Good Friday

We lost our youngest son, Jonny, four years ago, when he was sixteen. 

He died feeling unloved by, and abandoned by, God. God was completely silent and absent to Jonny throughout his illness.

So I have a deep appreciation of something that does not get talked about much in church – even though a large body of Scripture does talk about it – the open and honest witness to God’s silence and absence. 

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

And yes – the core testimony of Scripture, and of the Easter Story, is that God is good, God is close, God cares. But the segments of Scripture that tell a different story are not mere fragments – they are portions. A not insignificant corpus of the Bible witnesses to God’s silence and absence, and sometimes cruelty (see Ps 44:9-19). We might capture this body of Scripture with the word “lament”.

Lament swells the pages of Habakkuk and Lamentations, and there are no less than sixty Psalms that witness to God’s abandonment. The Psalms are the song book of the Bible. Yet those songs are rarely echoed in our churches. 

There are five laments scattered throughout the book of Jeremiah – known as the Confessions of Jeremiah - which also witness to God’s silence and absence. 

We often hear Jeremiah 29:11 pronounced with gusto: – a verse many adult Christians could quote word for word: “For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you.” 

Easter Sunday echoes this verse. 

But we rarely, if ever hear Jeremiah 15:18 read. “LORD God Almighty. You are to me like a deceptive brook, like a spring that fails.” 

Easter Friday echoes that verse.

Here’s the thing, when I have spoken about God’s silence and absence over these last painful years, something unexpected has occurred. At least three quarters of the Christians who I speak to know exactly what I am talking about. And my word, do they welcome the opportunity to say so. It is like a huge elephant sits in the room that most people know is there but few have ever seen acknowledged: God is good, God is close, God is loving, yes… but not always. There is Sunday and there is Friday. 

“My God, my God why have you forsaken me?”

Fuller Youth Institute make this bold statement, based on extensive research:  “It’s not doubt that is toxic to faith; it’s silence.”[1] They found that while over 70 per cent of Christian young people had serious doubts about faith – only a quarter of those young people ever talked with anyone about it.

And throughout the West, the majority of Christian young people never become Christian grown-ups.

One reason why, I suggest, is that being Christian has meant not being real; they could no longer navigate the elephant in the room or the eggshells they had to tread to avoid acknowledging that sometimes, even often, God is quiet, doubt is real, and our Lord cannot be found. 

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

A popular video, when I was a young Christian, was Tony Campolo’s ”It’s Friday but Sunday’s coming.” The basic tenor of the talk was: do not worry about Friday because – Sunday is coming! But many people dwell in Friday. Some are there for a long time. As I have been. 

Let us not dismiss the reality of Friday this Easter. Let us weep with those who weep, and let their pain be acknowledged and expressed, for this too can be its own balm.

Let those who feel forsaken remain within the Easter story, and within the embrace of the people of God. 

Let us welcome lament – for lament too is the cry of faith.


Phil Trotter, Professional Teaching Fellow, School of Theology

[1] “Why Doubt Needs to Have a Place in your Youth Ministry,” Brad Griffin, Aug 18 2016, Fuller Youth Institute, https://fulleryouthinstitute.org/blog/why-doubt


FOR LISTENING

“Come All You Weary” by Thrice