Monday, February 04, 2008

The cry of desolation.

And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?"—which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

This is among the most profound passages in the whole of Scripture. Jesus was quoting Psalm 22, but he was also expressing his own anguish. What was going on here?

It seems, at first sight, a mystery. How could the God/Man be perplexed about what was happening? Was He not all knowing?

Jesus was fully man and fully God. John's gospel tells us 'He was with God in the beginning'. We cannot understand the Trinity. How can God be both three and one? Still less can we imagine the Trinity ripped apart. But that seems to be what was happening.

The pictures of Hell in the Bible are either of a inextinguishable fire or of outer darkness. Some have described Hell as the total absence of God. We are familiar with the idea of common grace. God makes it to rain upon the just and unjust. Imagine that grace withdrawn. In The Great Divorce, CS Lewis imagines a place of outer darkness peopled with great villains like Napoleon who are completely separated not only from contact with God, but even with human contact. Jesus had already been deserted by his friends not be was abandoned by God. We have all felt abandoned by God, but none of has been. We were just unable to discern His presence, because of fault in us, not in Him. He has always been there. But Jesus had never been separated from the Father. Even from eternity past they had always been together.

In an inexplicable way God was incarnate in His second person, yet retained that special intimacy with the other persons of the Trinity. Now suddenly the Godhead was wrenched apart. How that occurred I do not know. Was the Son of Man separated from the Son of God? I do not know.

The Apostles creed tells is that, "He descended into Hell." Some have linked this to the text in Ephesians chapter 4 about descending to the lower, earthly regions and leading captivity captive, and that other text in I Peter Ch3 about Jesus preaching to the 'spirits in prison', but what it is really describing is this time on the cross when Jesus experienced for the first time in all eternity the absence of God.

We do not know we cannot tell what pain he suffered there
But we believe it was for us he hung and suffered there.

William Cowper was a great poet. His mother was a Donne and he is perhaps a descendant of the poet John Donne. He is the author of several of out best loved hymns including "There is a fountain filled with blood", "God moves in a mysterious way" and "Oh for a close walk with God". For mush of his life he suffered from severe depression and lacked assurance. Elizabeth Barrett Browning was moved that such a poet should be so depressed and wrote a poem entitled 'Cowper's Grave' these are the last two stanzas:

Deserted! God could separate from His own essence rather;
And Adam’s sins have swept between the righteous Son and Father;
Yea, once, Immanuel’s orphaned cry His universe hath shaken --
It went up single, echoless, “My God, I am forsaken!”
It went up from the Holy’s lips amid His lost creation,
That, of the lost, no son should use those words of desolation!
That earth’s worst frenzies, marring hope, should mar not hope’s fruition,
And I, on Cowper’s grave, should see his rapture in a vision.

How right she was. Because of Jesus' desolation, none should share it. How perverse that some should choose to do so.

1 comment:

justme said...

William Cowper's lack of assurance brought the words of this song to mind:

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!
O what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
born of his Spirit, washed in his blood.

Perfect submission, all is at rest;
I in my Savior am happy and blest,
watching and waiting, looking above,
filled with his goodness, lost in his love.

This is my story, this is my song,
praising my Savior all the day long;
this is my story, this is my song,
praising my Savior all the day long.

(I Cor 1:30-31)