Christ Forsaken by God: For Good Friday Meditation
A Sheaf of Sermons Selected from the Writings of
RT. REV. PAUL WILHELM V. KEPPLER
LATE BISHOP OF ROTTENBURG
B. HERDER BOOK CO.
Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur, 1929
"My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?"
THERE is a time for everything: a time to be happy, and a time to be sad,, a time to shout for joy and a time to weep. Good Friday is not a day of joy. Where so much pain and torment and disgrace, so much cruelty and malice, so much blood and mortal anguish are crowded together and condensed into a dark storm-cloud, as on Golgotha, no ray of joy can penetrate; there only all the mass of mourning, grief and woe and pity, slumbering in the heart of Christians, is awakened.
Every Good Friday, and were it, in the realm of nature, the sunniest spring day, is overcast by a somber and gruesome mood. That is an enduring after-effect of that darkness which on the first Good Friday enshrouded Golgotha's hill with the Cross and the pale body of the Saviour.
This darkening of the sun, however, was but a shadow of the darkness which enfolded the soul of the Crucified God. For the Saviour's anguish of soul was as immeasurable as His physical pain and torment. On a former occasion we centered our attention wholly on the contemplation of the blood which flowed on Golgotha. Today we will contemplate the suffering of His soul. The Saviour wishes us to do this, for He Himself has made known the climax of His anguish in the cry: "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" This complaint is directed to God, but it is also addressed to us. He wishes us to harken to it, to take it to heart, to feel in our souls the torment of His soul, in order that we can be made participants of the fruits, the merits, the blessings of His Passion.
You know, beloved, from your own painful experience, that man is capable of suffering in soul as well as in body. Not only is the soul affected by and drawn into compassion with all bodily pains; it has its own pains of grief and distress, which in their way inflict even greater torment and are more enervating than bodily pain. Throughout the entire vast realm of soul-life innumerable bitter springs of woe gush forth. Their names are worry, fear, sorrow, disappointment, evil experience, miscarried plans, and above all, guilt. All of these can affect the soul so grievously that it becomes, to all intents and purposes, ill, and a sick soul is much worse and more difficult to cure than a sick body.
Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ had a body susceptible to suffering, and a soul susceptible to suffering, just as we have; and just as He wished to take upon Himself and experience all pains of the body, so also all distress of the soul. Even on Mount Olivet, at the beginning of His Passion, we hear Him moan: "My soul is sorrowful even unto death" (Matt. 26:38). The climax of His suffering, however, is reached on the Cross.
There all that can embitter, sadden, depress, and crush the soul rushes in upon Him: disgraceful indignity, extreme helplessness, profound compassion with His Mother consuming herself in pain; sadness induced by the cowardice and faithlessness of His disciples; sorrow caused by Judas, the son of perdition; sadness because of all those whom His love cannot reach, His blood cannot save. But one torment is so frightful that even He, the great Silent Sufferer, cannot bear it in silence, that He must shout it complainingly for all the world to hear. His countenance furrowed by grief, His lips quivering, His burning eyes raised in horror to Heaven, He cries: "God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?"
What an exclamation! We stand before it as a mystery which we cannot fathom. The words stir the very depths of our soul. They should stir us; for it was with that purpose in mind that the Saviour cried them into the ears of mankind. However, they must not shake our faith, but rather strengthen it.
How then are we to understand those words? Has there been a separation between Him and God the Father? Impossible. In that event He could no longer say "My God." It is still true as He said before: "I and the Father are one" (Jn. 10:30), and: "He that sent Me is with Me and hath not left Me alone" (Jn. 8:26). In fact, soon after He again calls upon God by the name of Father: "Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit" (Luke 23:46).
Or has there possibly been a division in His person between Divinity and humanity? Has the Divine Nature in Him severed its union with His human nature? And is His cry the shriek of pain uttered by His humanity, which suddenly finds itself lonely and forsaken? No! The Divine and the human nature of Christ are so wonderfully joined in His person that nothing, not even death, can ever separate them; He suffers death not as a mere man, but as the God-Man.
And yet He must complain, in the words of the twenty-first Psalm, that God has forsaken Him, and so this prophecy, too, finds its fulfillment. His human soul feels itself completely forsaken. The Heavenly Father has laid between Himself and it the dark storm-cloud of justice offended by sin, and of the judgment; hence the darkening of the sun on Golgotha, in the terrors of which the blissful consciousness of His Divine Sonship vanishes. His Divine Nature seems to have withdrawn entirely within Itself, and left the human nature to its own resources. The bliss, the sweet peace of their union has turned to bitterness; the human nature is no longer gently enfolded by the Divine and warmed by its sunshine; all light, all strength, all comfort hitherto flowing into it are neutralized, and the human nature is overcome by the sense of being truly forsaken by God; and we understand why it laments and complains: "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?"
What we have said does not, of course, solve the mystery. The Saviour Himself asks: Why? Hence, we too may inquire after the cause and thus penetrate farther into the mystery. Why did the misery, the punishment of being forsaken by God come upon Him? God forsakes no one who has not previously forsaken Him. The sinner forsakes God. Therein lies the real essence of mortal sin: in the willful separation of the soul from God, in the turning away of the will from Him. Because the sinner forsakes God, God forsakes the sinner. He does not dismiss him from the compass of His presence and His power, but from nearness to the sun of His favor and grace. The sinner leaves God: that is his guilt; God forsakes the sinner: that is his punishment.
But can this apply to the Saviour, the Sinless One, Who is united to God by His whole will and soul, Who is one with God? Yes, it does apply to Him, and that in the fullest measure. True, personally He is the holiest of the Saints, but He is not nailed to the Cross as an innocent man; He suffers and dies as the Great Guilty One, Who is laden with the guilt of all mankind. "Him, Who knew no sin," says the Apostle, "God hath made sin for us" (2 Cor. 5:21); and: "Christ was made a curse for us" (Gal. 3:13). He took upon Himself all the guilt of and all the punishment due to mankind; therefore, the most terrible punishment overwhelms Him-----the punishment of being forsaken by God. This curse, too, He wished to take from us; and therefore He had to take it upon Himself and taste it to the dregs.
Now we can understand the Why. Christ Himself has lost the feeling of innocence; He sees Himself as though covered with a leprosy and burdened with the curse of God; He has become an object of horror to Himself. Hence, the eye of the Father can no longer rest upon Him with pleasure. The Father sees in Him, not His Son, but the guilt of the human race, and according to the eternal law guilt draws down upon itself punishment and a curse. If Christ's suffering and death are to atone for and expiate the guilt of mankind, He cannot be spared the most extreme punishment, namely, to be forsaken by God. Therefore He also takes this torment of Hell upon Himself in order to remove it from us.
Hence, His cry is not only directed to His Heavenly Father, but also to us. His lament is a message of love crying to us: For you have I borne all this; out of love for you! It is a message of salvation, calling: Do not despair, trust in Me, even if you feel that God has forsaken you! Thus the gruesome cry: "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" is in truth a saving and consoling gift for us, for which we must be very grateful.
For our soul too there is no greater woe and no worse torment than the sense of being forsaken by God. It is not confined to great sinners and criminals, but also visits believing and God-fearing Christians; it may come upon a man as a punishment for sin, as a temptation of the devil, or as a visitation from God. We read in the lives of the Saints that this anguish of soul oppressed them frequently and for long periods;-----in this, too, they should become like unto their Lord and Master.
And thus upon our soul also the dark night may fall, in which we feel we have been forsaken by God; in which we find no solace even in faith and prayers; in which we can scarce wrest from the dryness and disconsolateness of our hearts the prayers prescribed by duty; when it seems that all our prayers and good deeds no longer have any value and we have lost the way to Heaven-----as though God had turned His countenance from us forever. Then we fain would cry out with the Psalmist: "The sorrows of death surround me, and the torments of iniquity trouble me, the sorrows of Hell encompass me, and the snares of death prevent me" (Ps. 17:5ff).
Now we know what we are to do in such distress. We no longer lose hope, we no longer despair. We raise our eyes to Him Who is crucified and flee to Him Who is also forsaken. Then, for one thing, we are no longer alone; we may raise our lament together with Him to Heaven: My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me? We may say to the Saviour: This too Thou hast borne for me; and therefore I shall bear it with and for Thee. Our distress will then be blessed and sanctified in His. Soon a ray of sunshine will brighten the night, and we, like Him, will again find and utter the name "Father" with quiet resignation: "Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit."
But I hear a soul complain: To be forsaken by God burdens me like a frightful curse; but I dare not even ask the reason. I know very well why; I have deserved it, I have led a wicked life, and therefore God has forsaken me.
You poor sinner! Behold sin and the curse which it bears within itself. The sinner deserts God-----that is his guilt; the sinner is forsaken by God-----that is his punishment. You have had a taste of the horror, the misery, the unhappiness of being forsaken by God; that is a foretaste of the torments of Hell, which is the eternal portion of the sinner, unless he be converted, if he continues in his evil ways, if he hardens his soul against the punishment of dereliction by God, or deadens it with alcohol and indulgence in sensuality. If he dies in that state, he will be cast forth into utter darkness, just as surely as God spared not even His Own Son (Rom 7:32), but forsook Him on the Cross.
O sinner, turn back while yet there is time! Today is the great day of pardon and reconciliation. Today you may, with the Saviour, complain of your distress to Heaven: My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me? Today, your forsakenness is medicinal in His.
O Crucified Lord Jesus Christ! Have mercy on all forsaken sinners! Present the complaint of our distress and anguish to the Eternal Father and obtain for us, as a good advocate with the Father (Jn. 2:1), the grace that we may not forsake God and not be forsaken by Him.
Redeem us from the Hell of eternal God-forsakenness and say unto us all, as Thou didst to the penitent thief: "Today you shall be with Me in Paradise" (Luke 23:43), in the paradise of proximity to God, of the love and peace of God. Amen.