Why Have You Abandoned Me?
“My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?
Why are you so far away when I groan for help?
Every day I call to you, my God, but you do not answer.
Every night I lift my voice, but I find no relief.”
(Psalms 22:1-2 NLT)
Isn’t this a good reason to give up? When you feel God has abandoned you, what can save you now? I did feel that way when God wouldn’t speak to me, answer my many questions, or reply to my prayers of despair. Every day and every night I’d be praying, yet feeling more and more broken inside, like a busted clock falling apart gear by gear, waiting for its time to run out—or worse, to unwind itself on its own. That was what those days were like 19 years ago, after I denied God could help me yet I still cried out to Him for help. I don’t believe He was ignoring me. I was instead a double-minded man, faithless, being swept to and fro like waves by this or that argument or thought. I’d grab onto any debris of a philosophy in hopes of salvation some other way, some stepping stone back to reality. But as soon as I’d grabbed hold of some rock, it would sink along with me as doubt refilled my heart. James, the brother of Jesus, wrote about that double-mindedness. And speaking of Jesus, remember that Psalm up there?
“At noon, darkness fell across the whole land until three o’clock. At about three o’clock, Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?””
(Matthew 27:45-46 NLT)
As he hung dying on the cross, Jesus quoted that first line of Psalm 22. It was a rabbinical way of referring to a whole passage of Scripture, since there were no chapter or verse divisions yet. I believe he was showing us that in his dying moments, when any other human would be also dying of desperation, he instead remained meek by submitting his fate to God. The psalm continues:
“Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.
Our ancestors trusted in you, and you rescued them.
They cried out to you and were saved.
They trusted in you and were never disgraced.”
(Psalms 22:3-5 NLT)
A glimmer of hope then, because God has saved our ancestors before! And as we know from reading the Old Testament, those ancestors kept messing up royally. They fell to idols and countless sins again and again, just like I do. Yet God was faithful to them: trustworthy to save them despite their shortcomings. Jesus was in fact carrying out that faithfulness at that very moment on the cross by starting the process of saving the world.
“Do not stay so far from me, for trouble is near, and no one else can help me.”
(Psalms 22:11 NLT)
I remember praying something along those lines, even though I didn’t believe it. I was trapped by my own doubts. Fear and hopelessness swirled around me like a hurricane, except there was never an eye of calm. Only calamity: a constant pelting of hail that at the time felt like hell, or as close to it as I would ever want to be. I felt completely alone as I sank beneath 10,000 feet of water; I could feel the rising pressure from all sides collapsing me. And like salt water, it was all undrinkable. So I thirsted as I drowned, thirsted for knowledge of the truth as I drowned in doubts of my every thought in search of it.
“My strength has dried up like sunbaked clay.
My tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth.
You have laid me in the dust and left me for dead.”
(Psalms 22:15 NLT)
So I gave up again and again. I had little to no strength in those days. No matter what surge of hope I’d find here and there from some fleeting joy, I knew the joy was material, physical, temporal. My spirit felt numb: not the pins and needles kind of numb, but a total unfeeling state. Had Jesus felt this kind of despair while on the cross? I can’t say I know the answer, though many theologians claim Jesus became separated from the Father there. And at this depth, I felt separated from God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Like I said, I was as close to hell as I’d ever been. Darkness and gloom permeated me every waking moment, and night and day blurred together because of no change in anything. No, there was change: the pressure from the depths rose and rose.
I couldn’t find strength in myself to reason myself out of this mental trap. I had once considered myself wise, but I had become a fool. And like a fool, I had said in my heart, “There is no God.” And here I was, living—or more appropriately, merely existing—as if there were no God. I was completely alone and surrounded by nothing but seawater, bitter and salty water that took life instead of giving it. I was in my own Dead Sea, my mind, where every molecule was a failed argument, hypothesis, and theory. All these were pressing down on me from every direction, crushing my bones and breaking my heart.
Yet I still had this undying core thought that I could swim my way out of this. Ha. As if I knew how to swim. But I kept trying. I argued with myself all day long, sometimes thinking I had broken the surface of contradictions and lies. But anytime I’d try to rest, I’d be sucked back in as if by riptide. Just keep swimming, right? But I would finally run out of strength. I felt nothing could give me strength to keep living.
“O Lord, do not stay far away! You are my strength; come quickly to my aid!”
(Psalms 22:19 NLT)