In Deep Memory, Exuberant Hope, Brueggemann devotes a chapter to four texts:
- My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? [Psalm 22:1]
- Why have you forsaken us these many days? [Lamentations 5:20]
- But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me…” [Isaiah 49:14]
- For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with great compassion I will gather you. In overflowing wrath for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you, says the Lord, your Redeemer. [Isaiah 54:7-8]
To these we might add:
- At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” [Mark 15:34, Matthew 27:46]
The history of understanding, especially within Christianity, has found authors going head-over-heels trying to explain these words away in order to protect God’s integrity. Brueggemann suggests that Isaiah 54:7-8 provides the needed clue for facing into the deeper understanding of these difficult texts.
The launch point for allowing the texts to stand on their own—that is, to accept God’s abandonment—resides in our expectations of God. To approach the matter metaphysically is to assume that God is eternally the same, forever constant in relating to the created order, including human history. Abandonment violates this metaphysical understanding of the nature of God; therefore, the literal meaning of the texts must be explained away.
Brueggemann opts for a dramatic approach to the texts which “permits the reading community to stay with the terms of the text, even with its contradictions, incongruities, and unwelcome lines.” (page 84) God, therefore, does have a darker side—God abandons.
Isaiah 54:7-8 is the interpretive clue here. The script suggests that abandonment is a past event in the drama and remembered into the present. The interpretive community can claim that God’s past contains abandonment, but that God’s compassion is normative for the present. (page 89)
An inventive, imaginative approach… but I think Brueggemann falls short of the richness of what the texts suggest—God’s abandonment is a real possibility, maybe even as necessity. It is only when I live into and through the woundedness of being abandoned that I can discover what genuine presence means… what that presence (even in its absence) insists… what it leads me to be and do.
Every parent knows that they must at times abandon their child—withdraw presence in order that the child might grow into her or his own. Life is a series of abandonments allied with growth and development. The parent that refuses to let their child fail—the non-abandoning parent—misses the essence of parenthood.
The key to understanding abandonment is timing. Abandonment must occur at those times when grow and development can only happen when the individual is forced to rely on his or her own resources and resolve. God abandonment insists in order that we might grow spiritually. Abandonment is a mother bird pushing the fledglings out of the nest so that they can FLY!