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  • Writer's pictureDoug Weiss


In times of crisis, both personal and otherwise, we are stripped bare of our carefully constructed veneers. Fear, doubt, anger and selfishness are revealed in some while courage, abiding faith and selflessness sustain others. In the present time we have witnessed and perhaps experienced both—the all too human flaws that attend us and the nobility to which the best of us aspire. Even those of faith seek an explanation for what has befallen humanity—some regarding it as punishment for mankind’s profligate abuse of life itself while others cry out, why are we forsaken?

When life becomes hard to bear, we seek explanation, or someone to blame. Of the latter, there are no lack of culprits. Members of both political parties point at the excesses and injustices visited on the public by each other, countries blame countries, the devout exonerate themselves while demonizing the irreligious, and all look to someone or some force greater than themselves for answers.

I needed no inspiration for this post, but one came in the form of a request to participate in a community reading of the passion from the gospel of Matthew. Whether you are familiar with this text or not, it is a pivotal passage in the Testament and one that culminates in a much debated and often misunderstood moment when Jesus cries out from the cross, “ Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachtahni, My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?” It is an echo of the 22nd Psalm, a verse that presages the events that will come to pass. I am not a theologian, and my purpose is not to contest the learned explanations of those who are. But I offer up my own understanding of this scene because I believe it tells a great truth about humanity.

Let me acknowledge that some hold Jesus was the Christ—the son of God who lived and died so that mankind might be absolved of sin and a new covenant might exist between God and Man—one based on love and forgiveness. Others –including those of different beliefs-- hold that Jesus perhaps was a great prophet—and like many before and since—sacrificed himself for his faith, while still others dismiss even this view.

Whatever your thoughts on the subject, let us suppose for the moment that Jesus was what he said he was. We have little choice by logic other than to see him as either a lunatic, a charlatan or the Son of Man as he claimed. C.S. Lewis, the great Christian apologist puts this argument eloquently, citing Jesus’ own words dismissing any middle ground. Pascal’s wager, puts it in a similar light, arguing that if Jesus was indeed what he claimed to be then believing in what he said was all important, but if he was not, the cost to us is little. It is a neat argument but not one that demands of us any conviction.

For me, Jesus was both, a man and something far greater. This duality is hard to get one's mind around, but let's follow the thought that a being far greater than ourselves became as we are—flesh as of our flesh, and walked the earth as we do, experiencing human life with all its limitations, temptations, fears and yes, joys. Among the most fundamental of human experiences that define us, birth and death are the demarcations of human existence. To be fully human, we must know both. If Jesus was who he said he was, then to be the son of man he had to experience birth and death as we do—to know and feel what we feel. And as a human being, he felt what we feel when we are confronted with our mortality—and he cried out as we do.

Why? This is the eternal human mystery, why are we born—what is our purpose, and why must we die? Our anger, fear, doubt and all too human need for an existential explanation are summed by this question. At the moment of his death Jesus passes from his human form to the divine. He is no longer man but something more and in his resurrection and eternal existence, the knowledge of which we can only see through a glass darkly, he is reborn.

When we cry out—as we are now, Why, it is the same, we do not have the knowledge of a life beyond death, only faith to which we can turn. Why must we suffer this disease, why must we lose loved ones, why are we destined to pass from this existence? What is the meaning of all this? some believe we are the result of a random biological accident that conferred sentience, while others, myself included know we are something more. Whatever you may believe, when we look for explanation, for justice, for understanding, we can chose to look inward to ourselves or outward to something beyond us.

What we have made of life—awesome and inspiring or wretched and fearsome, we have made. If we cry out—why have you forsaken us, we confess our belief that we do not exist alone and apart from that higher being that dwells within us. If we are self-aware, the very definition of sentient, then we must know the answers we seek lie beyond us. Even those who in anger seek to assign blame—especially to a God in which they may claim no belief, are yet believers.

A friend of mine who passed some years ago was a man not easily given to conjecture. Knowing that his own death was imminent he was pre-occupied with questions about what lay ahead, and we spoke about it often but without conclusion. In our last conversation on the subject I knew that he had arrived at a place of peace when he told me that none of us knew where we were going except by faith, but, he added "when you get there, I’ll give you all the answers”.

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