“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:26)
Nothing grips us more intensely or moves us more deeply than this cry of Jesus. Surely the cruelty and barbarity of the Cross was enough to endure, but this too?
Abandonment by the Father. Who could imagine anything more devastating?
I’ve heard many people address this gut-wrenching Jesus Question. They generally conclude something like: “At the cross, God could not look upon all the sin of the world piled on His Son, so He turned His back on Jesus and looked the other way.” It sounds reasonable; but only for a moment.
We immediately bump into at least two theological conundrums. First, could the trinitarian God so divest Himself as to be able to abandon part of Himself? And if He could, would He? Second, God has looked upon sin at least since the Garden of Eden. He still looks upon it, unless He’s in the world but deaf and blind. That’s hard to believe.
So, if God neither abandons Himself nor suffers from a sin-phobia, then what is going on in this heart-stirring Jesus Question?
A clue may lie in the text. Jesus actually quotes from Psalm 22; a remarkably detailed messianic Psalm. It’s worth reading the entire Psalm, but the following two Psalms really capture my attention. The three of them together form a trilogy.
Psalm 22 paints a picture of human despair (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). Psalm 23 moves to gentle confidence in God’s Presence (“The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want…). Then Psalm 24 explodes with a vision of triumph and future glory! “Lift up your heads, you gates; be lifted up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in!”
At face value, this Jesus Question sounds like despair and abandonment. But what if Jesus was using carefully calculated code-language for the disciples and other Jews nearby? Perhaps Jesus was simply saying, with this careful selection of an ancient Question, “It looks bleak right now, but the Shepherd is with you, and glory is coming. Take heart. Don’t despair. This will turn to triumph!”
This is not the cry of defeat. Just the opposite, it declares with biblical power that “Weeping may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5).
Feeling overwhelmed? Struggling? Facing darkness or even death? Those things are real and true. But equally real and true is this: Today is only a chapter of our book. Don’t forget the rest of story.
If you find yourself in Psalm 22, be assured that Psalms 23 and 24 are coming. It might be worth reading all three again. Hope and joy are at hand.