We prefer our saviors to look like one. Eugene Peterson paraphrased the first verse of Isaiah’s great prophecy: Who would have thought God’s saving power would look like this! (Isaiah 53:1, Message)
This is where the news commentator must make the disclaimer, the picture you are about to see contains disturbing images.
Do you see Jesus wearing the crown of thorns pressed into his forehead, flesh-deep enough to stream blood down his face? His face has begun to swell from the abusive blows that had nothing to do with anyone’s justice. He slumps, shoulders bowed as the rough spun linen of his tunic rubs against the wounds of his freshly flogged back.
And he says nothing.
He is the teacher who “who spoke with authority.” His words delivered people from blindness, paralysis, death, and hopelessness. He commanded the wind and demons.
But when he is the victim of injustice . . . he says nothing.
Our senses aren’t prepared to see anyone suffocating on a cross, nailed there, losing blood, dehydrating, gasping for air with painful, inefficient results.
But we take our eyes off Jesus at our own peril. We must look.
That’s when we hear a cry that rips our heart out, cuts us to the bone. They are words of utter abandonment. “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Matthew 27:46, NLT) Here is the dark night of the soul. The comfort and assurance so needed before the last breath is not there, and it makes darkness even darker.
We look. But God cannot.
It is here that we must realize what Jesus did for us, where he went for us. Jesus carried the sin of the world and took the full blast of God’s unrelenting repulsion for sin.
In that moment, Jesus took away what we need never experience, the total turning away of God from us.
The heavens did not open. The doves did not descend. There was no voice affirming the son who did what His Father asked. There is nothing but silence, darkness, and absence magnifying the agony of Jesus in ways we can never truly understand.
Here is where Jesus does the unbelievable.
He does not rail against what His Father did not do—save him from this pain. Jesus takes the full darkness of God’s absence and uses his last breath to commit himself into His Father’s hands . . . anyway.
I have heard the cries of many who blame God for not doing something. The darkness they must live with is of their own doing. God does not ever withdraw His presence from us. We never have to know a single moment of abandonment as Jesus experienced.
And Jesus, who experienced that deep darkness will do everything he can to protect us from knowing it even when it comes from our own revisions of God’s unfailing love. He’s still there, like it or not, aware or not.
So what will you do as you stand before the cross this Good Friday? Will you finally take all the “why’s” you have ever hurled at God and leave them where Jesus did? Will you dare to place them in God’s hands, no-answer and all?
For there is a balm that only Jesus can share with anyone who has carried their why’s too long. There is a presence that overwhelms what we don’t understand, can’t understand about some reversal or loss. What we can do, is stand at the cross and know that Jesus speaks our “why’s” to God and will wait with us until we are ready to place them, unanswered, in God’s hands, just like Jesus did.
Instead of reading scripture and asking more questions, pray this prayer with me . . .