Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?

Yesterday’s post bordered on the ridiculous. Today’s post should trend a little closer to the sublime. I admit to lifting it from Michael Spencer’s blog (he calls himself the Internet Monk even though he’s Baptist), and Michael got it from Trevin Wax (who quoted Phillip Yancey and Karl Barth) and from Bill Kinnon (who got it from John Armstrong who quoted Thomas Merton). This is what is known in the trade as “research.” So much for the non-plagiarizing life of a blogger/writer.

Here’s the part Michael got from Trevin Wax/Phillip Yancey/Karl Barth:

“I have learned one absolute principle in calculating God’s presence or absence, and that is that I cannot. God, invisible, sovereign, who according to the psalmist “does whatever pleases him,” sets the terms of the relationship. As the theologian Karl Barth insisted so fiercely, God is free: free to reveal himself or conceal himself, to intervene or not intervene, to work within nature or outside it, to rule over the world or even to be despised and rejected by the world, to display himself or limit himself. Our own human freedom derives from a God who cherishes freedom.

“I cannot control such a God. At best I can put myself in the proper frame to meet him. I can confess sin, remove hindrances, purify my life, wait expectantly, and--perhaps hardest of all--seek solitude and silence. I offer no guaranteed method to obtain God’s presence, for God alone governs that.” (Philip Yancey, Reaching for the Invisible God, pg. 121)

And here’s the part Michael got from Bill Kinnon/John Armstrong/Thomas Merton:

The mystic Catholic, Thomas Merton, once noted that: “If you find God with great ease, perhaps it is not God that you have found.”

This statement underscores one of the deepest problems I have encountered over the course of my own life. I settled for thinking that I knew God, or God’s will or purpose, when I am quite sure that I was overconfident many times. The ease with which I spoke, and the ease with which I processed this knowledge, should have warned me but I was too dull oft times.

Theologians rightly speak of the deus absconditus, or of the God who absconds, or is absent. The Psalmist knew this reality and so did Mother Teresa. Great mystics have known it and so have ordinary saints. Luther and Calvin knew it too. Just when we think we have God, or we have figured him out, he is absent from us again. He will be sought but finding is on his terms. He will be known, but not because we are so wise. His grace is for all, but not all find it unless they seek it. Ours is an age for “easy” this and that. Knowing God will never fit into the category of something called “easy.” (from www.johnarmstrong.typepad.com)

That phrase up there in the title of this post is also a quote. It's Jesus asking from the cross: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” In His case, though, the Father's absence was a fact and absolutely necessary (Christ became sin for us, and God cannot look upon sin), even if only temporary, so that God could henceforth forgive us of our sins and receive us to Himself forever.

I would be interested in your comments.


  1. Yes, there are times when he makes his presence very known and times when he doesn't. It is during those times that we most have to walk by faith.

  2. Ruth, I agree. Even when He makes His presence known, though, it isn't exactly the same as walking by sight. We have to walk by faith at all times. But you are right, we have to do it most when we don't sense that He is near.

    We heard a teaching long ago (from Bob Mumford, I think) that God is always with us, but after He has taught us a principle, He lifts from us our consciousness of His presence so that we can be tested as to whether we really learned the principle He was teaching us. But He is still there. That knowledge has helped me get through some tough times. It didn't make them easier to go through, but it helped me get through them.

    Thanks for commenting.

  3. I've tried to compose a sensible comment, but have erased four(long)attempts, so will give up trying to express my thoughts. This post will occupy my mind and heart for quite some time, and I need to talk to my pastor about some theological questions I have (and didn't realize I had until now.)

    I will say that the words in the title of your post are ones that move me to tears whenever I read or hear them.

  4. Pat, thanks as always for reading and commenting on my blog. I sincerely hope this post didn't upset you in any way. If it did, that was certainly not my intention, and I apologize.

    After you work out those theological questions with your pastor, please come back and make another attempt at expressing your thoughts. No one said they had to be sensible!

    That anyone at all is reading my blog is a miracle to me.


    Bob, Thanks for your gentle inquiry. I read ALL your posts, every single one, although I don't always leave a comment. Some I laugh at, some are just plain amazing and I leave in awe of your way with words; nearly all are educational/informative in some way. I don't think it's a miracle that anyone reads your posts; I wish more would leave comments, and I'll try to do so in future, if only to say "Kilroy was here."

    I'm not 'upset' from anything in your post; I found it quite informative, and mentally stimulating (sometimes the latter is not necessarily a comforting thing; see below.)

    After reading your essay, I started really thinking about the concept of God abandoning Jesus on the cross because of SIN, and that led me to think about "the love of God." Suddenly, it occurred to me that, after all these 70+ years of learning, hearing, and believing "God loves you," and John 3:16, I was really not quite sure that GOD (the Father) actually *did* or *could* love me, since I am a SINful human being. If He could abandon Jesus, His Son, because of SIN, why in the world would he love *me?*

    Now, let me hasten to say that I have believed since I could understand spoken language that "JESUS loves me...for the Bible tells me so," and I still believe it. I don't know why I'm suddenly questioning GOD's love.

    Anyway, I think the thing that left me so unsettled was that the *idea* that my relationship to God was not necessarily a loving one from *His* standpoint could even enter my mind. Where did *that* idea come from?

    I had a long talk this evening after church with a fellow member who is a devout and theologically-learned Christian whom I have come to respect highly. I used him as a sounding board for my question, and we had a good discussion. (I admire and respect my pastor also, but it seemed easier, and less threatening --if the truth be known--to talk with someone else. I could go to talk to my Bishop; he doesn't have to look at me twice a week!)

    While I feel somewhat less unsettled after the discussion with my friend, my self-questioning is not completely resolved; I have a lot of thinking, reading and praying to do.

    Dare I close with "Smile. God loves you!?"


    Dear Pat (aka Kilroy), I see what you are saying, and I want to make sure I didn't lead you astray with my post. I'm no theologian, but my reading of the Bible is that God didn't abandon Jesus during the crucifixion because of any sin of His (Jesus') own; God abandoned Jesus because of OUR sin that Jesus voluntarily took upon Himself. And God, being holy, as I said, could not look upon sin.

    Jesus became sin FOR US, so that we wouldn't have to try to atone for it ourselves. That is how much God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) LOVES you. "I will NEVER leave you or forsake you," He says. "Lo, I am with you ALWAYS, even to the end of the age." God no longer abandons any of us, because Jesus took our place and paid the price. Therefore, we can come boldly to the throne of grace that we may find grace to help in time of need. We no longer have to be afraid.

    And having paid the penalty for mankind's sin at Calvary Himself(remember what John the Baptist said at the baptism of Jesus: "Behold the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world."), God then showed His acceptance and seal of approval on what Jesus did by raising Him from the dead. And only Jesus could have done it, being the perfect Lamb, one without blemish and without spot, fully God and fully man. The old necessity of repeating sacrifices for one's sins over and over was done away with. "Nothing in my hand I bring; simply to Thy cross I cling."

    John 3:16-17 still says it all, "For God so loved the world [the oikumene, the people of the inhabited world, you and me; not the kosmos, the world-system] that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not His son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him should have everlasting life."

    In your reading, read Isaiah, read Psalms, read Hebrews. Let God's Spirit through His own Word resolve any uncertainties and answer any questions you may have.

    The love of God shouldn't make us afraid. The love of God should make us say along with hymn-writer Frederick Lehman:

    1. The love of God is greater far
    Than tongue or pen can ever tell;
    It goes beyond the highest star,
    And reaches to the lowest hell;
    The guilty pair, bowed down with care,
    God gave His Son to win;
    His erring child He reconciled,
    And pardoned from his sin.

    O love of God, how rich and pure!
    How measureless and strong!
    It shall forevermore endure
    The saints’ and angels’ song.

    2. When years of time shall pass away,
    And earthly thrones and kingdoms fall,
    When men, who here refuse to pray,
    On rocks and hills and mountains call,
    God’s love so sure, shall still endure,
    All measureless and strong;
    Redeeming grace to Adam’s race—-
    The saints’ and angels’ song.


    3. Could we with ink the ocean fill,
    And were the skies of parchment made,
    Were every stalk on earth a quill,
    And every man a scribe by trade,
    To write the love of God above,
    Would drain the ocean dry.
    Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
    Though stretched from sky to sky.