As Jesus was dying on the cross, he echoed the beginning of Psalm 22, which reads: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.” (vv. 1-2) These words could be paraphrased as, “God, where are you when I need you?” Jesus knew and memorized scripture. Jesus is doing what we often do when we are at the end. When our sophisticated thoughts wither, we are forced by life to reach down into the recesses of memory. All we can remember is something buried deep within us from Childhood—the Lord’s Prayer, or Psalm 23. This is one reason the church should encourage people of all ages to read and memorize scripture. In those dark moments, when we are at the end of our rope and we can’t think, and most of what we once remembered has fled us, we need something that we know “by heart,” something that we can say without having to think about it. So Jesus repeats a prayer, a clinched fist prayer, that he learned as a child in religious school, a psalm of lament. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.” It is interesting to note that Jesus did not ask God for deliverance but for presence. Jesus’ prayer was, “God, where are you?”
But we forget that the One who Jesus calls Father is not in heaven, sitting on a throne, preparing to swoop down and fix everything. The Father is there with the Son, hanging on a cross, now in intimate conversation with the Son, therefore not as the Son. We don’t want to hear such terrible, terrifying words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me,” because we don’t want to know that that’s the kind of God we’ve got, the kind of God who does not always work the world to our benefit, the kind of God who, when it gets dark, doesn’t immediately switch on the lights but rather comes and hangs out with us, on the cross, in the dark, and lets us in on the most intimate of conversations with the very heart of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Listen to Jesus’ prayer, his nearly final prayer, and you can learn a great deal about an incredibly odd God. Earlier in his ministry his disciples asked Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray like John taught his disciples.” And in response Jesus taught them a prayer. “Our Father who are in heaven . . .” Here, at the end, in the gathering dark, he teaches us another prayer: “Our Father, who art in hell . . .”
Points to Ponder
How many times have we wondered where God is? Do you find comfort in knowing that God is with us even in our darkest moments?
O Lord Jesus, may I never forget that you are closer to me than I can possibly imagine. Help me to hear your still-speaking voice as you shepherd me through the valley of the shadows in my life. Help me to learn scripture so I may pray earnestly and honestly in all circumstances of life. Remind me that I can cry out to my Maker as you did. Help me to trust as you did, that God is with me no matter where I am. Amen.