Friday, March 21, 2008

Why Hast Thou Forsaken Me?

It is Good Friday, and today's Daily Office offers Psalm 22, the psalm that begins with the words Jesus spoke from the cross as He was dying, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

The incarnation of God as man is a deep mystery, but Good Friday begins a mystery that seems black and bottomless: the death of God, the sundering of the Trinity. In a sense, this is the center point of all history. The day becomes night, the earth shakes and splits, dead arise out of their graves and walk about. It is as if creation itself convulses, as well it might; its creator, the very hands that formed it, has unaccountably and inconceivably been destroyed by his own creation. Can such a thing be? How could the earth not cease to exist? All eyes, even the unseen eyes of Satan, who perhaps knows best what is happening, are pulled relentlessly to that cross. Can it be? Have I won? The centurions fall down in fear, "Surely this was the son of God!" Unseen forces tear the temple curtain in two. Did the earth splilt beneath as well, foreshadowing the downthrow of the now obsolete center of worship? What is happening? How can God forsake God?

I think that we cannot hope to explain these things. A toddler might as easily attempt to explain lightening. We are but of yesterday and know nothing. Our forefathers saw these terrors at midday and have passed them down without explanation. There they are, raw and aweful, assaulting the mind with impossible realities. We do not understand, but could we expect to understand? We do not even understand our own material world; how could we understand events that involve its creator?

Because Jesus spoke the opening words of Psalm 22 from the cross, we infer that he was invoking the entire psalm, and hence applying it to himself. In the past, when I have read this psalm, I was troubled that it seemed somehow too "human" to apply to Jesus. It seems to be a psalm of lament and supplication to God for rescue from oppressors, for salvation in fact. It reads very much like a human being in deep trouble, asking God to deliver him just as He had delivered his ancestors in the past.

Yet of course, it was especially as a human being, as the Human Being, the second Adam (Adam meaning, in Hebrew, Man as in man-kind) that He was being crucified. Another deep mystery. Jesus so deeply identified with those for whom he was dying that for all intents and purposes (especially divine purposes) he became those he was dying for. He became sin, and it was as such that he was dying. He was not dying because he was God--God had no need to die--but because he was Man. "Behold the Man," says Pilate. He was dying as the second Adam, the innocent Adam dying in place of the sinful Adam. Hence, all his thoughts in Psalm 22 are thoughts from a man's perspective, a human's perspective. He is speaking for us, as we might speak had we been dying there, only guiltless. That is why the Psalm does not speak from God's perspective, though Jesus is also God. These are his dying words, and he is dying as a man, for man.

Hence, he speaks of us as brethren, and says he will praise God in the midst of the "assembly" of us, his people. He, as a man, is really beset upon, is really surrounded by enemies, both material and spiritual, is really dying and is really praying for deliverence. In one sense, of course, He is not delivered. His enemies prevail, and He dies under torture. Yet He is indeed delivered, and we through Him. We are delivered from death through his death, and of course He knew this all along. The Father has not despised the affliction, nor Jesus' prayers upon the cross. He delivered Him from death, and hence from the power of death, through death. So Psalm 22 ends with praise coming from all the nations and all the peoples, who have heard and remember. Yet unborn people will hear and remember, and will declare His righteousness because "He has performed it."

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