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When God is gone

None of us want to lose God. Christian, Jew, Muslim: all of us dread that feeling. We grew up believing there’s an all-powerful, all-knowing and all-loving Presence surrounding us, and we don’t want that feeling to fade. We call it faith, and we keep nurturing it every chance we get. We read our holy book (Bible, Tanakh, Koran) and we attend services at our church or synagogue or mosque, and we pray fervently: we don’t want to lose that God. But what happens when we do?

Whoever wrote nine of the Psalms in the Bible (13, 22, 38, 42, 43, 69, 77, 88, 142) had lost his God. He moaned and groaned and complained, but it didn’t seem to help. God didn’t come back. The Psalmist always graciously praised this absent God at the end of the psalm, but it still didn’t bring God back. God was gone.

One of the women most admired in our century, and not just by Catholics, is Mother Teresa. She did marvelous work among the poor and neglected in the gutters of Calcutta. No one could do what she did without a huge amount of faith. Yet, after she died, we found this note that ended, “If there be a God, please forgive me.” What? Where was that abiding Presence? That comforting arm around her shoulders when the world was crashing down on her? Her God was gone.

I know that feeling. I felt it twice. Once on April 19, 1995 when I was working in the emergency room of the hospital closest to the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. At 9:03 a.m., we heard the blast, and from that moment on, we took our share of the 168 dead and uncounted injured as they were carried into our blood-soaked ER. As I watched a young pregnant girl wheeled in with a huge piece of glass piercing her stomach, I couldn’t take it anymore. I cried out through my tears, “Where the hell is this great God of ours?

The second time came when I held my little baby daughter in my arms and watched her die. My wife had put her down to sleep just 45 minutes before and she went in to check on her. She came screaming out of the nursery, “She’s not breathing!” We called 911 and tried mouth-to-mouth. Finally, the medics arrived and we rushed off to the hospital while I held her in my arms and knew I would never see her smile again. They called it crib death. I cried, “Where is this God when I need him?

There are many “Jesus quotes” in the gospels which I don’t think the historical Jesus could ever have spoken (over 50 percent). But out of those that do ring true, this one leads the list: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Nobody would invent this. Someone stood beneath his cross and heard him say in Aramaic, “Eloi, Eloi…etc.” right before he died (Mark 15:34). This memory was passed down for 40 years in Aramaic, and translated into Hebrew and then into Greek. Mark picks up the original Aramaic, and Matthew has the Hebrew and Greek.

Don’t tell me Jesus couldn’t feel pain because he was God. Jesus lost his God. He’s quoting Psalm 22 and he’s feeling worse pain than the Psalmist could ever feel; Jesus is dying. Where is Yahweh? Where is the God who had said, “You are my beloved Son.”? Where is the God whose Kingdom Jesus had worked so hard to restore? Gone. You explain the Trinity; Jesus died without God.

If you live long enough and stay honest, you might lose your God, too. And that’s because none of us can understand the mystery of why a loving God can allow bad things to happen to good people. And no amount of theological babble or exhortations to keep the faith — as Jesus found out on the cross — can make us understand. At that moment, we simply lose God. However, even though we lose what we thought we always knewlike Mother Teresa — we don’t have to lose doing what we know we should.

Google for my latest book: https://www.amazon.com/Oh-My-God-Bill-Cummings/dp/1937943380.

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