‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?!’ (Matthew 27:46). What a cry! And what a staggering sentence … perhaps the most staggering in all the Gospels. ‘Forsaken’ is such a wretched and pitiful word and experience. ‘God forsaken’ is even worse?! Abandoned, rejected, despised, left helpless. This is how Jesus felt in this moment. His cry is a mixture of Aramaic and Hebrew, calling on the name of Elijah, the one believed to come to rescue the innocent. And it is loud! He wants people to hear.
These are the only words both Matthew and Mark record Jesus saying from the cross. They could best be understood as God talking to himself. Not like a mad person. More like God talking … and we listen. When we hear these desolate words we can only bow in reverence. How can God forsake God? It is such a profound mystery. But we ask the question anyway and try to answer the unanswerable.
There have been various attempts to penetrate behind the mystery, such as that Jesus is again quoting a Psalm. ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ is the first verse of Psalm 22. The whole psalm is interwoven throughout the crucifixion narrative … and is actually a song of trust and confidence. Is this Jesus repeating the whole Psalm to himself? Reciting encouraging poetry to himself?
Alternatively, the feeling of abandonment is real. Here is Jesus on the cross bearing the sin of the whole world on his shoulders. Sin separates us from God. He who knew no sin was made sin for us. This sin distanced Jesus from God and left him helpless – an experience he had never had before. The eternal relationship with the Father broken!
In this moment Jesus would have understood the heart cry of every single human being on earth separated from God as we are by our sin. We see the human Jesus here – the agony, the torment. He foresaw it in the Garden of Gethsemane when he prayed, ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow’ (Mark 14:34). Jesus plumbed the depth of human experience! However abandoned by God we may feel at times, whatever we go through, whatever depths we may sink to, there is no place where Js has not been before!
But had God truly forsaken Jesus? Surely God could not abandon Jesus? God has not abandoned us. How can God forsake God? It is still a profound mystery. If Jesus suffered death, felt abandoned by God … then the Father suffered too, the death of his son. The Son was ‘given up’ by the Father thro the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:32) and the Father suffered his own abandonment from the Son. The pain of the cross is the pain of God … Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is who God is … the God of infinite love who gave himself for us!