My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Twenty-some years ago, I walked into my therapist's office and read the following words, softly, slowly, my voice cracking with emotion:
"Lord my God, I call for help by day;
I cry at night before you.
Let my prayer come into your presence.
O turn your ear to my cry.
For my soul is filled with evils;
my life is on the brink of the grave.
I am reckoned as one in the tomb:
I have reached the end of my strength,
like one alone among the dead;
like the slain lying in their graves;
like those you remember no more,
cut off, as they are, from your hand.
You have laid me in the depths of the tomb,
in places that are dark, in the depths.
Your anger weighs down upon me:
I am drowned beneath your waves.
You have taken away my friends
and made me hateful in their sight.
Imprisoned, I cannot escape;
my eyes are sunken with grief.
I call to you, Lord, all the day long;
to you I stretch out my hands.
Will you work your wonders for the dead?
Will the shades stand and praise you?
Will your love be told in the grave
or your faithfulness among the dead?
Will your wonders be known in the dark
or your justice in the land of oblivion?
As for me, Lord, I call to you for help:
in the morning my prayer comes before you.
Lord, why do you reject me?
Why do you hide your face?
Wretched, close to death from my youth,
I have borne your trials; I am numb.
Your fury has swept down upon me;
your terrors have utterly destroyed me.
They surround me all the day like a flood,
they assail me all together.
Friend and neighbor you have taken away:
my one companion is darkness."
Although what I was reading was Psalm 88, I read these words as though they were my own. I don't recall what my therapist said when I was finished, but I recall sensing that he understood. He did not have to tell me that he suffered too, in order for me to know that I was not alone in my experience of pain. One of the most distressing and, unfortunately, common experiences in our lives is that of feeling forsaken or abandoned. Some of us have experienced that quite literally: parents who have hurt us or left us; people who promised to help us and then were nowhere to be seen when we needed them; spouses who vowed to love us forever only to abuse us or choose to love another instead. However, for those of us who have believed (or tried to believe), perhaps there is no sense of abandonment greater than that we feel when God is silent. We have tried to believe that God is all-good and all-powerful, and yet it seems that God did nothing when we called out for help. According to our belief, God could have intervened to stop the bad things from happening - but he didn't and we don't understand why.
Some who read this may be surprised to know that I have seen a therapist or that I have ever felt an anguish as deep as that expressed in the words of this psalm. However, those who know me well, I'm sure, are not surprised at all...This anguish, of course, is not unique to you or to me. In fact, in my church, in the office of readings, we are invited to read these words of Psalm 88 every Friday night. Whether we are in good times in our lives or bad, we must never allow ourselves to forget the cry of anguish - for that cry may be my cry or yours or my brother's or my mother's... And it was also the cry of Jesus, whose Father allowed him to be betrayed by friends and violently killed by those who opposed him. We are told that the Jesus accepted this fate, though afraid and wishing he didn't have to.
The story does not end here. I am not just talking about the fact that the word "Easter" appears on our calendars in a week. It is about the Gift. The Gift is here and now and every day...
(Please check back. I will be writing more about this soon...)