This morning I woke up to the sound of my neighbor screaming at his son. This happens kind of a lot. Happy Good Friday.
This Lent, my church did a sermon series entitled “What Lies Beneath: Recovering the Lost Language of Sin,” which was really great and which you should all binge-listen-to right now. The idea behind the title was that many of us work really hard to look like we have it all together. When something goes wrong, we ignore it, or write it off, or pass the blame. But beneath our metaphorical floorboards, we are a fallen, broken, frail people.
However, something I’ve learned about living in a dense neighborhood of a big city is that not everyone is as interested in keeping up appearances as suburban transplants like me are. A lot of people just put it all out there for the rest of us to see or overhear. Addiction, poverty, failed relationships, and violence happen everywhere, but I’m constantly surprised – maybe even impressed – by how many people around here don’t work too hard to hide it.
Like most families, my neighbor and his son have a very complicated relationship, because they also really love and support one another. But that’s the nature of sin: it’s complicated, and it’s everywhere. Even in my bedroom at 7 AM.
Though I find the language of “sin” helpful, you don’t need to be a Christian to know that all is not well with this world. And you don’t need to be a Christian to know that philosophers, scientists, and policy-makers have gone to great lengths to figure out what’s wrong, and to solve it – always in vain. When all is said and done, we see people who are hurt, and who hurt each other. We see it on battlefields and in schoolyards, in emergency rooms and in board rooms, sprawled across headlines and in our own homes. And maybe the worst part of it all is how powerless we are up against it, not only because we don’t have the authority to stop wars, or the knowledge to cure diseases, but because we are good people who make bad, hurtful decisions too, over and over again.
This brings us to the cross, the culmination of all that is wrong with our reality. The gospels tell us that this was a day filled with fanfare and activity, but if I had to pinpoint the worst, lowest moment of it all (and thus, all of human history), it would be this:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Alone, betrayed, suffering excruciatingly and unjustly, Jesus cries out into an empty sky.
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
The Christian narrative hinges itself upon the idea that God is one, and that that one is community. The doctrine of the Trinity tells us that the maker of heaven and earth is unity itself, relationship itself, and love itself. But in his final moments, Christ exposes a strain in that unity. Although he is God – love and relationship itself – he feels alienated from…God, himself.
This is a world that is so broken that even God can die. And not a casual, anonymous death surrounded by loved ones and eased by modern medicine, but a public and humiliating death marked by bloodshed and betrayal. On the cross, God not only dies, but questions himself and his own identity. While the union of the Trinity is never actually broken, the world is so ugly and suffering is so real, that the dying Christ has enough reason to believe that maybe his Father has indeed abandoned him. This terrible moment isn’t merely a sad thing that happened once. Instead, it reveals to us just how far this world has fallen, in a way that no other moment in history has or could.
There are two silver linings here.
First, this shocking, jarring incident shows us how close God is to us and our condition. One of the beautiful things about the Incarnation – when God put on skin and lived a truly human life – is that it means that God really knows what it’s like to be a person in this world. He knows the perils and joys of real human relationships. He’s tasted and smelled good food and wine, and has shared it with strangers and friends. He has experienced the kind of disappointment and loss that makes your heart race and stomach clench. He’s danced, and hiked, and held babies. And at the cross, we see that God also knows all kinds of pain: physical, emotional, and even existential. Just like you and I, God knows what it’s like to question God, to be unsure of himself, and to feel fractured and alone. When we turn to God with our deepest insecurities and desires, he doesn’t hear us passively, but actively and experientially.
And also: it’s not over yet.