slightest desire to have children of their own would agree that sending a child to suffer in the place of a parent is unthinkable. It’s unnatural. People just don’t do that. I doubt that Mary would have welcomed the news from the Angel Gabriel had it included details about how her son would one day be tortured to death. It would have been too much to bear for thirty-three years. It was too much to bear for a weekend.
So why didn’t God just sacrifice Himself? Because it would have been a hollow gesture. We wouldn’t have recognized that sacrifice as much of a sacrifice at all. God coming to Earth and giving His life in our place wouldn’t have been perceived as any greater than our own human capacity to offer ourselves in the place of another.
So why didn’t God just send his son without making him human? If Jesus had been purely divine, then it really wouldn’t have been much different than God Himself being offered up on the cross. It is in Jesus’ humanity that we can begin to understand the magnitude of his submission. It is in Jesus’ humanity that we are given a glimpse into the depths of God’s love.
So where was God in Jesus’ suffering? Where is He in our suffering? When Jesus cried from the cross, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me,” God was there. When my heart was destroyed with the news of Brooke’s death, God was there. When you are hit with distressing news, God is there. Jesus was God’s only begotten son. Brooke was God’s most-beloved child. I am God’s most-beloved child. You are God’s most-beloved child. When we hurt, God hurts with us.
You might be thinking – What’s the big deal? God knew that Jesus would be raised a mere three days later? I have to wait much longer than that for my suffering to end. I’ve thought it. More than once. God’s ability to bear the full intensity of Jesus’ suffering (of our suffering) is exactly what gives meaning to the sacrifice. Jesus’ death on the cross is meaningless if God feels no pain.
In fact, God encounters suffering in a way that we simply cannot grasp. Just as His love is pure and perfect in a way that we struggle to imitate, our attempts feeble at best. His capacity to know pain is full and complete in a way that we cannot fathom. God walks the entire valley as we suffer in the shadow.
But if suffering were the end of the story – that would be a pretty sorry story.
Suffering only enters the story of this fallen world because love came first. Love and suffering are conjoined and indivisible. We’d have no capacity to grieve loss, if we had no capacity to love. We feel the scorch of loss only because we know the spark of love. We love because we are loved. And a love so great as to pay the ultimate price to reveal it can only come from the perfect Source of love. Likewise, only One who can love perfectly has the capacity to bear the full brunt of suffering.
We don’t love perfectly. We don’t have the capacity the bear the full brunt of the pain of this world. We don’t have to. God loves us perfectly and He bears the full brunt of our pain making Him the perfect source of comfort even in our darkest circumstances. God’s comfort is the balm that heals our broken bodies, minds, and spirits. And like a salve prescribed by a physician, it will do no good sitting in a jar with the lid tightly secured. We have to open the jar allowing God’s comfort to repair our hurting hearts and singed souls.
This is the hope that is gifted to us. This is the hope of which we are reminded this Easter weekend. Our skies may be darkened. Our tombs may feel sealed. But we know there is more. We know that suffering is not the end of the story. In a mere “three days,” our stones will be rolled away. Our broken bodies and souls will be resurrected.
One morning we will awake “bright shining as the sun” -every tear wiped away!