From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Then Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and breathed his last. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many. Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!” Matthew 27:45-54
Darkness came over the whole land. This must have seemed like the end of all things for the disciples who looked on from a distance. All their hopes and dreams ended on a cross that day. Jesus’ words of despair must have resonated with them, as they surely felt God had forsaken them all.
Maybe you have felt abandoned by God. It helps to know that this is not uncommon in the lives of saints. The psalmists certainly felt abandoned at times, and often recorded their cries to a God who seemed mysteriously absent. Sometimes the suffering of the world can seem like too much and we wonder where God is. Why has he turned his back on us and allowed this pain? Then we can guilt ourselves and wonder if it’s us. Shouldn’t we just try harder to believe, or pray harder or avoid admitting that we feel the slightest bit of doubt? We are so uncomfortable with these questions. Yet doubt is not the enemy of faith. It is honest and real and invites openness to God when we’re willing to ride it out. Though it may feel scary, it’s helpful to stick with the process as long as it takes for God to do his work in us. He may be taking us into a deeper place of faith, regardless of how it looks and feels.
One result of all this inner work is that it allows God to give us his perspective, as we only have our small view of reality before us. Take another look at the scene above. As Jesus breathes his last and the earth shakes and the veil in the temple is torn, the disciples grieve and despair. What they do not know is that at the very same time the dead are being raised to life. The soldiers watching this scene are brought to faith by it, saying, “Truly this man was God’s Son!” Is this a glimpse of death or of new life? Of a reason to grieve or of God’s unfolding plan? Like most things we experience, it is both.
Today’s prayer practice: Prayer of abandonment
Read the verses above again slowly, allowing them to sink in. How do you feel when you read Jesus’ cry of despair? Have you ever experienced a sense of God’s absence? What are you feeling now? Ask God to show you he is with you, even if you aren’t aware of his presence. Listen. Are you willing to trust that God is doing unseen work in the darkness of your life and circumstances? Take this to him in prayer and sit with open hands. Close with this prophecy about the Messiah from Isaiah:
“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.
All we, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Isaiah 53:5-6