Engulfment and Abandonment
The opening line of the Psalm for this Sunday is electrifying. How could Christ, how could the Psalmist or anyone, cry out, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”
Well, think about it this way. In brokenness, a person can fear that if he draws near to others, they will take him over. That fear of engulfment is one side of a pendulum swing that winds up on the other side in a sense of abandonment. If in brokenness you move away from others because you fear engulfment by them, you will make those others distant from you. And then you can feel the distance you have put between you and them as their abandonment of you. And so there is a vacillation between the fear of engulfment and the fear of abandonment.
When you sense that others are getting close, you have a fear that they will engulf you; and when you feel your distance from them, you have a fear that they have abandoned you.
It is possible to waver in this way where God is concerned too. We can fluctuate between fear of engulfment by God and fear of abandonment by him. We can long for God; but we can be afraid of his goodness at the same time. The beauty of his holiness highlights for us our own sins, which we hate and cling to anyway. And so our fear of being engulfed by God leads us to flee into our own darkness; our sins cause us to turn away God. Then, finding ourselves distant from God, we conclude that God has abandoned us. And so in our hearts we cry the Psalmist’s line.
But God is love, and love never abandons anyone. On the contrary, God’s love is so great that he takes on our human nature, and on the cross he bears our sins. Our sins borne for us by Christ on the cross fills him with our blindness to the presence of God. Under the weight of our sins, he shares our sense of abandonment by God too.
And so it is the ever-present love of God in Christ for us that leaves Christ to cry out on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”
Eleonore Stump is Professor of Philosophy, Saint Louis University
**From Saint Louis University