My God, My God Why have you forsaken Me? (Matthew 27:46)
Anyone who’s ever attended a church service on Good Friday or read the Gospel of Matthew would recognize these anguished words from our Lord as He hung on the cross. But while they may be familiar, they aren’t so easily understood.
For most of my adult life, I’ve heard many excellent preachers explain this passage as a cry of desperation at the moment God the Father turned His back on His dying Son as He was bearing the sin of the entire world. Most go on to say that since 2 Corinthians 5:21 says Jesus became sin for us, God had to look away because He’s too holy to gaze upon sin.
But the more I think about that explanation, the harder it is for me to comprehend how the Father could ever be separated from His Son… ever. Without going into complex theology, simple logic seems to argue otherwise.
First, if God cannot look on sin, then does that mean that while Jesus was on the cross, He wasn’t God? Is He not “in very nature” God? (Phil. 2:6) And isn’t it a prerequisite for Him to be God in order to overcome sin in the first place? If at some time, Christ wasn’t God, then there’s a bigger problem to solve. Like, when did this alteration in His foundational nature take place? And, what are the ramifications to our understanding of Malachi 3:6 which unequivocally declares that the Almighty never changes?
There’s another dilemma the traditional understanding of this verse presents: If God the Father is too holy to look on sin, would that not also mean He can’t be in the presence of any sort of wrongdoing? Then, does that mean that He turns His back on brothels, crack houses and corporate swindlers? Does God also flee from those who lie, cheat and steal?
The answer is, obviously, no. (Eph. 2:12-13) (see also Job 1:6-12 where God allows Satan directly into His throne room!) There are also many instances in the Gospels where Jesus entertains the company of sinners, prostitutes and crooks. And in Matthew 4, we’re told that the Spirit led Jesus out into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan where He endured the enemy’s presence for some length of time. (Matt. 4:1-11)
Doesn’t the scripture instead paint a picture of the Father as a God Who calls sinners to Him rather than running away! So if God can be with us even in the presence of our sinful choices, why cannot He also be in the presence of the sin of all mankind at the moment Christ bore it on the cross?
I don’t want to disagree with great Bible scholars, but maybe there was something else going on that pulled the anguished lament from our Lord. Maybe, at this moment, when it required all the power of the Godhead to bear the entirety of of humanity’s sin, the full anguish of the physical, emotional, and spiritual pain taxed Christ’s humanity to the breaking point as well.
Anyone who’s felt guilt, sorrow or been lost in the confusion of sin knows that emotion can overwhelm us and cause us to feel things that aren’t based in reality. What if in the last moments of His passion, Jesus felt the same thing? Could His emotions have been so clouded by suffering and spiritual darkness that He could only cry out to His Father who, at that moment, no doubt seemed so very far away? I personally believe that…
Christ wasn’t abandoned by the Father, but instead, He abandoned Himself TO the Father.
In spite of His inability to sense the Father’s presence through this unimaginable anguish, He still trusted enough to lay His life into the Almighty’s hands. (more on Luke 23:46 later) Viewed in this way, Jesus’ words which were rooted in deep torment teach a profound lesson… They graphically remind us that trusting God is possible even when we can’t feel anything but agony and sorrow.
So, no matter what kind of pain or loss you feel, strive to model Christ’s attitude in His most desperate hour. Trust your Heavenly Father… and know you are never deserted by Him! The ultimate gift of His Son proves that He loves you. So, abandon yourself to Him knowing confidently He will never abandon you!
Be strong and courageous … for the Lord your God goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you.” ~ Deuteronomy 31:6