God entering our God-forsakenness  

Good Friday

Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12 

Psalm 22.1-20

1 Corinthians 1:18-31


Friday 29 March 2024

     ©Suzanne Grimmett

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me: 

why are you so far from helping me and from the words of my groaning? 

These are words from today’s Psalm that Jesus knew well. So well, in fact, that he seems to have identified this Psalm with himself, repeating these words from the cross in both Matthew and Mark’s Gospel accounts. Somehow, we need to come to terms with the cry of God-forsakenness on the lips of the God-man, Jesus, who was receiving a cruel punishment despite there being no crime.

Some who reflect on this cry of forsakenness have read into it a very literal understanding of Jesus being abandoned by God; Jesus who took all our sin upon himself could no longer be in-dwelt by the holiness of God. We hear this kind of theology in the words of the song, “How deep the Father’s love for us”

How great the pain of searing loss –
The Father turns His face away…

But thinking we are so bad that God’s Son had to be punished for us, is not the good news. Too many of us already carry a sense of not being enough; of thinking that if God is indeed the deepest reality, divinity would only be disappointed or even repulsed by our shortcomings. Too many of us think God would turn away. Not far behind such thoughts is often a sense that if God’s Son had to be crucified, it can only be a sadistic god who would ever have required such a price. Many shake their heads and walk away at this point- if religion reveals a wrathful god who demands this kind of cruel punishment, then life is better lived without it.

Yet Christianity has called this day “good” and insisted that the cross of Christ is not only good news, but some kind of victory. The answer may be found in recognising that far from “turning his face way”, the cross is the ultimate expression of God turning toward us in radical identification. God was there, present in Christ on the cross and, by God’s own initiative, physically and spiritually identifying with the sufferings of the world, going to the depths of human created hell.  God in Christ on the cross breached the divide between God and humanity, in the fragility of human flesh intimately bearing the divinity that could redeem human violence and transform human agony to joy.

The words of Psalm 22, however, are a heart-rending cry of brokenness.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

We cannot hear these words without being faced with the truth that on Golgotha that day, and in so many days before and since, humanity is overwhelmed by the suffering we inflict upon one another, and the suffering that is part of the human condition. Such times of apparent forsakenness appear in every life- betrayals, broken promises, broken relationships, grief, sickness, death. As we approach the cross on this most holy of days, we can see our own suffering in the suffering of Jesus. We can recognise that while we do not get a clear answer to our most passionate questions, we do get presence- the God who is with us in our own forsakenness.

As Stan Grant wrote this week in a piece entitled, My Easter prayer: Where are you God?, “the wounds of Christ open us to our own wounds, and the wounds of one another”, offering “a glimpse of what it might be to be finally, gloriously human.”[1]  Yet it is a fullness of humanity we do not yet see. In so many places across the globe we see the suffering caused by war and violence of every kind. The numbers of those killed in Gaza, so many of them children, and the humanitarian crisis unfolding there right now as we gather here in worship suggests that we are more removed from our humanity than ever.  The cross may break the divide between God and humanity, yet everywhere it seems that our will to dominate and our disregard for justice continues as we attend to our own needs and close our eyes, ears and hearts to the suffering of others. Jesus on the cross is not abandoned by God, but we in our self-interest and determined individualism give ourselves over to such abandonment.

Where then is hope?

We do not have the whole of Psalm 22 in our readings today, but no doubt the whole was known by Jesus when he quoted it in his cry of forsakenness. Verse 24 says,

For God did not despise or abhor
    the affliction of the afflicted;
he did not hide his face from me,
    but heard when I cried to him.

Here is God attending to the cry of abandonment. Here is God’s face turned, in Christ, toward us even, or especially, in our greatest moments of darkness, mess and despair. The cross is a sign of God ever and always being “for us”; going even to this length to breach any separation we create and overcome any hell we make for ourselves. God, inside human flesh, is there opening us to love and to what it can mean to be human. And when we come to the new dawn of Sunday, God is there, reversing death and even the cruel, punitive violence of the cross becomes a means of grace that draws us into life.

May we hold in these days as we wait, the vision of what it means to be made fully human and sense the earth-shakingly momentous act of a God who will go to any length, even stretching out arms upon a cross, to draw us close.


[1] Stan Grant, My Easter prayer: Where are you God?, The Saturday Paper, March 23, 2024