Out of sight, out of mind.
So do we forget people we ought always to remember. So do we lose contact. ‘We aren’t really in touch’, people say, the absence of communication speaking volumes.
That’s the thing about distance. It’s not so much the matter of being across the river or the next town over or a time zone away. It’s that there’s no seeing. No hearing.
‘I can’t be reached’, we say. Terrible things might happen and the one who could have done something—just by being far away—finds out when it’s already too late.
The 22nd Psalm is the most famous lament of the book of Psalms, mostly because its opening, terrifying questions are reported to have tumbled from the lips of Jesus as he hung there, nailed to the machinery of death that we abbreviate with the too familiar words ‘the cross’.
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? (Psalm 22:1 ESV)
The distance—indeed the distancing—that stands cold and unresponsive as rusting steel at the core of abandonment might pass unnoticed did it (Hebrew רחק) not come again to the psalmist’s pen twice more.
Be not far from me, for trouble is near, and there is none to help. (Psalm 22:11 ESV)
But you, O LORD, do not be far off! O you my help, come quickly to my aid! (Psalm 22:19 ESV)
We treasure a pleasing, gentle solitude, welcome when it can be had. But this is different, this terrifying, draining, desperate alone-ness. The psalmist knows it too well. So does the dying Jesus. So, too, do we.
If God does not hear our cry for the distance between us, if his eyes–distant and otherwise occupied—fail to notice our drowning, we are done for.
Yet Psalm 22 endures as a monument of human desolation because its worst fears proved not to be realized.
For (YHWH) has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and he has not hidden his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him. (Psalm 22:24 ESV)
As it turns out, YHWH either was not as far away as he had seemed to be or has heard the cry of a dying man and come back.
But, oh, the unshared, shivering agony of distance while it lasts, while it claims—however falsely—to be the final truth.