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Good Friday: When God is absent

“At about three o’clock, Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”

Matthew 27:46 (NLT)

These are probably the most painful words in the Bible. Jesus, the son of God, hanging on a cross, cries out to his heavenly Father. All he hears back is silence. It’s horrific, it’s real and it’s something I reckon all of us have felt at some point too – the absence of God.

Jesus would have never felt that before. This was new. His ministry had started with his baptism and an audible affirmation that God was pleased with him. He captivated people, teaching with authority and wisdom. He performed miracles. He challenged authority and injustice. God was with him, using him and blessing what he did. Now, his prayers go unheard. His life unravels. The world rejects him. And God is absent.

If we’re honest, we’ve all felt as Jesus did. ‘Where are you God?’ is a question, a cry, many of us have uttered. In the breakdown of a relationship, the diagnosis of a terminal disease – whenever life turns crap, we can feel the absence of God’s love, presence and hope.

I’m sure that for millions of Christians around the world who know the cost of following Jesus in the midst of persecution and trial, that the question ‘Where are you God?’ is uttered often. When churches are closed, pastors arrested without trial and Christians are beaten, accused and even murdered, where on earth is God?

They are no easy, smug answers. As Christians we celebrate the joy of the resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday. Everything turns out ok. Great right? But sometimes it’s not that simple. Hindsight is a great thing, but for many of us, the Good Friday cry is where we are now, and it’s hard to find hope. We need to be able to wrestle with this, to struggle, and to question, without feeling like we’re losing our faith. Jesus knew God existed, yet he still questioned.

We need to be able to wrestle with this, to struggle, and to question, without feeling like we’re losing our faith. Jesus knew God existed, yet he still questioned.

On the cross Jesus knows what it’s like to feel abandoned by God – probably more than any of us ever will. He knows when prayers seem to go unanswered. He knows the tears and the pain. He was fully God, but also fully human. He’s felt that ultimate rupture between man and the divine. He feels the distance, the lack of connection, that sense of lost-ness.

Now this is where things get weird, or interesting, or downright confusing, depending on your perspective. But in the cross, God is working. In fact, his very absence, or silence at Jesus’ cry, is where God is most present. The cross is where God acts to restore all the hurt, the brokenness and the pain. It’s where He starts to mend His world. It’s where He shows His love for us. His silence on Good Friday – his absence, is where He is most present.

Make sense? It’s an insane paradox, that on the cross, God’s very absence is where He is most present.

This isn’t simple and it’s not easy. When we face our own Good Friday experiences, our own times of God’s absence, it’s unlikely we’ll find comfort in a theological paradox. But what we can find comfort in, is knowing that Jesus felt the same. He questioned, wrestled, struggled – he nearly gave up. He’s been there – whatever the situation, he’s wrestled with God, asking the ultimate question ‘God, why have you left me?’

Whatever you’re going through, whatever you’ve uttered in your darkest moments, no matter how harsh your questions – or even accusations – of God, Jesus has been there. It’s ok to be honest and it’s ok to be brutal. This is supposed to be a relationship after all. And while we know Easter does eventually come – while we know that hope, restoration and celebration are on the horizon – the fact that Jesus understands our questions and pain, and that God can be present even in the midst of absence, can be enough to keep us going.

We support people who are beaten, tortured,
imprisoned, falsely accused, and hated simply for following Jesus.