Feel Like God's Turned His Back on You?Jul 18, 2022
Did you ever have that classmate, friend, or sibling who won every game? Because they were older, faster, smarter. Or designated themselves as play-master and invented such complex rules there was no way you could win. The desire for fun, imagination, and companionship kept you coming back, but you sure wished just once you could stand in the winner’s circle. If only that scenario ended in childhood.
Pain always wins at hide & seek.
A gunman opened fire today ... “Tag, got you!” Missiles hit an apartment complex … “Found you!” The lab tests show … “You’re it!” I’m done with your religion … “Ha ha, I win!” You never … You always … You’re such a … Get back here … Get outta’ here … What makes you think … Protestors today demanded … The body of a …
“Enough!” We cry out. “Enough already!” But pain has no need to catch its breath. No need for rest and recovery. No need for limits. That’s only true of us. Pain is relentless and lusts to be limitless.
Playing with pain is a zero-sum game with a stacked deck. It wins. You lose. Every single time. Unless …
You bring in a ringer.
And there’s only one of those.
If you’ve been a Christian long, you may think you know where I’m going with this. Hold on. This may just throw you.
It’s become part of Christianity’s second-tier theology (items which don’t qualify for “Statement of Faith” status but are held as a tenet) that God “turned his back” on Jesus on the cross. Where does this idea come from? Jesus’ question as he hung dying, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Why did God turn away? Supposedly because God “can’t look upon sin.”
Is this the same God who …
… saw the sin of Adam and Eve and questioned them about it?
… confronted Cain, first about his bad attitude and then about the murder of his brother?
… outlines in gory detail the sins of individuals and nations throughout book after book in the Old Testament, as if he was saying “Um, just so you know. I can see quite clearly from up here what’s going on down there.”
… as the story of Job relates, not only allowed the embodiment of sin into his presence but conversed with him?
… who not only dealt with sins happening in the “now” but also described, with excruciating specificity, the sins to come?
Perhaps the response is, “Yes, but Jesus took the sins of the whole world onto him all at once.” Correct. Yet when did God become ruled by time? He could handle looking upon sins when they were spread out over human history but became overwhelmed when they were time-warped into one single moment?
Throughout the Old Testament we witness God accepting or rejecting people’s sacrifices but never turning away from them because his holiness limited his observational abilities or dictated his capacity to be present.
What does this have to do with your pain today? Everything.
Jesus’ question was exactly that. A question. Not a statement. Of the seven utterances from the cross, one was a request – “Father, forgive them.” Five were statements. “I thirst.” “Today you will be with me.” “Mother, here is your son.” “It is finished.” “Into your hands I commit my spirit.” Only one question was recorded. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
If the world needed to know God “can’t look upon sin” and part of the redemptive work of Christ necessitated being abandoned by God, why not proclaim this as a statement? “God, you have forsaken me.” Why ask a question?
What if it was, as our questions are, an expression of his pain, not a declaration of God’s position?
I see no Biblical evidence God abandoned Jesus. Rather, I see the God-Man human’s heart responding to God’s silence. Just as ours does.
“Where are you?”
“Why won’t you answer me?”
“I can’t see you.”
“I can’t hear you.”
“I thought it would be different than this.”
Silence is not always abandonment.
It is not always empathy withheld.
It is not always a declaration of apathy or disgust.
It is, sometimes, the most agonizing expression of love: restraint.
What if, when we think of Jesus on the cross, we don’t picture a God whose back was turned away from a broken and bloody sacrifice. What if we see a Father’s face pressed towards his only beloved son, despising his shame, poised to signal one angel gripping the top of an immensely heavy curtain separating the Holy of Holies and another with his foot on an earthquake fault line, counting the moments until …
That’s where we live.
Until the relationship changes. Or ends.
Until the child comes back. Or we go home.
Until the violence, abuse, lies, greed, corruption, poverty, betrayals, disease ends.
How do we live “victorious” in the Until?
Just like Jesus.
He could have wrenched free from the pain of his purpose.
He could have interpreted God’s silence as indifference or rejection.
He could have concluded the sin he bore was too much for God.
Nothing could have been further from the truth. God was accepting Jesus – as the perfect, blameless, complete for all time, sufficient for every person, exclusive, preordained, sacrifice for all sin. This meant letting him hang – literally – Until.
We cannot fully grasp the extraordinary faith of Jesus’ statement, “Into your hands I commit my spirit,” unless we comprehend the reality there was no answer from God to Jesus’ question.
No indication God had heard, much less cared. No sign of rescue. Nothing. But. Silence.
Just the horrible, miserable, quiet, bloody Until.
It’s okay to ask, to cry out, to scream, “Why God?!” “Where are you?!” “Why don’t you answer me?!”
It’s okay to feel alone, abandoned, rejected, cut off, cast out.
But he didn’t stop there.
As the flies bit his open wounds, he resolved, “Faith, not feelings.”
To a God who never answered his question and left him hanging, Jesus made the greatest declaration of faith that has ever been or ever will be. “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”
Jesus didn’t say, “God, into your hands,” but “Father.” Jesus affirms their relationship by using the word “Father.” It’s a declaration of place, belonging.
Situations do not define or redefine our relationship to the Father.
Circumstances justify questioning God; not leaving him.
Loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength includes when our pain has overwhelmed our heart, worn down our soul, arrested our mind, and sapped our strength. It doesn’t mean we find a way to scrape or shake or peel it off, like mud off soles. It doesn’t mean we hide, minimize, trivialize, or apologize for it. We bring it to him.
With contorted faces and scorched throats.
With swollen eyelids and sunken cheeks.
With withered hands and convulsing feet.
He does not turn his back on us. Ever. Not because once he “turned his back on Jesus,” this qualified him to be able to look at us bearing the pain from our own sin, someone else’s, or on behalf of others.
Because love always determines to see. What is ugly and wretched, horrible, and unjust. It remains present, even if silent, in the Until.
And when “Finished!” reverberates throughout space and time, God shakes our world, tears open what separates us from him, and gets ready to throw a resurrection party unlike anything we could ask or imagine.
Until then. Ask why.
Just don’t let those words be your last words.
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©Stephanie D. Smith
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