And at the ninth hour, Jesus shouted in a loud voice, “Eloi Eloi lama sabachthani?” which is translated, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
At the Easter Prayer Breakfast on Wednesday, President Obama said this:
in a few short days, all of us will experience the wonder of Easter morning. And we will know, in the words of the Apostle Paul, “Christ Jesus…and Him crucified.”
It’s an opportunity for us to reflect on the triumph of the resurrection, and to give thanks for the all-important gift of grace. And for me, and I’m sure for some of you, it’s also a chance to remember the tremendous sacrifice that led up to that day, and all that Christ endured — not just as a Son of God, but as a human being.
For like us, Jesus knew doubt. Like us, Jesus knew fear. In the garden of Gethsemane, with attackers closing in around him, Jesus told His disciples, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” He fell to his knees, pleading with His Father, saying, “If it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.” And yet, in the end, He confronted His fear with words of humble surrender, saying, “If it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”
So it is only because Jesus conquered His own anguish, conquered His fear, that we’re able to celebrate the resurrection. It’s only because He endured unimaginable pain that wracked His body and bore the sins of the world that He burdened — that burdened His soul that we are able to proclaim, “He is Risen!”
Now, one would think that these and other remarks Obama made at the event would be enough to quiet the anti-Obama chatter—at least for the Easter weekend—coming from right-wing Christians in America. Nope.
The far-right website Townhall.com picked up a story from the Baptist Press, “Obama’s claim that Jesus knew doubt critiqued“:
WASHINGTON (BP) — President Obama told religious leaders at a White House prayer breakfast that Easter is a time to “remember the tremendous sacrifice that led up to that day and all that Christ endured,” but he also said Jesus experienced doubt and fear.
The president’s assertion that Jesus “knew doubt” and “knew fear” like other human beings is not biblical and “diminishes Christ’s achievement,” a Southern Baptist academic said.
You see? Obama can’t even get Christ’s achievement right, so spiritually messed up is he. The Southern Baptist academic, Denny Burk, went on:
To say that Jesus had doubts and fears is to make Him into a transgressor. But that is not at all the biblical depiction of Jesus. Yes, Jesus can sympathize with all of our weaknesses and, yes, was tempted in all things as we are. But He did it without sin!
Jesus saw right through the cross to the resurrection on the other side. You and I may fear death, but Jesus never did. You and I may doubt God’s purposes in suffering, but Jesus never did. Ever! What was definitive for Jesus was the joy set before Him, not death…
The model that Jesus gives us is not that had doubts and fears like we do. The model that He gives us is perfection.
Burk’s critique of Obama illustrates a problem that conservative Christians have in explaining Jesus to us. On the one hand they want us to believe that he is like us; that he understands us. On the other hand, they want us to believe that he is God. In the book of Hebrews we find this description of Jesus that sums it up:
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. (4:15)
A rational person would ask this simple question: If Jesus never sinned, then how can he sympathize with the fact that we do?
According to conservative Christians, the fundamental thing wrong with us is that we are sinners, separated from God. But if Jesus did not or could not sin, then he cannot relate to the most fundamental thing about us. It’s not enough to say that he was “tempted in every way” and that makes him able to understand our frailty. The mere experience of temptation is not what is wrong with us, these conservative folks say. It is giving in to that temptation that sets us apart. Thus, in order to fully understand us—if we are really by nature sinful creatures—would require Jesus to experience in some way our weakness, our yielding to temptation.
In his speech, President Obama didn’t say that Jesus was like us in the sense that he pigged out at the buffet table like Newt Gingrich; he wasn’t saying that Jesus had a bunch of wives and an OxyContin addiction like Rush Limbaugh. What he was said was that Jesus experienced fear and doubt. And what I say is that if Jesus did not experience fear and doubt, then he didn’t/doesn’t have the slightest idea of what it means to be human.
But more important for Obama, and I say more important for anyone who wants to take the Easter claims of Christians seriously, is that Jesus conquered his fear and doubt. That is what made Easter possible.
The Southern Baptist academic says that the model Jesus gives us “is perfection.” Huh? What kind of model is that for sinners like us? That kind of Jesus is the all-God-no-man kind.
And that Jesus would seem to not need a Resurrection Sunday, would he?