Echos from the Cross: A Third Lesson on Suffering
Our third meditation on this text considers the emphasis, “why have you forsaken me?” If we are honest, this is the version with which we most closely identify. It is not just the forsakenness, or the fact that it is happening for some reason, or even that it comes from a loving God. It is the fact that it is happening to me!
The result of this emphasis is either guilt or anger. We can be led to a sense of an overly pious guilt in thinking that we deserve all the suffering we encounter. We can hang our head and say, “I deserve it” in a way that is not truly confession or repentance but almost an arrogance. It is our badge of honor that we are so awful as to merit whatever evil God sends our way. It demoralizes us and sends us down into the pit. There is no victory in this suffering. No overcoming. No transformation. Instead it works cynicism, bitterness and despair in us. We become martyrs without a cause. Sorry for everything and good for nothing.
The other result can be outright anger. It is a different form of self-centeredness that makes us question why we are any worse than others who seem to suffer less. We puff ourselves up, tabulate our good works, compare ourselves to our neighbors and defiantly ask God to make an accounting of himself for this unjust suffering. When he won’t (and he won’t!) we head down a road of hard-heartedness, situational faith and superficial peace. Our trust in God is conditional and our dependence on ourselves is justified.
In the face of guilt and anger we are taken back by this text to the cross. Why would Jesus ask this question in this way? Isn’t he in fact the only one with the right to ask such a question of God? Only the holy and sinless one could ever ask this of God. He and he alone is justified to ask why, in the presence of a sinful and defiant humanity, God would forsake him. It is absurd that the innocent should suffer at the hands of the holy for the sake of the defiled! But that is the story, isn’t it?
In the shadow of the cross the question of ‘why me?’ is swallowed up by the more excruciating question, ‘why him and not me?’ Why indeed! Because “God so loved the world…”
“Lord God, heavenly Father, help me again become overwhelmed with your love for me, even in the midst of what I am going through. Help me know and feel your presence in a new way that will carry me through these times. Keep me from destructive forms of guilt or haughty self-defiance. Bring me again to the cross this Lenten season and let me find you there as I have never found you before. In the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord, Amen.”