If you could ask God one question— only one question— what would it be?
Now, careful; you only get one and only one shot at this. Don’t blow it. There are a lot of alternatives to consider. There’s the existential angst approach (“But what does it all really mean?”). You could always go the I’ve just switched my major for the fourth time and have no idea what I’m doing with my life route (“What am I supposed to be doing in life?”). Perhaps you favor the Jr. High philosopher approach (“Can You create a rock so big that you can’t lift it?”)
Or, there’s my personal favorite, the Buddy the Elf (“What’s your favorite color?”— Come on, admit it, you’re a little curious).
Whichever direction you go, from the naïve to the cynical, I don’t think I’m going too far out on a limb to assume that regardless of the question you ask, there is one thing in specific that you would seek: An answer.
“You’ve got questions. We’ve got answers.” Such was the mid-90’s marketing slogan of a then-popular tech retailer. And when it comes to God, do we ever have questions.
Who is God? What is God like? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why do good things happen to bad people? Why did that person have to die? What is my purpose? Why am I the way that I am?
God, where are you?
There was another Someone who had such questions for God the Father back in the day.
That’s right. Jesus.
The gospel according to both Matthew and Mark record Jesus, hanging on the cross, uttering the question that, if we’re honest, penetrates to the core of even our deepest and most vulnerable moments of questioning:
“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”
Forsaken. Let it hang there a moment. Don’t domesticate the question or rationalize it. Don’t explain it. This is Jesus, asking God the Father, a question from the pit of human experience.
Why have you abandoned me?
Have you ever felt abandoned by God? Demanded answers? Wrung your fists, yelled at the sky, shouted at the void, and felt only silence in reply? It’s ok to admit it. Jesus did, after all.
The question Jesus asks here does not come out of thin air. It’s a direct quote from Psalm 22, a hymn Jesus would have likely heard and sung growing up as a young member of the Jewish community. The psalmist cries out over and over again, railing in the dark at his hopeless situation.
And if you read Psalm 22 carefully, you find there is one theme, one request, that echoes in the dark.
“Do not be far from me.” (v. 11)
“Do not be far from me.” (v. 19)
“Come quickly to help me” (v. 19)
Do not be far. Be close. Be near.
Jesus, invoking the psalmist, asks a question to which there is no immediate, good answer. Sound familiar? See, if we’re honest, we don’t like the ambiguity, the chaos of questions. Questions aren’t tamable. We want a solution because we want to know that it’s going to be ok, the guarantee that things will turn out the way we want them to.
And yet, there is Jesus’ question. Hanging there.
If you’re like me, it’s easy to skip quotes in an article like this in a rush to get to the “point.” Don’t do that here. You need to hear from pastor William Willimon. Brother, breathe this in:
“We think that being God means power, power to fix things, complete freedom to do what we…want to do, power to make the world work right, for our benefit…We ask Jesus to stand up and act like God and he just hangs there. So we see that what we call ‘God’ is usually some form of Pontius Pilate power—force, power, shock and awe, violent means for a host of allegedly noble, but in reality selfish, ends…We don’t want to overhear such terrible, terrifying words, “My God, why have you abandoned me,” because we don’t want to know that that’s the kind of God we’ve got, the kind of God who does not always work the world to our benefit, the kind of God who, when it gets dark, doesn’t immediately switch on the lights but rather comes and hangs out with us, on the cross, in the dark, and lets us in on the most intimate of conversations within the very heart of the Trinity.”
We have questions. We want answers. And so often the answers. Just. Aren’t. There.
This Lenten season, where do you find yourself? What questions are perplexing you? What if I told you that whatever your questions are, whatever answers you imagine will satisfy you, that there is a better way?
Are you finding good answers hard to come by? Great. You’re in good company with Jesus. God offers you something more profound even than the most perfect answer to your most pressing question.
This Lenten season, God in Christ Jesus, the one who hung on the cross without answers, is the one who doesn’t switch on the lights, but sits down with us in the dark.
This is a profound mystery. You’ve got questions? So often, it feels like Jesus doesn’t have answers. And when those answers are hard to come by, don’t panic. Listen. Be. Ask. And know that instead of answers, He offers something better than that. In the middle of our pain, doubt, and chaos, Jesus enters in and offers us what we really need, what no half-baked “answer” can duplicate: presence.
Jason le Shana
Jason Le Shana has worked in ministry among undergraduate students in the university setting for nearly a decade. He currently serves as one of the campus pastors at Azusa Pacific University. He holds a B.A. in Philosophy and Theology and an M.Div., and is currently working on a Ph.D. in Organizational Leadership. Jason and his wife, Stephanie, have two young sons.