When Silence is the Answer to "Why?"

Apr 06, 2023

A frequent teaching in Christian circles is that God "turned his back" on Jesus on the cross, leading Jesus to cry out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Supposedly this was because "God couldn't look upon sin." Really?

The Old Testament demonstrates quite clearly God is able to "look upon sin." He calls it out repeatedly -- often in shocking detail. I believe Jesus infamous cry was not a statement about God's presence; it was an expression of the fullness of Jesus' humanity. He was both and. He was simultaneously fully God and fully man. God allowed him to experience what is common to people in pain -- silence. 

Understanding Jesus' cry from this perspective gives us hope. If we think that Jesus' cry was because he was the perfect Lamb of God who took on the sins of the world which rendered God unable to answer him, then we can't relate to Jesus' other words from the cross. But when we see Jesus' crying out the same as we do when agony overwhelms us to the point we can't see, hear, or feel God, then his response gives us an example to follow. It doesn't make the way easy, but it makes the path lit.

Following is a story capturing that day.

Voices jangle in the marketplace as money jingles in the hands of vendors and shoppers haggling over the price of goods. Homes chime with the laughter of children, buzz with the chatter of mothers, and gong with the directives of fathers. Streets moan with the slap of sandals on stone paths, vibrate with the brisk trot of horses, and echo with the snorts, squeals, and squawks of animals.

Silence is scarce on this day.

Outside the city walls, however, the sounds are different. Weeping, taunts, whispers, and commands jab the humid air. The hum of insects drawn by fresh blood and open wounds contrasts with the call of birds circling high above the dying men. An eerie darkness covers the land. The sun, it seems, has pulled a black mantle of grief across its face. From the cross in the middle, an anguished groan petitions, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

And the awesome, majestic voice of the Creator – at whose word galaxies came into existence, who spoke and the stars took their places, who uttered words that pierced the hearts of prophets and hardened those of kings, whose voice had thundered from the burning bush and broken up the fountains of the deep – answers…nothing. Nothing!

Where are the angels who had filled the sky at His birth? Where is the voice from heaven that had announced, “This is my Son whom I love?” Where is the “I Am that I Am?” calling from a burning bush which remains unscathed? Why does the sky not resonate with the piercing cry of a Father, declaring his presence? Why does the hand that had written on the wall a message for a drunken King now not reach to comfort the King of Kings? Why does Jesus hear the laughs of Creation, not the love of the Creator?

The silence of heaven emboldens some in their arrogance. They interpret the quiet as proof that God, if he even exists, doesn’t hear, doesn’t care, doesn’t answer. Their taunts grow coarser, their mocking louder, their hearts harder. For others the silence confirms what they’ve long suspected: God is a temperamental tyrant. Unreliable. Unpredictable. For no good God, no loving father, could see his son in such pain and not respond. They walk away from the cross, convinced God is unworthy of trust.

For others the silence is bewildering. Have they been wrong? Have the last three years been a waste? Have they given up their comfort, their livelihoods, their dreams, for nothing but a well-meaning but misguided man? Have they been duped? Are they really nothing but fools following a fool? The miracles they’ve seen become dream-like in the dizziness of despair. Hope drains from their souls as silence screams, “Why?”

Then, a voice. Not from heaven. From the cross. His throat swollen, his mouth dripping blood, the one crowned with thorns utters not a question, but a declaration. “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!”

And it is then that the heavens thunder the response of God! The earth shakes and splits with the intensity of the Creator’s reply! A tapestry in the temple rips in two as the Father proclaims, “I am here!”

For the silence of the Father did not destroy the faith of the Son!

In Jesus’ profession is the echo of words spoken centuries before, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust Him.” As we bear the crosses in our lives, we will cry out, “Why?” But may that word never have the last word. Rather, may we choose to trust in the goodness of God, even when heaven is silent.


©Stephanie D. Smith

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