More from Dean Snyder

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On the jump is an extended passage from Dean Snyder’s Good Friday sermon that makes use of Jeremiah Wright’s “God damn America” line. It softens the application, making it more palatable–and obliquely identifies with the Obama critique. Pretty good use of Moltmann, I’d say. Worth a look.

The theologian Jurgen Moltmann says Jesus’ death was not a “fine death.” The Gospel of Mark describes his dying as “greatly distressed and troubled.” (Mark 14:33) Mark says he died with a loud incoherent cry. (Mark 15: 37) The Book of Hebrews says he died “with loud cries and tears.” (Hebrews 5:7)
Matthew and Mark both say he died shouting in a loud voice the words: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Only in Luke and John, later Gospels, does Jesus’ death become more peaceful and heroic. The early Gospels tell us Jesus died in profound despair. He died feeling abandoned by God. Over time we have tried to soften the harshness of it, but, if we assume Mark and Matthew are close to the reality, as I do, Jesus’ dying was not pretty.
He dies godforsaken. The only begotten Child of God dies without God, without comfort, without meaning. He descends into hell.
Yet this strange religion of ours teaches this – that this most godforsaken of deaths is the precise moment in human history when we see God most clearly. How can this be? What does this mean?
Professor Moltmann tells us it must mean something about where God chooses to be in our world…that God chooses to be at the very places that, by all our human senses and assumptions, we assume are most godforsaken. It must mean, Professor Moltmann says, that God is in the places of our world where we most assume God isn’t.
Where do we assume in our world God most isn’t? The prisons? The places where people most abandon themselves to their raw appetites? The sex dens? The crack houses? In the midst of war and terror? Terrorist cells? Nursing homes that smell of death?
I want to ask Professor Moltmann: Are we to believe that these sorts of godforsaken places are where God is most present? That these are the places we are most likely to see God? It is hard to imagine.
Are we then to assume, Professor, that this is also true of our personal lives? …that God chooses to be at the very place within us where we feel we are most distant from God? The darkest shadows inside of us where we are most vile? The buried and repressed stuff? The jealousy and selfishness and out-of-control appetites? These godforsaken places within us that we try to deny to even our own consciousness? Can this godforsaken place in me be the place of resurrection and new life? Is that what you are saying, Professor Moltmann? It is hard to imagine.
What about the godforsaken places within us as a nation? The racism. Who doesn’t feel the despair about that these days? When are we ever going to be able to talk with each other reasonably about race in America? This unhealed wound that flares up whenever we seem to be making an inch of progress? The racism. And the other isms. The sexism. The homophobia that drops into my mailbox daily these days?
Who doesn’t want to say God damn to this part of our national life together in which we just keep crucifying each other over and over again? Can you really mean, Professor Moltmann, to say that this godforsaken place within our national soul is where we are most likely to find God in America? Hard to imagine.