WAS JESUS ABANDONED?
When from the cross Jesus cries out: “My God, My God, why have you abandoned me?” he felt the full consequences of human sin, which separates from all that is good, including God who is good. To embrace human sinfulness in bodily life in loving self-sacrifice, as Jesus did, pushed him to the outermost edges of inhabitable reality. It overshadowed his dimming and dying perceptions and awareness. It acquainted him with the deepest of griefs—the shrouding of conscious awareness of God’s presence. It drove him to a despairing sense of abandonment, unthinkable and unimaginable until that very moment. In these final moments, he felt the generationally-compounding weight of humanity’s isolation from the Presence required for human life and flourishing.
It is simply, therefore, never the case that, “No one knows the trouble I’ve seen.” It is always the case, that at least One does. We take comfort in that. And we share that comfort with others.
But was Jesus abandoned, and truly out of the Presence? Did his Father turn his face away? Does the redemption of the world trace to divine child-abandonment, as skeptics have put it? Did human sin and divine justice conspire to force God’s hand in this way? My conclusion is, “No, that is not the proper way to understand what was going on, though ultimately this remains a mystery at least in part.” Two observations about this.
First, Jesus was one with the Father, and the Father with Jesus. But not in the way we are one with another. God is Triune—three but one; one but three. We do not have to understand this fully to sense the difference it makes to the question of what was happening to Jesus. Whatever Jesus did on Good Friday he was one with Father and Spirit as he did it. Whatever Jesus did, he did as the final and full and glorious revelation of who and how God is, and what God does for the world and us all. Our language and metaphors reach and perhaps exceed their limits at this point. At least mine do. But God who is love does not abandon the beloved, ever. Rather, the God who is holy and just has in love stooped down and stepped up to do for us what we could not do for ourselves, to do the righteous thing in accord with the holy covenant he made with his people, to cover, conquer, cleanse and forever constitute a people who will be God’s people and will call God, “Abba.”
Second, the devil is a liar and a cheat. From the very beginning he has twisted the truth to human undoing. To be oppressed by the evil one is to be assaulted by partial truth and glaring disinformation. Sin eclipses the light of God and the light of the world. Apparently, even the One who is the Light, whose presence in the world is the “Light of the world,” can suffer the eclipse. Thus, in his final moments, the sin-bearing son of God experienced fully the disorienting and distorting power of sin. Not his own sin, but the darkness of sin he freely takes upon himself. Such darkness and distortion confuses and conflicts the mind. Such darkness is so deep as to blot out all sense of light around us. Indeed, we recall that from the sixth to the ninth hour darkness covered the whole land. It is out of the darkness and confusion of sin’s distortion that Jesus suffers and cries out for God, whose light was then totally eclipsed.
But when the light is eclipsed it is still there. The eclipsing of the light, as real as it is, does not last, not naturally and certainly not when the light is the Light of the world. Thus, the evil one is itself victim to sin’s deception. Darkness came and seized a moment. But only a moment. The last laugh awaits a coming dawn.