Seven Last Words
“My God, my God! Why have you forsaken me?”
Jesus is coming to the end of His task. He has been on this cross for almost six hours. He has experienced repeated insult, injury, frustration, and even abandonment by both His disciples and the leaders of the People of God. From a human perspective, He has come almost to the end of His rope. Almost, but not quite. The end will come quickly now.
Many smart people have pondered the meaning of these words, and have come to the conclusion that we simply don’t know their full meaning. The conundrum arises from a central tenet of Christian theology—that God is One, and He cannot be split into parts. Given this understanding, it is simply impossible for God to have forsaken God; for there to have been a rift in the Trinity.
And so He hasn't.
This utterance isn’t from Jesus’ divinity, but from His humanity. He is tired, and He has been doing what He came to do—all the suffering, all the not-answering-a-word, all the frustration with disciples who still don’t get it, has been part of the plan. Nevertheless, He hurts; He is tired; He is overwhelmed. Enough is enough.
These words are from Psalm 22, and are rooted in Israel’s relationship with her God; rooted in covenant and rooted in a history that has seen an endless cycle of closeness and distance between her and God. They are rooted in Israel’s trust in God, and it is this trust that underlies and drives these words.
Israel’s history has included being over run, despoiled, and taken into exile. Her history has included punishment and being sent from her God. In the midst of these calamities, history has also witnessed her God go with her, even if she cannot experience His presence. God has not forsaken Israel even if it has seemed He has.
And God has not forsaken Jesus here.
These words are the result of a very human feeling of desolation, of being alone in a dangerous place, but at the same time are founded in the expectation that God still hears, still knows, still acts to restore those who would cry out to Him. The remainder of Psalm 22 makes it clear that when all is said and done, the speaker believes that God does in fact hear and will act to restore Israel to himself. Similarly, Jesus trusts the steadfastness of God.
This cry from the cross is in a real way an affirmation of God’s presence and care for His people. God has not forsaken Israel, not forsaken Jesus, and will not forsake you—even in times when it seems He is absent.
Read Psalm 22 slowly. Let the words evoke the feelings, the dry mouth, the being surrounded by dogs. Have you been in such a place? When was it, and how did you maneuver through it?
In this psalm, despite the exhaustion and the wasting away, the psalmist calls out to God for help, for salvation. We often hear only the words of desperation, failing to hear that they arise from and are based in a faith that God does in fact hear. What kind of faith do you suppose it takes to be in such straits and yet reach out to this God that seems to be absent?
Has your faith been tested like this? If so, how has your faith changed this side of the testing? If your faith hasn’t been tested like this, how might you prepare for such testing?
What do you need to do?