The Godforsaken: Luther to Liberation

And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34, ESV)

Brother Lawrence, a seventeenth century French monk, wrote The Practice of the Presence of God, in which he shared his practice of turning every moment and every activity to God, of feeling him always. The preface to a contemporary edition of his work describes him this way:

No wilderness wanderings, no bitter winter seasons of soul or spirit, seem to have intervened between the Red Sea and the Jordan of his experience. A wholly consecrated man, he lived his life as though he were a singing pilgrim on the march, as happy in serving his fellow monks and brothers from the monastery kitchen as in serving God in the vigil of prayer and penance.

This is the Christian life we all want, the God we all want: the Shekinah glory, the Emmanuel, the Resurrection, the cloven tongues of fire. When we can all but touch God, we are happy. But that is not the God of our Christian lives, at least not all the time. We are disturbed by the absent God: the God of the Exile, the God of Esther, the God of Saturday, the God of the Ascension. Yet, contrary to Brother Lawrence, we do not get to choose how God meets us.

Luther turned the absence of God into a form of presence. For Luther, God is not merely absent or withdrawn; he actively hides. Why would God deny us his presence? To show us that he does not come as we expect him. Our concept of God needs to be dismantled before we can meet him. How did God demonstrate his power, his justice, his righteousness? God died Godforsaken on the cross. In so doing, he dismantles us as well. Our reason is confounded; we could never predict this God. Our self-righteousness evaporates when we realize we cannot manipulate, persuade, or bargain with this hidden God. It is there, in our moment of Godforsaken nakedness, that God reveals himself in his proper work of forgiveness and mercy. So, absence becomes the necessary precondition for the truest presence.

If Luther focused on the “poor in spirit” of Matthew’s Gospel, Liberation theologians focus on the “poor” of Luke’s. In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus identifies himself with the temporally Godforsaken, those who are marginalized by society. He associates with children and women, tax collectors and other “sinners.” His enemies are the societal (Herodians, Saducees) and religious (Pharisees) elites. The cross is the price of Jesus’ refusal to abandon the abandoned, to collaborate with the oppressors. He maintains his commitment to the very end, no matter the cost. We, then, who claim the name of Jesus, must walk just as he walked, in solidarity with the outcast. We must identify, comfort, and protect the vulnerable. We must expose and peacefully resist the oppressors. We must measure justice by love. We may lose our security, we may lose our lives; but we will not lose our souls, we, the Godforsaken.

Published in: on November 17, 2011 at 10:16 pm  Leave a Comment  
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