Meanings of the Cross: Jesus experiences our loneliness
Genesis 2:18 claims that God knew from the beginning that “It is not good for the human to be alone.” Nevertheless, a reality upon which modern literature, art, and theater often focus is human loneliness. God has allowed something to become a part of the wounds of our existence that God knows is “not good.”
Many of us—no matter how many people are around us and how many relationships we maintain—experience profound loneliness at times. And although many Christians do not like to admit it (the Jewish prophets were much quicker to be honest), we often feel quite alone and abandoned by God. How often do we feel something along the lines of “God, where are you, just when I need you most—just when I have been trying my hardest to do it right?”
Jesus’ experience of the cross is also an experience of the most profound loneliness. The experience that led to the devastating cry “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” may well reflect the first time in Jesus’ life that he experienced, perhaps surprisingly to him, what it feels like to feel abandoned by God. It must have been horrible—right at the moment he was laying everything on the line for God. And, what a contrast to God’s well-known and wonderful promise to Jesus’ namesake Joshua in Deuteronomy 31:8: “It is the LORD who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.”
Though Jesus may not have seen the experience of loneliness before God coming, he did see the experience of loneliness in the midst of his many human relationships coming. Right in the middle of the great celebration of Jewish community—the Passover Seder—he quoted the old prophecy to his friends: “the shepherd will be struck down and the sheep will scatter” (Matthew 26:31).
But, as most of us know from our own experiences, knowing something is coming is not the same as living through it. And living through being abandoned by his church leaders, but more cutting, by his closest friends, was clearly a powerful cross-experience for Jesus. Listen for the growing loneliness in these words in the garden: “So, could you not stay awake with me one hour?” (Matthew 26:38, 40). Jesus wasn’t asking his friends to “fix the situation,” they could not. He was asking them to “be with me while I wrestle it through.” They failed. An hour or so later, ‘All the disciples deserted him and fled” (Matthew 26:56).
Finally, after Peter bravely goes right into the jaws of the dragon during the trial, he falls into his own disillusionment and futility, and denies that he even knows Jesus three times. Luke describes that moment when you feel so let down by a friend that there are no words left to say—only a sad look can express the feelings: “At that moment, while he was still speaking, the cock crowed. The Lord turned and looked at Peter” (Luke 22:60-61).
Two thoughts in closing: First, one of the meanings of the cross is that God let Jesus fully experience the profound loneliness that haunts the human race. Jesus really is one of us even in this reality. Second, loneliness turned out not to be the last word. It turned out that God was most at work right at the moment Jesus’ experience was that God was gone. God was there even in the middle of the most profound experience of abandonment imaginable. And Jesus now has more friends than any other human in history.
Grace and peace to you this Lenten season,
Pastor Ron Simkins