Editing yourself

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I’ve posted a lot about the Cry of Dereliction, where Jesus, on the Cross, cries out (Ps 22’s opening line): “My God, My God! Why have you forsaken me?” I’ve often expressed why we ought to reject the view (of Moltmann and others) that the Father in fact abandoned Jesus, the understanding that what gives the Cross its power to save is not Jesus’ enduring our abandonment of him but the Father’s own abandonment of him, not what we did to Jesus but what God did to him, and thus Jesus’ loss of identity and assurance of filial affection. In focusing on Ps 22, however, I never noticed Ps 42. Dwayne brought Ps 42 to my attention this morning, and I’m shocked.

Psalm 42 (NRSV)

1 As a deer longs for flowing streams,
     so my soul longs for you, O God.
2 My soul thirsts for God,
     for the living God.
When shall I come and behold
     the face of God?
3 My tears have been my food
     day and night,
while people say to me continually,
     “Where is your God?”
4 These things I remember,
     as I pour out my soul:
how I went with the throng,[a]
     and led them in procession to the house of God,
with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving,
     a multitude keeping festival.
5 Why are you cast down, O my soul,
     and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
     my help [6] and my God.
My soul is cast down within me;
     therefore I remember you
from the land of Jordan and of Hermon,
     from Mount Mizar.
7 Deep calls to deep
     at the thunder of your cataracts;
all your waves and your billows
     have gone over me.
8 By day the Lord commands his steadfast love,
     and at night his song is with me,
     a prayer to the God of my life.
9 I say to God, my rock,
     “Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I walk about mournfully
     because the enemy oppresses me?”
10 As with a deadly wound in my body,
     my adversaries taunt me,
while they say to me continually,
      “Where is your God?”
11 Why are you cast down, O my soul,
     and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
     my help and my God.

Like Ps 22, this is the heart-cry of an innocent person victimized by the crowd. You can hear the crowd hurling insults, asking “Where is your God?” Even the psalmist asks God, “Why have you forgotten me?” Ps 22 all over again. But this can hardly mean the author believes God to have turned his back on him.

On the contrary, everything about the psalm presumes the conviction in God’s presence. Indeed, no one who believes God has forsaken him takes the time to complain to God, for to lament or complain to God is to address him, to believe he hears. The language of the heart in its outcry offers the pain it has, but this is not to despair in believing oneself abandoned by God.

The psalmist addresses himself, speaks to his soul, even edits his own complaint. “By day God commands his love and at night his song is with me” (v. 8) is followed immediately (v. 9) by “I say to God, my rock, ‘Why have you forgotten me?’” only to conclude “Why are you downcast O my soul? Hope in God!” Thus the author occupies a place, a perspective, that has not itself fallen under the spell of the lie of godforsakenness, a perspective from which he addresses himself, “Why are you downcast? Why do you feel forsaken?” What must we be to be able to thus address ourselves in such a manner? This is the person as a window open upon and within the transcendent, given by God, not constructed by us from resources provided by anything in this world. This is our givenness as such, and the Cross reveals it authoritatively, finally. Jesus on the Cross could have as easily quoted from Ps 42 as from Ps 22. They are identical frames of reference, both written from the Void.

Even if we must suffer our way through a thousand false avenues and dead ends to discover it for ourselves, ‘Abba, Father’ remains our deepest and truest identity, that which speaks us into being, even in the dark night of the soul. There is no conceivable way God can forsake that, for to exist – to be at all – is to be given, to be spoken into being by God, to be his very speech, and that places us in the most intimate immediacy with and in God. The Cross, then, is a narrative of presence, not of absence, even if it is presence within absence.

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