No one wants to be left alone. Sure, we sometimes like to get away and spend some time by ourselves, but no one likes to be abandoned. The fear of loneliness is one of the most powerful in human experience. Babies cry when their mothers leave the room. A teenager’s worst nightmare is having to eat lunch alone. Neglected children will often misbehave, because even punishment for them is better than feeling abandoned. And, although locked away already, many prisoners still fear being thrown in isolation. While we experience it in different ways, we all know what it is like to feel loneliness, and it is one of the most painful parts of our existence.
This feeling of abandonment is at the root of many complaints against God about the evil of the world. Why do you put up with injustice and oppression? Have you just left us alone? The prophet Habakkuk called out many years ago:
“How long, O LORD, must I call for help,
but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, ‘Violence!’
but you do not save?
Why do you make me look at injustice?
Why do you tolerate wrong?
Destruction and violence are before me;
there is strife, and conflict abounds” (Habakkuk 1:2-3).
This year some good friends of mine had their first child. However, what should have been a time of great joy was immediately overshadowed by the news that he was born with a serious genetic illness. Requiring a great deal of medical care, he was unable to go home and was sent to the hospital in Toronto near where I live. I spent time visiting over a period of several months as his loving parents watched him, prayed for him, hoped for his healing. While his dad worked long days and travelled back and forth several hours from their hometown to Toronto every week, his mom hardly ever left the hospital room, often sleeping on the end of the baby’s small hospital bed. For eight long months, they watched their little one suffer. As he experienced one painful procedure after another, unable to understand the ‘what’ or the ‘why’ of his pain, his parents loved him, made tough decisions, and prayed for his life. Sadly, before his nine month birthday, his struggle ended as he died in the arms of his parents.
In the face of tragedies like this one, we want to cry out against God for not fixing things, or at least to call out and demand answers—why? But this experience reminded me again of one of the beautiful truths of Christian faith. Because, although he knew pain and suffering, that sweet baby, unlike any other person I’ve ever met, never knew what it was like to be left alone. And, the Christmas season reminds us that although we do not understand the ‘what’ or the ‘why’ of all of our pain, we are not left alone either. Our God is like a father watching over his children, like a mother longing for their healing and bearing their pain as if it were her own. This God does not abandon us to our fate, but has come among us, to be one of us, to experience the very depths of our condition.
It is costly for God to be with us in this way, just as it was costly for my friends to be so close to the pain of their child. But when you love deeply, you want to be with the beloved, whatever the cost. And since we live in pain, brokenness and sin, God’s coming among us meant descending into the depths of that pain, brokenness and sin. Now, like that little one, we can be assured that we are never alone, that even when we do not understand the suffering in our lives, we do not bear it by ourselves. And even though my friends were unable to heal their child, this God promises ultimate healing and resurrection to all who will receive it. Like the angels announced, Jesus’s birth is good news of great joy for all people.
The manger and eventually the cross are the supreme reminders of God’s involvement and intimacy. When we turn to cry out in abandonment to God, we find ourselves face to face with a tortured, bloody man on a cross, in whose death we are accomplices. Before we can even utter the words, we hear him cry them first: “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?” While we rarely ever know the answer to this question—’why?’—the very fact that Jesus asked it is meaningful. It was not about information. Jesus knew more about the reasons for his suffering than most of us ever do. Information does not take away the pain anyway. However, if you believe that God has truly come to us in the person of Jesus Christ, then Jesus’s anguished cry tells us something far important about God. Jesus’s cry tells us that even in feelings of ultimate abandonment, we are not alone. The gospel message—that God has come among us—is absolutely transformative. There is no longer any place where God is not because this God has gone with us all the way. Even in the deepest moment of abandonment, we meet the one who is called ‘God With Us.’
Rachel Tulloch is a member of the speaking team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Toronto, Canada.