Though the fig tree may not blossom,
Nor fruit be on the vines;
Though the labor of the olive may fail,
And the fields yield no food;
Though the flock may be cut off from the fold,
And there be no herd in the stalls—
Yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will joy in the God of my salvation.
The Lord God is my strength;
He will make my feet like deer’s feet,
And He will make me walk on my high hills. (Habakkuk 3:17-19)
In times of trials and trouble it is very natural to ask the question, “Where is God?” It is so natural in fact the when Jesus was on the Cross, at the ninth hour he is said to have cried out, “Eli, Eli, lama sabacthani,” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Isn’t that amazing that even the One who Christians the world over call the Author and Finisher of our Faith and those from many other traditions respect as one of the most spiritual beings to ever walk the planet felt forsaken by none other than God who he called Abba or Daddy? In the book of Hebrews v.12:1-2, where this title of Author and Finisher was bestowed on Jesus, we are told that he endured the cross because of the joy that he knew was set before him and despised the shame of such a death. It is important to know that the root of the word despised is: to look down on. In other words, for Jesus to despise the shame of dying on the Cross is to say that he looked down on the shame. Or better put, the joy that was set before him was so great that shame was beneath him. And yet, he still cried out to God that he felt forsaken. Why is that?
Well for me to say that I know exactly what Jesus was thinking or feeling in that moment, would be speaking falsely. However, as a human, I can speak to the seemingly universal feeling that everyone I have ever known has felt at one time or the other–the feeling of being utterly alone. Do you know that feeling? It is probably one of the most horrible feelings that any human person can endure. So painful is it that, we will do almost anything we can to avoid it. And if we can’t avoid it we will try to control it in some way. The healthier among us seek out communities of like minded people. We unite over something, whether it is an event, idea, or a cause ,that is bigger than ourselves and we give ourselves to it in the hopes that we can facilitate a better world where fewer and fewer people have to endure loneliness and the feeling of being forsaken. The less healthy among us still seek to unite, but we may do so over something more destructive such as the use of certain harmful substances, illicit activities, or our mutual disdain or dislike of some person, group, or institution. And then there are those of us who seek to take control of our fear of loneliness by telling ourselves and others that we do not need anyone and that we prefer to be alone. Perhaps there are some people who genuinely would be completely happy if they had a planet to themselves with no other living creature, but I doubt it. I doubt it because a lonely human is in an unnatural state of being. It is as if we are hardwired for relationships
Consider this, the only thing that the Hebrew tradition has in the creation story that is considered “not good” is found in Genesis 2:18 where it says, “And the Lord God said, “It is not good that man should be alone.” It’s as if every goodness or potential for goodness in our lives is contingent upon some type of relationship. What is the scariest thing about death if it is not the belief or fear that it means being cut off from all relationships? So what if when Jesus cried out it was because up until that point, he had never known what it was like to feel out of relationship? I imagine that it would have been the most terrifying feeling for him and yet, we who try to live by his example and look for hope in our lives through his life have to wrestle with the idea that he chose the Cross and that somehow he chose it for us so that we could know the joy that made the Cross worth it. What a seemingly unsolvable mystery. Or is it?
The Hymn of Faith at the top of this post is the ending of the small three chapter Book of Habakkuk from the Hebrew Bible which begins like this:
O Lord, how long shall I cry,
And You will not hear?
Even cry out to You, “Violence!”
And You will not save.
Why do You show me iniquity,
And cause me to see trouble?
For plundering and violence are before me;
There is strife, and contention arises.
Therefore the law is powerless,
And justice never goes forth.
For the wicked surround the righteous;
Therefore perverse judgment proceeds. (Habakkuk 1:2-4)
So the question is, what was God’s response to Habakkuk between these verses you just read and the one’s at the top of the post that created such a dramatic shift in Habakkuk’s perception. Well the short answer would be the same answer Job received, which was essentially, “I am God and I know what I am doing”. But where is the joy in that? How does that help people who feel forsaken? Well, I think the answer goes back to that fundamental fear that I mentioned above–the one that Jesus endured in a measure that Hebrews says no other person has ever tasted–the death that is the end of all relationship, even a relationship with God. I think that what God showed Habakkuk was the reality of God’s omnipresence. He showed him the reality of Christ–that there is absolutely nowhere that God is not. And therefore our most basic fear is an impossibility. We cannot be alone. Our relationship to and with God is so complete that God is not separate even from our deepest, darkest, and most despairing moments. God is wholly with us in all things even as God was fully present with, in, and through Jesus on that Cross.
And so it is in this faith that the Psalmist could say in Psalm 139:
Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend into heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.
When I awake, I am still with You.
And it is in this realization that “O Lord, how long shall I cry and You will not hear?” and “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” become holy questions. In them we see that we do not cry out to God because God is not there, but the we naturally cry out to God even in the depths of our fears because at the core of our being we know that God is here, there, and in fact everywhere. There is nowhere that God is not.