Deserted or Delivered?

IMG_8608The space between the grief of Good Friday and celebration of Resurrection Sunday is always such an awkward time for me. I have cried myself dry meditating on the incredible suffering that Jesus endured through the course of His endless trials, beatings, and hours on the cross. His pain is finally over, but the time for celebrating His triumph has not yet come. In the between space, I am stuck with the classic mourner’s question of how to make sense of the events that led to this loss.

Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.
But you, O LORD, be not far off; O my Strength, come quickly to help me. Deliver my life from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dogs.
Psalm 22:16-20

In the lead-up to Jesus’ death, there seems to be this mounting anticipation that God would show up and deliver Him. Isn’t that what Jesus was begging Him for during those agonized midnight prayers in the garden? Isn’t that what He consoled His disciples with when they wanted to fight in His defense? God could show up any time with His armies of angels to deliver His Son. But He didn’t.

But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads: “He trusts in the LORD; let the LORD rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.”
Psalm 22:6-8

Through the insane marathon of accusations and trials, Jesus remained eerily silent. Why? He had no need to defend Himself and set the record straight. He trusted God to do that. But God’s silence was even more deafening than Jesus’. As question after mocking question chipped away at His identity, He stood and later hung with His eyes on heaven. Surely God would answer. Even one of those thundering voices and descending doves would do. Surely the Father would speak up for His Son. But He didn’t.

My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death. Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet.
Psalm 22:14-15

As the telltale signs of death slowly stole over Jesus’ body, His confidence began to waver. Where were those signs of God’s goodness, those affirmations that He would indeed honor and deliver His beloved Son? Jesus’ throttled body bore evidence against the glorious promise that God would send His angels to protect the one He loved. The crushing weight in His chest made a mockery of the biblical assurances that God would deliver His soul from death. The worst had come, and God hadn’t intervened.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, and am not silent.
Psalm 22:1-2

Was this really how things would end?

Jesus cried out what His mind knew wasn’t true but His heart couldn’t help but feel: “My God, my God, why have you deserted me!?!”

Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help. Many bulls surround me; strong bulls of Bashan encircle me. Roaring lions tearing their prey open their mouths wide against me.
Psalm 22:11-13

He knew how the story would end. He had rehearsed it with His disciples a million times. He would die but He would rise again. This wasn’t the end, but it sure felt like it. In the moment, all Hell was breaking loose. His disciples had scattered. The demonic hordes had gathered, hovering in the air all around Him and enjoying every moment of His distress. But through the roar of their taunting voices, Jesus tuned His interpretation of reality into the still whisper of the Spirit within.

For he has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.
Psalm 22:24

Even as the dark shadows of death stole over His vision, Jesus clung to the sweet comfort of God with Him. There was nothing to be afraid of anymore. The worst had already happened. The storm still howled all around, but God was within. He had never left. And even now His Spirit was bearing testimony to Jesus’ Spirit that this was not how it would end.

The poor will eat and be satisfied; they who seek the LORD will praise him– may your hearts live forever! All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him, for dominion belongs to the LORD and he rules over the nations.
Psalm 22:26-28

God would deliver Jesus from the grave. He would raise Him up to a position of glory and honor greater than He had lost in the first place. He would cause the knees that had marched against Him to bow in worship before Him. He would cause the tongues that had mocked Him to testify that He is Lord. And because of God’s faithfulness to deliver Jesus, He would prove Himself faithful to deliver all others who put their hope in Him.

What feels like yesterday’s desertion
will turn out to be tomorrow’s deliverance.

This is the outcome that I cling to in the in-between spaces of my own life. When God seems to have turned His back on me, when He has already allowed the worst to happen, this is the version of reality that I turn to. What feels like yesterday’s desertion will turn out to be tomorrow’s deliverance. What others may have intended for my harm will turn out for my good.

Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord. They will proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn– for he has done it.
Psalm 22:30-31

Why? Because that is the way God works. He sets up the greatest crises to put on display His greater deliverance. He is the God who delights in unexpected twists and surprise endings. He is writing my story along the same plot lines as He did Christ’s. Of course it will turn out good. He is the One doing it.

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9 thoughts on “Deserted or Delivered?”

  1. Ahhh, but for God to respond to evil with coercive power would be to fight evil with evil! I have the vague recollection of a verse which talks about the endurance of persecution striking fear into the oppressors. Does that ring a bell? One of my spiritual mentors recalled a story in which Vietnamese Communists, who had shed much blood, somehow found themselves at a Bible study on Habakkuk. They reportedly shook in fear when they found out what was inside, what fate God had in store for the oppressors.

    One of my biggest worries is that less and less of this world knows what it is like to truly trust other human beings, instead relying on law and fear and coercion. Politics is not about deep cooperation. The less that is seen of non-coercive power, the less it is believed that this kind of power could possibly work. We of course have stories like Harry Potter, with love overpowering hate, but who believes that actually works in real life? Furthermore, it isn’t even true unless you include the resurrection—which many don’t include, these days.

    1. What amazes me is the way that non-Christians have used non-coercive power and relentless love to overcome their enemies…Ghandiji being a prime example. I look at how he and his followers shamed all their “Christian” oppressors by simply refusing to retaliate or to back down, no matter the cost.

      I think this is precisely the way the kingdom of God goes forward, thus the heavy cost in martyrdom and suffering for Christ’s sake that He predicted to His disciples. We are still living that story, even if we don’t fully believe it will work. Lord, increase our faith.

      1. Bravo, my sister. It is good that you have come to this conclusion. This is what we were writing about in our article on our website and came to this same conclusion after seeing the futility of war first hand and then how Jesus commanded us too love our enemies… that we might be children of our Father in heaven.

      2. What amazes me is the way that non-Christians have used non-coercive power and relentless love to overcome their enemies…Ghandiji being a prime example.

        Do you remember the soldier in C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle, who thought he was worshiping Tash when Aslan claimed he was actually worshiping Aslan?

      3. Yes, that part of the story leaves you with a heavy hint at Lewis’s opinion about the spiritual condition of sincere followers of other gods. I’m not sure I would share that conclusion, as much as I would like to.

  2. This is, as usual, well written. Your love and faith are abundantly clear. However, your theology is somewhat mistaken. It is not God Who inflicts evil on us. He restores us despite it.

    Christ went willingly to the cross. He did not simply grit His teeth. Remember in the Garden of Gethsemane He sweated blood, but acknowledged not His will, but the Father’s? That sacrifice was planned from the outset. (From before time really, since God knew before He created us that we would sin.) See Genesis 3:15.

    The physical suffering Christ endured was less painful than His separation from the Father. Filtered through His human nature, it was that which prompted Christ’s question from the cross, “Why have you forsaken Me?”

    1. Anna, I enjoy your thoughtful engagement.

      It’s so hard to know how to think of Christ’s experience as a God/man. Somehow I find it easier to interpret His experiences through the grid of His deity, but more and more I am coming to see His full humanity, too. I think that Psalm 22 serves as an interpretive key to what He was experiencing on the cross, especially since it is written as a first-person account of what it was like to be hanging there. It opens with that despairing cry of abandonment, but goes on to assert that God had not actually forsaken Him. (vs. 24–“For He has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; He has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.”) In these two opposing statements I see the humanity of Christ, knowing with His head the eternal plan and unfailing love of God (as you so rightly point out), yet struggling in His heart with contradictory feelings of abandonment and betrayal by God.

      How often do we struggle with the same contradiction between head and heart? We know that God is sovereign, loving, and good, and yet we feel like He has turned His back on us when our experiences testify to the contrary. I take profound comfort in seeing how our Lord struggled through this sinlessly and, in the end, victoriously. If even He “succumbed” to such emotional frailty, there is hope for me.

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