It was one of those nights, a pendulum that dangles a bit at the precipice of each climax: might slip, might not. There was a familiar staleness in the air, the type that would swaddle up any cries or shrieks in a clammy silence, but would tease any insecurities with relentless whisperings.
I sat on a couch facing a blank television, arm resting on a melted stack of books spilled across my lap, eyes pinned to a small chunk of shadow, one of the indistinguishable thousands in the room. I stared a bit longer. It’s insignificant. One more insignificance in a day stuffed full of them, a slice of a two-week pie of inconsequentialsm. The food I made and ate? Gone. The cleaned room I was settling into? See above. The article I was writing? A single, blinking, black line, a slate of white expanse.
Among all the flavors of the human experience, loneliness brings with it a certain blandness. Sometimes it’s the damp nausea; sometimes it’s the muted ticking of the clock; sometimes it’s forgetting how to move your tongue to produce words.
I sometimes wonder what those three days felt like. Nobody else has ever known what it feels like to die, but I’m positive that whatever discomfort or pain Death brought Christ, it was nothing compared to the separation that came with it. When Christ asked, “Why?”, he wasn’t just asking a question. For the first time, he was asking a question to his Father he once knew.
He had lived in perfect relationship with God, so much that they were one and the same, for his entire existence. He knew God better than anyone has ever known another human being. They lived and loved in a perfect unity no human mind could ever imagine, in absolute peace and harmony and joy.
But – the light had to fade. For a split second, the flame had to sputter out.
I bet it hurt like hell.
Sometimes, it’s too much to open my Bible. It’s a small, well-worn gray book; yet, in my eyes, the cover carries the weight of lead. I know that if I open it, and drag my eyes slowly across the page, running over every bump of every letter, those words will become meaning and that meaning will become the comforting voice of God. Or my own voice.
Doubt slips in at this instance, spurious yet just ambiguous enough to avoid destruction. It shoots through my veins and pauses my fingers on the cover of the book, daring me to open it and see for myself whether I can still believe.
I’m not brave enough, and so I sit there, Bible in hand, voice in head, heart in gloom. This is where the numbing stasis sets in, and I pray desperately – desperately, but only in my mind, with lips tight, head upright – that somehow God’s grace will surpass the book’s covers and slip out from the pages and into my body of crumbling chaffe.
This acute loneliness isn’t described about most people in the Bible. After all, they’re famous for actions that impacted people and changed the course of history, not for stifling silence of doing nothing to nobody.
Still, I wonder what feelings lurk between the lines of the closed book in my lap. Did Moses, coming down the mountain where he experienced the presence of Lord, know that human relationships would never have the same glow? Did Abraham know that, though his son Isaac stayed alive and his faith remained, every time he looked at his son, it would be through a tint of crimson? Did David know that he traded the solitude of caves for that of kingdoms? Did Paul know if anyone would respond to his letters? Do the missionaries know their spilt blood might water plants they will never see bloom?
Does a taste of God incur loneliness?
“Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?”
The words are foreign; they don’t make sense. And yet, the syllables that crash in dissonance, in disjointed vowels and tense consonants, the repetition – they tease at something powerful.
What is it that the Christ, a King triumphant, a Son glorified, cries out before he completes his mission on Earth? Is it a declaration of victory over the inescapable snare of sin? A joyous farewell to the world that has despised, mocked, and killed him, as he leaves it once and for all? Where are the angels descending from the clouds, blowing their trumpets, spilling light over the Son of God himself?
“My God, my God. Why have you forsaken me.”
It’s not a question. Christ knew the divine purposes – hell, even we know. Our struggles and suffering – when the joy and providence of God seems to leave our lives – there’s a part of us that knows it results in good. We know that God uses all things for his glory, that the fire purifies and the sting cleanses; the curse redeems and the death restores. Because there is nothing on this Earth that isn’t more than a temporary affliction, a momentary trouble on the path towards eternal bliss, and truly, truly, that’s all that matters in the end.
But it hurts to be forsaken. It hurts to be lost. It hurts to be torn from Love’s cradle, tossed out into the storm alone to die.
I don’t know if Jesus knew that beforehand. Maybe that’s why he had to feel it.
Like the scalpel that finally removes the thorn, loneliness is pushed to the side by the joyous and exhausting chaos of human relationship. Swept aside are most of the pains and questions of solitude.
Leaving just the slightly discolored stains:
Does my God forsake?
Will he forsake again?
Why did he?
He says he won’t. He promised he won’t. I know he won’t.
I don’t always feel it, though.