Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
When the world shook and the sun was wiped out of heaven, it was not at the crucifixion, but at the cry from the cross: the cry which confessed that God was forsaken of God. And now let the revolutionists choose a creed from all the creeds and god from all the gods of the world, carefully weighing all the gods of the world, carefully weighing all the gods of inevitable recurrence and of unalterable power. They will not find another god who has himself been in revolt. Nay (the matter grows too difficult for human speech), but let the atheists themselves choose a god. They will find only one divinity who ever uttered their isolation; only one religion in which God seemed himself for an instant to be an atheist.
-G.K. Chesterton, “Orthodoxy”
I recently came across this passage by the Christian apologist G.K. Chesterton and it immediately shook me. You know when you read something and it speaks to you at some level you really weren’t prepared for? I reread it - once, twice - over and over again - trying to understand what I thought it was saying to me. Perhaps Friends have had this experience. A profound message is spoken in Meeting, or written on a page, perhaps by someone a long time ago, and it strikes you as meaning something more to you than you really understand. You are not “really” sure why, but it seems to speak to your condition somehow; it resonates with something inside you or gives you some insight you don’t think you had before....
But whatever is happening, you replay the words, you go over them in your mind, you try and figure out what it was that struck you and why it might be important that it did.
There is a lot in Scripture that speaks to me in that way. Times when it seems it really IS the Voice of God speaking directly to us. There is a lot more that does not speak to me or is unintelligible to me, things I like to believe the Spirit has definitely NOT opened to me. But I’m content to be one of those who, as Christian writer Robin Meyers puts it, “know what they are supposed to believe but refuse to equate miracles with magic or liturgy with history - and yet still fall silent when someone reads the Beatitudes or get goosebumps listening to the parable of the prodigal son.”
So when Jesus cried from the Cross, “My God, my God...why have you forsaken me?” - what is happening there? I used to just gloss over that. And no doubt there are plenty of commentaries and theologies out there that have an answer but I’m too lazy to look them up. In good Quaker fashion I do believe that it is the Holy Spirit that opens Scripture to us and brings us to a deeper Truth than we can find by theorizing or looking for an answer in the Anchor Bible Dictionary, but still...
I’m still wrestling with that Chesterton quote.
And this is where I think I’ve come so far. If we accept - or even for now just suppose - that Jesus was Man in full experience of God, or God fully experiencing the human condition - what does it mean that God is forsaking Himself? What metaphorical understanding of who God is were the Gospel writers trying to convey? If Jesus really did say these words from the Cross, what was he saying about who God is?
Is it possible that Jesus is saying that God’s love for humanity is so great that God had to experience not only the most abject physical suffering but also the total absence of God - and all the anguish and emptiness and despair that goes with it? That God needed (?!) to show us that God experiences not only the physical suffering of his children but the spiritual suffering of the absence of God, the absence of reason, the absence of meaning - in order to say to us that it is all okay, that He knows how we feel, and He is still there in His absence?
These are my musings, dear Friends, and I thank you for your patience.