“Thomas Jefferson didn’t believe in miraculous things,” my high school history teacher told us. “He rewrote the gospels, taking out all the miraculous events.”
I went home and looked it up – there it was: a miracle-less version of the gospel. I remember thinking how boring the whole thing was. And then I got to the end (it’s a little long, but it’s worth it):
And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?
Some of them that stood there, when they heard that, said, This man calleth for Elijah.
And straightway one of them ran, and took a sponge, and filled it with vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink.
The rest said, Let him be, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.
Jesus, when he had cried out again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost.
And many women were there beholding afar off, which followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering unto him:
Among which was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.
The Jews therefore, because it was the day of preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the sabbath, (for that sabbath was an high day,) besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.
Then came the soldiers, and brake the legs of the first, and of the other which was crucified with him.
But when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already, they brake not his legs:
But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water.
And after this Joseph of Arimathaea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, besought Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus: and Pilate gave him leave. He came therefore, and took the body of Jesus.
And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound weight.
Then took they the body of Jesus, and wound it in linen cloths with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury.
Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein was never man yet laid.
There laid they Jesus,
And rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed.
I have never felt the power of Christ’s sacrifice until that point. Tears streamed down my face, and I realized for the first time that, if this Jeffersonian take were true, all was meaningless. I had never seen such hopelessness. There was no good, no hope, no joy.
It took complete absence of hope to show me the magnitude of Christ’s sacrifice, and it gave just a glimpse of what life would be like if we really were left with nothing to look towards.
I remind myself of this when all I can hear, all I can feel, is Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? The Psalms cry out to God in pain, in suffering. They do not make excuses or pretend that the suffering is less than it is. They call it what it is: horrible.
And then the Psalmists remember what God has told them. They remember what God has shown Himself to be.
A friend set this Psalm for me to sing at my senior recital. I chose it then because I knew what it was like to be in a dark stage of life, and now the light had dawned bright and warm. Every time I read it, now that I have been in another dark place (I almost wrote “somewhat dark,” but who am I kidding? If the Psalmists don’t pretend everything’s okay, maybe I shouldn’t either.), I am reminded of the hope I have in Christ.
I cried out to God for help;
I cried out to God to hear me.
2 When I was in distress, I sought the Lord;
at night I stretched out untiring hands,
and I would not be comforted.
3 I remembered you, God, and I groaned;
I meditated, and my spirit grew faint.[b]
4 You kept my eyes from closing;
I was too troubled to speak.
5 I thought about the former days,
the years of long ago;
6 I remembered my songs in the night.
My heart meditated and my spirit asked:
7 “Will the Lord reject forever?
Will he never show his favor again?
8 Has his unfailing love vanished forever?
Has his promise failed for all time?
9 Has God forgotten to be merciful?
Has he in anger withheld his compassion? ”
10 Then I thought, “To this I will appeal:
the years when the Most High stretched out his right hand.
11 I will remember the deeds of the Lord;
yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.
12 I will consider all your works
and meditate on all your mighty deeds.”
13 Your ways, God, are holy.
What god is as great as our God?
14 You are the God who performs miracles;
you display your power among the peoples.
15 With your mighty arm you redeemed your people,
the descendants of Jacob and Joseph.
16 The waters saw you, God,
the waters saw you and writhed;
the very depths were convulsed.
17 The clouds poured down water,
the heavens resounded with thunder;
your arrows flashed back and forth.
18 Your thunder was heard in the whirlwind,
your lightning lit up the world;
the earth trembled and quaked.
19 Your path led through the sea,
your way through the mighty waters,
though your footprints were not seen.
20 You led your people like a flock
by the hand of Moses and Aaron.