My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?
We hear this well-known scripture verse at the cross, when the Earth was covered in darkness, and Jesus uttered these words moments before he surrendered his spirit and died. But that’s not the first time we hear it… the line first appears in Psalm 22. Although the specific reason is not known, the author of the Psalm is clearly suffering. “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” The passage goes on to say:
Why are you so far away when I groan for help?
Every day I call to you, my God, but you do not answer.
Every night you hear my voice, but I find no relief.
Have there been times, when you’ve felt like the author of this Psalm… that God was very far away? Perhaps during a time when you were experiencing personal suffering. Or maybe from the nagging worry that suffering may be just around the corner. We live in a world FULL of uncertainty and fear. Worries about our personal health and well-being and the well-being of our family members. Worries about the economic climate… will we keep our jobs? Can we “stay afloat” financially? Worries about global threats, war, and violence – terrorism, shootings, natural disasters, contagious disease.
How easy it would be to collapse under the weight of all these worries. How often do we feel like that’s exactly what we might do? How does this fear manifest itself? Sleepless nights, stress, anxiety. Living in this state of perpetual worry… how do we pray?
Dear God, PLEASE don’t let me get sick.
Dear God, PLEASE don’t let anything happen to my children.
Dear God, PLEASE don’t let my husband lose his job.
We lovingly and a bit desperately bring our laundry list of fears to God… praying that He will protect us from anything bad. Dear God, don’t let this happen! We fear that if the worst did happen, we wouldn’t be able to handle it.
These troubling times can make us feel like we’re in the middle of a raging storm… beaten down by winds and rain, feeling like we might drown or be swept away. In the everyday trials and tribulations of life, the storm may not seem as life-threatening, but it still can be relentless and exhausting. The Scripture that always comes to my mind when I’m in the middle of one of these stormy times comes from Mark’s gospel:
That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”
It comforts me to know that the disciples behaved exactly like I would have in this situation. They were freaked out. They wanted the storm to go away. They didn’t trust that they would survive it. Jesus was right there in that boat with them… but still they didn’t trust. And can you really blame them? Here they were… caught up in a “furious” squall, and Jesus was SLEEPING ON A CUSHION! I love this translation, because that image of Jesus fast asleep on a comfy cushion perfectly captures the way the disciples must have been feeling. That God was far away. “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”
When I teach this Bible story to my Faith Formation students, they love it. It’s so exciting. They can picture being out on that stormy sea, and how awesome it was that Jesus calmed the storm with a simple gesture of his hand. It really shows his power and might. My students see him as a superhero. What I’d like to suggest to my students, and anyone who focuses on the ‘Jesus as Superman’ aspect of the story, is that maybe we’re missing the point. Those disciples weren’t going to survive because Jesus calmed the storm… they would survive simply because He was with them. He would keep them calm and safe and secure in the midst of the storm. That’s what Jesus wanted his disciples to realize and that’s why he called their faith into question. I think the same point holds true for us today. What we should take away from this gospel reading is NOT that Jesus is here to calm the storms in our lives and make them go away. We don’t need Jesus to do this in order to survive… although, admittedly, it would be nice. But we need to know and truly believe that Jesus is with us in the midst of every storm… to help us get through it.
So maybe, instead of going through the laundry list of prayers that nothing bad will happen to us, we should simply pray that God will be with us if and when it does. For reasons we will never understand, God doesn’t always take away the storms in our lives. He gave us a world with free will, human choice, science, and laws of nature. What God can promise is to help us weather the storm. To ride it out. To get through to the other side, where the sun will once again shine upon our faces.