The 2011 film The Grey—on the surface, a story about a group of men who attempt to survive the wilderness of Alaska—raises deep existential questions about the meaning of this life and whether there is one after it.
In a nutshell, the story begins with the crash of a plane full of oil workers. Left stranded out in the proverbial middle of nowhere, the crash survivors wonder if there is a reason they were saved. Perhaps, by some miracle, God spared them for some higher purpose. But then, one by one, the men are hunted down and killed by a pack of wolves or succumb to the harsh elements.
In the end, it comes down to the lead character, played by Liam Neeson, and the alpha wolf. Knowing this is the end he looks up the sky and cries out, “Do something. Do something. …Do something! Come on! Prove it! …Show me something real! I need it now. Not later. Now! Show me and I’ll believe in you until the day I die. I swear. I’m calling on you. I’m calling on you!”
But the cold winter sky is silent and Neeson’s character must face the wolf alone.
What Neeson’s character is expressing is a fundamental human desire: a plea for God to show Himself, which truly becomes a cry when our circumstances seem most dire and desperate.
This is the cry that went up from Christ on the Cross to God the Father. My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?—as recorded in the gospels of Matthew and Mark.
Christ was speaking not just for Himself. His was a cry on behalf of a humanity which had been estranged from its Creator God since its expulsion from the Garden of Eden. He shared the same abandonment that had plagued men and women—even those of faith—for centuries and millennia. It’s the sense of abandonment to which the Psalm He is quoting gives such eloquent expression:
My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?
Why so far from my call for help,
from my cries of anguish?
My God, I call by day, but you do not answer;
by night, but I have no relief (Psalm 22:2-3).
Indeed, from its earliest moments outside of Eden, humanity had been crying out to God. The Old Testament records the first instance in Genesis 4, after Cain slays his brother Abel:
God then said: What have you done? Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground! (Genesis 4:10).
This cry also becomes a curse for Cain:
Now you are banned from the ground that opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. If you till the ground, it shall no longer give you its produce. You shall become a constant wanderer on the earth (verses 11-12).
Abel’s blood was crying out for God’s judgment on his murderous brother. But the Old Testament also notes a different kind of cry welling up to God, from the Israelites during their enslavement in Egypt:
But the Lord said: I have witnessed the affliction of my people in Egypt and have heard their cry against their taskmasters, so I know well what they are suffering. …Now indeed the outcry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen how the Egyptians are oppressing them (Exodus 3:7,9).
Here, the cry out to God is not only for justice, but also for mercy—justice to be visited upon the ones oppressing them and merciful deliverance for those who are suffering. Ultimately, whether it be for justice or mercy, the cry to God becomes a cry for God—to act, to save, to be present to His people.
Jesus’ heart-rending words on the Cross were the climactic cry on behalf of all humanity. As One fully divine, Jesus could sense more acutely and more deeply the pain of divine abandonment. And, as the perfect man without sin—what the medieval mystic Nicholas of Cusa called the ‘maximum man’—Jesus was the one most worthy of making this cry on behalf of all men and women.
This is why the Epistle to the Hebrews compares Jesus’ cry with that of Abel’s blood, calling Jesus the “mediator of a new covenant and the sprinkled blood speaking better things than that of Abel” (Hebrews 12:24).
The Greek word translated above as ‘better things’ could also be rendered as ‘nobler things’ or ‘the best things.’ Indeed Jesus was crying out for something better than Abel: not vengeance or deliverance, but for God Himself. And who better to speak a word on behalf of mankind than the Word of God made flesh?
If anyone could be counted upon to elicit a response from God, it must be One such as He.
And yet there was no answer.
Jesus died. He was buried. He descended into Hades.
But then something amazing happened.
After three days had passed, the stone sealing the body in the tomb had been removed and the tomb lay empty. That cry on the Cross was heard after all. For it is out of the deepest and darkest silences that God speaks to us most profoundly, in deeds beyond words.