Meditation on the Fourth Word from the Cross
Good Friday 2008
A woman lies in a hospital bed in Philadelphia, even as we speak, finally being consumed by the cancer she has fought for two years. She is in the hospice ward where they struggle to manage her pain. She has been given days, if not hours, to live. She is only 29 years old.
A family lives on the banks of a small river in central Colombia, cultivating a small plot of land. One day, a heavily armed group comes and demands food from them. Of course, they surrender it. The next day, another heavily armed group comes and accuses them of collaborating with the first group. They turn over more resources to demonstrate their allegiance. In the end, they are forced to flee or be destroyed.
Contrary to popular opinion, the primary theological question is not “does God exist?” No, the primary theological question is “where is God in the midst of all of this?” Certainly, the latter question implies the former, since locating anything requires a thing to be located. But the latter question demands more. It demands relationship. It demands accountability. It demands context. “Where is God in the midst of all of this?”
How are we to answer this question in the midst of personal and structural tragedy? To be sure, we must answer honestly. Our answer must reflect our vulnerability and our openness, our pain and our loneliness. It must be both legitimate and authentic.
To give voice to such an answer is risky. Risky first because such an answer will likely be unacceptable to friends, family, colleagues; it may even appear blasphemous or heretical. Risky second because our answer means admitting to ourselves our pain and vulnerability and so deepening and ingraining them.
“Where is God in the midst of all of this?” Our answer, arising out of the depths of the human condition, in all of its honesty and authenticity, must be that God is not here.
But wait, what happened to that gospel of grace and freedom? It is true that grace is God’s response to sin and fallenness and that freedom is God’s response to oppression and fear. We celebrate these gifts no more extravagantly than on Easter Sunday when they are bound together in the reality of resurrection.
But that is Easter Sunday. Today is Good Friday. From the cross, Jesus asked, “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?” The question is both accusation and call to account. It is not new on either score; those who regularly read the psalms or the prophets are apt to recognize it. God is not here. Why?
There is plenty of time, three days in fact, for God to answer. But those three days are important. It is important to acknowledge and feel pain, loss and vulnerability. It is important to sit with our woundedness and not move on from it too quickly. It is important to hear the resonance of our authentic, legitimate and honest answer; God is not here.