It Isn’t Enough!
I heard an excellent podcast this week with Roger Nelson, the pastor at Hope Christian Reformed Church in Oak Forest, Illinois. He was a seminary student when his parents came to Chicago to meet his fiancé. On their way out of worship on a glorious spring morning, they were accosted by a crack addict who forced them into their car where he shot and killed Roger’s father.
Back in seminary more than enough well-meaning people felt led to advise him on how to find meaning in his father’s death. We’ve all been there, either trying to find some kind of meaning in our own loss or pain or (particularly as preachers) trying to help other people make sense of their suffering.
The person who actually helped him was a professor who had lost a son. He told Roger that if God had appeared in front of him and handed him a piece of paper with the reason for his son’s death written on it, he would have crumpled it up, thrown it back in God’s face and said, “It isn’t enough!”
In the thirty years since his father’s murder, Nelson said that none of the attempts to wring some meaning out of his father’s death were enough to compensate for or make sense of what happened.
“My God, Why?”
I wonder if that might be what Jesus was feeling when, in the darkest depths of rejection, unimaginable suffering and excruciating pain he screamed back at God, “My God, my God, why have you left me?” (Mark 15:33)
Perhaps Jesus was throwing it all back in God’s face as if to say, “God, it’s not worth this! It isn’t enough!”
All of it — his vision of the Kingdom of God and his faithful obedience to God’s will and way from his baptism in the Jordan to this horrendous moment on Golgotha–none of it was enough to make sense of the injustice of his suffering in that moment.
None of it was enough to make sense of the way his life of love had been nailed to the cross by the forces of hate in a power-obsessed world.
Jesus was quoting Psalm 22:1-2. The psalmist’s desperate words were so deeply imbedded in Jesus’ mind and heart that as he drifted from conscience awareness into the darkness of death, he gasped them into agonizing sound.
My God! My God,
why have you left me all alone?
Why are you so far from saving me—
so far from my anguished groans?
My God, I cry out during the day,
but you don’t answer.
Eugene Peterson captures the energy of the cry in his paraphrase:
God, God . . . my God!
Why did you dump me
miles from nowhere?
Doubled up with pain, I call to God
all the day long. No answer. Nothing.
The Absence of God
Theologians use the Latin phrase, Deus absconditus, i.e, “the absence or hiddenness of God.” The Old Testament prophet, Isaiah declares:
Surely you are a god who hides himself,
Israel’s God and savior. (Isaiah 45:15)
O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
and you will not listen?
Or cry to you “Violence!”
and you will not save? (Habakkuk 1:1-2)
In a brilliant reflection on these texts (Divine Absence and the Light Inaccessable), Episcopal preacher and scholar, Fleming Rutledge calls the absence of God “a major theme of scripture and a common struggle in the Christian life…Anyone who has not asked this question hasn’t been fully tested yet.”
Sooner probably rather than later, every person who sets out to follow Jesus will end up at the cross where they listen in awestricken horror as the Son of God cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
If we are really honest with ourselves and with God, we’ve been there when we face inexplicable tragedy, suffering and death. Every follower of Christ who dares to pray that God’s kingdom will come and God’s will be done on earth is confronted by the hypocrisy, injustice, cruelty and corruption of the world. The more deeply we believe in Jesus’ teaching and the more closely we follow his way, the more clearly we see and the more intensely we feel the apparent absence and unutterable silence of God that reaches its lowest point when we stand before the cross.
Don’t miss this. Both Jesus and the prophets shout their agonizing cries directly into the face of God. Their experience of the absence of God is not enough to make them deny the presence of the God in whom they trust.
Please read the rest of Psalm 22. You will hear the cry of absence is shouted to a God in whom the writer still places his trust and faith. Rutledge calls it the most profound paradox of the Christian faith.
To know God in his Son Jesus Christ is to know that he is unconditionally love unto the last drop of God’s own blood. In the cross and resurrection of his Son, God has given us everything that we need to live with alongside the terrors of his seeming absence.
She quotes now familiar words that were found scratched on the wall of a basement in Koln, Germany, by someone who was hiding from the Nazi Gestapo.
I believe in the sun even when it is not shining.
I believe in love even when feeling it not.
I believe in God even when God is silent.
This Is Enough
Nelson concludes his comments about his father’s death by saying that knowing that God enters into his loss is enough. It’s enough to know that “God was as broken in this as I was.” He lives with the assurance that in the end “God will wipe away all the tears and that all of us, including my father and my father’s murderer will somehow be wrapped up in God’s peace.”
Easter is coming, sure enough, but on Good Friday, that is enough.
Grace and peace,