Saturday, March 19, 2005

Meditation on separation: 'My God, my God, why...?'

“My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?”

Of all the words from the Cross, this is the one that tears the heart. This is the cry that sears the soul, words of separation, utter loneliness…deep in our spirit we feel the fear…abandoned! Abandoned by Abba? What pain! What mystery!

How can this be? How can the Eternal Son be separated from Abba, the loving, Holy Father?

The question is one that we cannot fathom. We cannot comprehend the essence of God. So we can only approach this cry from the human side. And here it shouts out something we understand: abandonment.



For sin brings separation, and that separation we understand: Separation from God, separation from others, separation from ourselves.

In these words, Jesus cries the cry of the human race, cry penned by the ancient Psalmist, a universal reality: “My God, why? Why have You forsaken me?”

For everyone who has ever wept, “Why?” For all who have ever sensed inner separation from God, and wept over the despair of sin – its loneliness, abandonment, and separation – a light dawns in this cry of Christ. Here Jesus is bearing the separation penalty of our sin: as Jesus takes upon himself the sins of the world, in that instant He bears the actual separation of every human from God.

In this cry, Jesus takes the sting of our own forsakenness.

Jesus takes our abandonment so that we can know, no matter what our feelings, we are not forsaken by God: God himself carried our separation on the Cross.

William Cowper sought most of his life for assurance of faith. He battled despair in order to write high hymns of Christian faith. But, in his darkest hours toward the end of life, he found no comfort for his soul. In his last published poem, “The Castaway,” he termed himself a “destined wretch,” forsaken by Divine:

No voice divine the storm allay’d,
No light propitious shone;
When, snatch’d from all effectual aid,
We perish’d, each alone... [1]

In Cowper’s mind, he died without hope. He could not feel God, and so he concluded that God had left him. He felt that he was abandoned by God, and not mourned by others.

It is a dreadful story.

But was Cowper right that he was castaway by God, because he felt forsaken, lonely…separated from the Father?

Elizabeth Barrett Browning took up that same question at Cowper’s grave. Elizabeth grieved Cowper’s lonely heart and death. But at Cowper’s grave, through tears, she answered his deepest questions in light of Jesus’ cry from the Cross:

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 when 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. [3]

Oh! God bless Elizabeth Barrett Browning!

In faith she answered the worst claim that human despair can make: Our separation must be seen in light of the Eternal Son. The cry of Immanuel shook the universe, going up single, echoless, so that of lost humans, no son or daughter should ever again weep these words of desolation!

Our worst frenzies of earth, our worst separations, though they should mar our very hope, they cannot take away hope’s fruition, for that was won for us on the Cross, as Immanuel himself cried out, “Abba! My God! Why hast Thou forsaken Me?”

Hope. Belonging. Son. Daughter of God.

Separation conquered.

This is the human meaning of Christ’s forsaken cry!




[1] William Cowper, “The Castaway” (1799), English Poetry II: From Collins to Fitzgerald,
The Harvard Classics: 1909–14,
[2] Cowper, “Castaway.”
[3] Elizabeth Barrett Browning, "Cowper's Grave," The Poetical Works of Elizabeth Barrett Browning (London: John Murray, 1914), 143.

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