I got lost in a grocery store once. I was about eight years old. I had a tendency to not be able to keep my shoes tied and my mom was always fussing at me to tie them. On this particular occasion I remember looking down at my shoes, realizing they were untied, and deciding to take the initiative to tie them before I was told to do so by my mom.
Unfortunately this meant that my mom did not realize that I had stopped walking and she had not. When I looked up from my task I quickly realized that she was gone, and I was alone. The cereal aisle around me quickly became a labyrinth of haunting faces all staring down at me (I swear that stupid rabbit knew what was going on, I’m glad those kids never game him any cereal.) To say I was scared would be an understatement. I had never been left or lost before. I had never known the feeling of being abandoned. I did what every other respectable kid my age would do. I freaked out, started to cry, and began walking. I’m glad to say this story has a happy ending. My mom was only one aisle away and I quickly found her and settled down. To this day I’m not even sure if she realized it happened. It was at this early age, and through this experience that I realized something. I do not like the idea of being abandoned.
Now, I don’t want you to think me some kind of wimpy kid with some kind of deep seeded issues that stem from simply being lost in a grocery store. I have had my fair share of experience of being left, but I feel to dive too much into those subjects would smack of fishing for pity so I will spare you that. It’s just suffice to say that the idea of being left terrifies me. I bet it terrifies you as well.
Since I have had a kid this idea of abandonment has taken on a new level.
I have a fear that I will one day accidentally leave my child somewhere. The scenario in my head usually involves some kind of party that we are both at. I will be in a hurry to get home so I will quickly gather my things and head out the door, get in my car, and drive away. I figure I will either get about half way home or all the way home before I realize that I do not have Jude in the back of the car. I will panic and then immediately rush back to the house I just came from to get him. Upon arriving I will find a very distraught and scared child to whom I will have to explain why his father, the one who is supposed to care the most in the whole world about him would abandon him.
I’m pretty sure all parents have this fear at some level, and it is probably a healthy concern to have. We are taught at a very young age that parents should not and will not abandon their children, even on accident, and those who do it on purpose are regarded as some of the most uncaring, and unfit parents in the world.
I’m writing about this because in the past couple of days I was reminded of a conflicting teaching that I have been taught for most of my life.
Ever since I can remember I have been taught two things in Church.
1) God the Father will never leave me. No matter how sinful I am, no matter how horrible of a person I become, God will never ever abandon me .
2) When Jesus was on the Cross, God abandoned him. The teaching usually takes some variation of what I will describe.
Jesus took all the sin of mankind onto himself while he was on the cross. Because of all the sin that was upon Christ, God the Father could not stand to be in his presence so he, “turned his back on him.” We teach this because of Matthew 27:46 “About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”—which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
We read that passage and a parallel one found in Mark 15:34, and from it we base a whole theology that I believe to be pretty destructive and dangerous. Let’s take this teaching back to it’s logical conclusion. There is a point where there is too much sin for God to handle, and in fact will be forced to abandon a person for it. Does that scare anyone else but me? Maybe it’s just that it conjures up images of me sitting in the cereal aisle again, but I think it’s more than that. How do we know when too much sin is too much sin for God to handle? How do we make this idea fit with the rest of scripture that states that God will never leave us nor forsake us? If God abandoned his own son during his most desperate and disgusting time what hope do I have?!
I believe the answer to this question is found in the context of Jesus’ statement. Jesus did not just make this statement up to be dramatic right before he died. He was quoting the Psalmist in Psalm 22, so before you go any farther read it. All of it. If you don’t have a bible handy click here.
Did you catch verse 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 one single quote Jesus sums up the hope and victory of his entire work on the cross. In essence he is saying, “It may look like God has abandoned me, it may look like he forsook me, but nothing could be farther from the truth.”
To borrow an old saying from a good professor, “Context is key.” The idea that God cannot look upon sin is false. God has been looking upon sin since the fall of man. He has been watching his children crawl around in the mud forever. It breaks his heart. Watching it happen is the whole reason he sent his son.
This brings me hope. Every single person in this world may forsake me, but not God, not even in the grocery store.