When I was 24 years old, my first husband, Matt, and I had moved away from home so that I could go to seminary. One evening the police came to my door and told me that Matt was dead, killed in an accident at work. I felt like my life had ended too.
I had some really great friends at that time who helped me to survive. They helped me find ways to laugh and to hope. My family and Matt's family were incredible support.
Then there was God. Or maybe I should say there wasn't. Many people talk about feeling peace descend upon them in difficult times. Some talk about the sense of God's presence around them. This was not my experience. I felt abandoned by God.
Being in the midst of seminary at the time, I had countless opportunities for theological discussions about such matters. As I spoke of my perplexity that God would feel so absent at a time when I needed God most, I heard many attempts at answers. Perhaps my grief was getting in the way of my feeling God. Perhaps it was a lack of faith on my part. Some said God was present for me through my friends and other helping hands. True, but not what I was looking for. I wasn't looking for some mountaintop experience either. I just wanted some glimmer of God's presence with me. I think I was looking for that feeling that you get sometimes when you pray and it feels like someone out there is listening. I thought I had felt that before, why not now? I was angry and confused.
Then in some of the readings I was doing for one of my seminary classes I begin to get a glimmer of hope from Christ's cry on the cross: "My God, my God why have you forsaken me." Here was Jesus, God's own son, voicing the feelings of my soul. This being Jesus, surely it couldn't be something Jesus was doing wrong nor could it be a figment of his imagination. Surely, for Jesus to utter this cry there must have been some sense in which Jesus truly was abandoned by God at that moment. Oddly, this was extremely comforting for me. If abandonment was a reality for Jesus then it might be for me as well. My feelings might not be a lack of faith nor a result of my being out of my mind with grief. My feelings might actually reflect reality. For quite some time I remained in that spot, comforted by my solidarity with Jesus. In his cry of forsakenness Jesus stood with me and all who suffer. This was more than Jesus holding my hand while I cried. This was Jesus shaking his fist at God with me. This was Jesus taking my experience, my reality, and claiming it as right and holy.
I still wrestled with where God was in it all. This is where it gets mind bending and paradoxical. Jesus is God made flesh, fully human and fully divine. In "The Crucified God", Jurgen Moltmann describes the abandonment of Jesus as "something which took place between God and God." Jesus abandoned by God means God both abandoning me and standing in solidarity with me in my abandonment. This is a mystery for sure. God is God. Any glimpse of who God might be is bound to be mysterious and beyond our comprehension. This mystery was and is very important to me. It took all my anger, hurt, and doubt, claimed it all as holy and still allowed me room to hope in God's love.
This does not mean that all is explained. I still have questions and I hold on to some of my anger. In part, I do this willfully, intentionally holding on to these things so that I can stand in solidarity with others who suffer and feel abandoned by God.
I write this now because one of those dear friends I mentioned earlier recently asked me what I would say to someone in the midst of a similar grief. There is much I could say and some of it I relayed on. Here in this space I wanted to set down some of what was helpful for me in wrestling with my anger and questions. Perhaps a reader out there somewhere feels abandoned too.