First, a definition from Wikipedia of the word “frontispiece” (a word I’ve always wondered about):
A frontispiece in books generally refers to a decorative or informative illustration facing a book’s title page, being the verso opposite the recto title page. While some books depict thematic elements, other books feature the author’s portrait as the frontispiece.
The word originates from the French word frontispice, which was originally an architectural term referring to the decorative facade of a building. In the 1600s, the French term came to refer to the title pages in books, which were often decorated at the time with intricate engravings that borrowed stylistic elements from architecture, such as columns and pediments. Over the course of the 16th century, the title pages of books came to be accompanied by illustrations on the facing page and the term took on the meaning it retains today as early as 1682. By then, the English spelling had also morphed from frontispice to frontispiece.
The frontispiece quote of my novel articulates its theme. The words are Jesus’ cry from the cross, recorded in Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34: “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” The language is Aramaic and it is translated, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
The words are a raspy throated echo from the Psalms.
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from my cries of anguish?” (Psalm 22:1).
This psalm is what theologians call a “messianic psalm;” that is, the words are from an experience in the psalmist’s life that find fulfillment in the life of Jesus. David experienced a painful estrangement from God that caused him to cry out the words in the psalm, but the words find their ultimate fulfillment in an experience in the life of Jesus that corresponds to David’s experience.
This is the theme of the novel: The forsakenness of God.
The silence of God is followed by a string of questions. Until at last, the string breaks. Then we are the ones who are silent.
This is where the theme branches out from the specific to the universal—from David . . . to Jesus . . . to the centurion . . . to you and to me.
You’ve been there, too, haven’t you?
I know I have.
The love that wasn’t reciprocated. The promise that wasn’t fulfilled. The seed that was sown in faith but never reached fruition, never grew, never even germinated. The angel that passed us by to visit someone else’s house, but not ours, not ours. The miracle that never made its way to someone we loved, someone we cared for, prayed for, wept for. The darkness that came and hovered over us, tormenting us with a hollow and empty sense of abandonment.
In a way, the life Jesus is itself a messianic psalm, where his life finds its fulfillment in ours. Our lives, yours and mine, in some way travel across the same terrain that Jesus did. And thus the generations are traversed; his life re-imagined in ours, reborn in ours, relived in ours.
He said as much in the Upper Room when he told his disciples: “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you.”
Peter echoes this in 1 Peter 2:21, when he says: “For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps.”
To follow in his steps means not just to Cana, where we will experience some festive miracle, or to Samaria, where we will experience an outpouring of the Spirit.
It also means we will travel to Jerusalem, where we will experience our own rejection.
To Gethsemane, where we will experience our own confusion.
And to Calvary, where we will experience our own forsakenness.