Tag Archives: Psalm 22.1

How great the pain of searing loss

Readings
Hebrews 12.1–3
John 13.21–32

Here hangs a man discarded,
a scarecrow hoisted high,
a nonsense pointing nowhere
to all who hurry by.
(Brian Wren)

Last night, we heard that when Jesus was on the cross, he cried out (Luke 23.34),

Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.

We saw that here, the Son is addressing the Father. And that the Holy Spirit is holding them together.

Tonight, we want to hear something else that Jesus uttered from the cross. He cried out in the opening words of Psalm 22:

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

Perhaps you know that feeling.

When I was younger, I was taught that this was the point at which God turn his back on Jesus as Jesus ‘became sin’ for us, as Jesus ‘paid the penalty’ for sin. God could not look on sin, so he turned away from Jesus.

One of the proof tests for this idea comes from the book of the prophet Habakkuk. In 1.13a, we read

Your eyes are too pure to behold evil,
and you cannot look on wrongdoing;

That seems to settle it. God cannot look upon sin, so God turns away from Jesus on the cross.

But we need to read the second half of that verse:

[so] why do you look on the treacherous,
and are silent when the wicked swallow
those more righteous than they?

Habakkuk is confused by this. He thinks that God cannot look upon evil; but he sees that God does look upon evil.

I feel equally confused when people talk about God turning away from Jesus on the cross. You see, I don’t believe God did turn away from Jesus.

The only way I can get any handle on all this is to look at these words as spoken to God the Father by the eternal Son made flesh. Just as ‘Father, forgive them’ is a conversation between Father and Son, so is ‘Why have you forsaken me?’

When Jesus asks ‘Why have you forsaken me?’, we are still dealing with the Father and Son, held together by the Spirit.

God was not far away from Christ that day, nor having an afternoon catching up with his emails in the office. God was in Christ. According to 2 Corinthians 5.19, ‘God was making the whole human race his friends through Christ. God did not keep an account of their sins…’

Or in perhaps more familiar language, ‘God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them.’

You may know this song: How deep the Father’s love for us. It starts like this:

How deep the Father’s love for us,
how vast beyond all measure,
that he should give his only Son
to make a wretch his treasure.

And then we go on to sing these words:

How great the pain of searing loss:
the Father turns his face away.
as wounds which mar the Chosen One
bring many sons to glory.

Let’s just leave for another day the exclusive language that uses ‘sons’ to include ‘everyone’. We won’t go there tonight—it’s important, but it’s not the time right now.

But let’s look at the words.

How great the pain of searing loss:

This is the very heart of the Cross. ‘The pain of searing loss’ is such a moving way to describe the godforsaken cry of Jesus.

Yet the Father also shares the pain of searing loss with the Son.

In that cry, not only is the Son fatherless; but the Father is also sonless. The Father freely enters into the pain of the Son. [Note 1]

If the Father and the Son were truly separated at that point, we could ask Does the Trinity then fall apart? [Note 2] No, because the Spirit binds Father and Son as one in a grief-stricken embrace.

Next, we sing

the Father turns his face away

As I said, I don’t believe the Father’s face is turned away at all; but if it were, it would be turned away in heartbroken grief.

It doesn’t help me to say the Father turns away because the sin of the world is placed on Jesus. For heaven’s sake (literally!), the Son has been spending his life embracing sinners. If God is Trinity, then the Father has also been embracing them with the Son. The Father also embraces us with the Son. The Father is the one who looks out every day for the prodigal to return. The Father does not keep account of sins.

The song goes on,

as wounds which mar the Chosen One
bring many ‘sons’ to glory.

Do those wounds ‘mar’ Jesus? Do they make him ugly to the Father? No! If you see your child injured, you run towards them and not away from them. Your child is beautiful to you no matter what happens.

The scars do not ‘mar’ the chosen one; Jesus bore them in his risen body. He took the scars with him as he ascended into heaven.

The wounds may make Jesus ugly to us, but not to the Father.

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

Because Jesus uttered these words, they have become words of hope for us who are adopted as children of the Father. The triune God will never forsake us: the Spirit binds us firmly to the Father; the Son has accomplished it all for us.

Let us move into the Great Three Days of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter itself with confidence and joy!

For the Wednesday of Holy Week, 2017

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Note 1: ‘To understand what happened between Jesus and his God and Father on the cross, it is necessary to talk in trinitarian terms. The Son suffers dying, the Father suffers the death of the Son. The grief of the Father here is just as important as the death of the Son. The Fatherlessness of the Son is matched by the Sonlessness of the Father, and if God has constituted himself as the Father of Jesus Christ, then he also suffers the death of his Fatherhood in the death of the Son.’ (Juergen Moltmann, The Crucified God)

Note 2: This is almost an inevitable question. It also blunders by exceeding the bounds of human language about God, and is guilty of hubris.

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