Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Why have you forsaken me?

All religions, the old wisdom has it, are fingers pointing to the moon. They are not the moon itself. Which must always be so, if you take God seriously. Think of this universe, huge beyond comprehension and ingenious and elegant in its construction, and then try to comprehend the will which brought it into being and holds it there. An oyster sits in the mud on Doctor's Point. 20,000 feet above it, an Air New Zealand Airbus A320 flies overhead with five crew and 150 passengers on board. The oyster has as much chance of understanding the workings of that plane and the intentions, desires, dreams and memories of all on board as we have of understanding God.

Our scriptures recognise this. When Moses has his epiphany at the burning bush, God is revealed as "I Am what I AM". The first four commandments are about loving God only, not trying to make images of God and not trying to name God. The Hebrew tradition was that the name of God was unutterable, that is,  it is impossible to say and blasphemous to try and say. But we are human. To think of God at all we have to use the feeble machinery of our brains, and that requires using language, images and metaphors, which is what our theologies and traditions and religious practices are. They are reductions. They are cutting the unknowable one down to human size in order that we might at least try to know. They are fingers pointing at the moon. Of course some fingers will point more accurately at the moon than some others, but all are still just fingers and none are actually the moon.

Our theologies and intuitions and religious feelings, no matter how sophisticated they are not God, but God is real and for reasons which are, like everything else about God, well out of our ability to comprehend, God draws us Godward. Which means that for anyone on the path towards God (and I suspect that is all of us) there comes a time when we move past the tip of the finger. We come to a time when all our religious certainties and all our highly polished theology will take us no further, and like Reepicheep disembarking from the Dawn Treader to make his way towards the Utter East, we must leave it behind. Which is not to say we abandon it, or repudiate it. There is a high drop out rate in most churches of people about 40. They have been Christians for 20 or so years but at the onset of early middle age all that once sustained them and gave them such joy and meaning turns to dust in their mouths. They think they are losing faith. In actual fact they are reaching an inevitable and necessary stage in their spiritual development, a stage which our church has, by and large, forgotten about and therefore is incapable of offering assistance through.

Even the Hebrews with their clear instructions to the contrary could not help but name God. The Old Testament is full of names for him: El Shaddai, El Elyon, El Olam and a dozen others. The squabbles of Jesus' time which so ripped apart the nation of Israel were largely about what was the most correct tradition, that is, the most correct collection of guesses and assumptions about God. And Jesus, being human like the rest of us, must have been subject to the same limitations as the rest of us. Despite his constant knowing of God, he was formed in one or other of those traditions, probably the Pharisees, and carried his own set of metaphors and beliefs about God.

And here, alone on the cross, with all stripped from him Jesus has this stripped from him too. All he understood about God and all that gave him comfort is wrenched from him. Eloi Eloi.... Lama Sabachthani? My God My God... why have you forsaken me?

Because, El is a construct. It is a finger pointing at the moon; accurately to be sure, but still just pointing. Because on the path to resurrection, even this must go.  

2 comments:

Elaine Dent said...

This is really helpful to think about: what about our constructs of God do we need to let go of in order to move deeper in knowing God. I never thought of Jesus' words from the cross being words that were moving him deeper to God. Instead I had always heard it explained that it was an indication that God was separating God's self from the sin Jesus was carrying....which does not make sense to me. Thank you. Something refreshingly new to ponder.

Father Ron said...

Thank you, Kelvin, for this reflection. Regarding Elaine's comment, I think that perhaps Jesus had to feel acute separation from God before his death; in order to experience for himself the separation that we call sin. If, indeed, Jesus 'bore our sins on the Cross', this may well have the resulting experience. What gioves us all hope, though, is Jesus' - out of his desolation - final commitment of his spirit to his Father.