19 Nov 2017

Did God Forsake Jesus on the Cross?

Religious 5 Comments

This is the account Matthew gives of Jesus’ death on the cross:

45 From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. 46 About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).[d]

47 When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.”

48 Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. 49 The rest said, “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.”

50 And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.

Jesus’ question is a quotation from Psalm 22, which opens like this:

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from my cries of anguish?
2 My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, but I find no rest.[b]
3 Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;
you are the one Israel praises.
4 In you our ancestors put their trust;
they trusted and you delivered them.
5 To you they cried out and were saved;
in you they trusted and were not put to shame.
6 But I am a worm and not a man,
scorned by everyone, despised by the people.
7 All who see me mock me;
they hurl insults, shaking their heads.
8 “He trusts in the Lord,” they say,
“let the Lord rescue him.
Let him deliver him,
since he delights in him.”

It is obvious that this passage in Psalms anticipates the gospel accounts of Jesus, and so you can see why Christians would find the connection so striking.

Now normally, Christian preachers deal gingerly with this subject, because it sounds crazy that God would abandon His Son right when at the moment of maximum vulnerability. And yet, prima facie that certainly seems like what happened?

Indeed, here’s how Billy Graham tries to answer the problem. (And I just googled and grabbed his link, since he’s obviously not a strawman. His view is standard.)

What did [Jesus] mean by [saying] this? Was He suddenly filled with doubt, wondering if He had misunderstood the mission God had given Him? Or was He filled with despair, concluding He was a failure and all His work was in vain? After all (some have said), the crowds had turned against Him, and seemingly His ministry had come to an abrupt end.

But in reality His words point to something far different. They point to the fact that when Jesus died on the cross, all our sins—without exception—were transferred to Him. He was without sin, for He was God in human flesh. But as He died all our sins were placed on Him, and He became the final and complete sacrifice for our sins. And in that moment He was banished from the presence of God, for sin cannot exist in God’s presence. His cry speaks of this truth; He endured the separation from God that you and I deserve.

To take a more intuitive approach, some of you may recall in a previous post here at Free Advice–and if any of you can help me locate it, that would be swell–I tried to come to grips with it by making an analogy. I said that if, under some insane set of circumstances, my son volunteered to let himself be hurt by other people because this was “the right thing to do” and would make the best of a bad situation, that even if I somehow agreed to this plan, even so I couldn’t possibly WATCH it. (To reiterate, I am not saying I could imagine endorsing such a plan. I’m just focusing here on the part about agreeing to it intellectually versus actually WATCHING it.)

And so, I argued that maybe something like that was happening here, where God effectively “turns His back” on His Son, not out of rejection or distance but actually out of parental love, because He literally can’t watch while piddly evil men murder a moral giant.

Well, now I’ve heard another take on the whole affair that is quite fascinating. An intriguing Christian sent me this sermon by John Crowder. Especially if you’re a studious Christian and you are familiar with the “standard” take I’ve summarized above, I strongly encourage you to check out this sermon. I should warn you, at times you might worry that Crowder is too flippant and/or irreverent, but try to put aside your reaction to his style and focus instead on his arguments. I think you’ll see that Crowder anticipates your objections and at least does a decent job responding to each of them, by quoting Scripture.

In a nutshell, here are some elements of his case:

==> God did NOT forsake Jesus on the cross.

==> God is a better parent than you are. Would you forsake your son in his moment of despair and agony? Of course not. So God didn’t do it to His Son, either, since–we all agree–God is a better parent than you are.

==> God didn’t abandon us in our sin. Rather, we pushed God away. The distance between you and God caused by your sin is something that you impose.

==> Jesus, like David, was crying out with a question, because in His humanity Jesus was empathizing with us, in how it sometimes feels as if “God doesn’t care about me since He let this awful thing happen.” But just because someone asks, “God, why have you abandoned me?” doesn’t mean God actually did it.

==> Jesus was not asking that question out of the blue; it’s not like He just randomly said that same thing David had written. No, Jesus was deliberately quoting David, knowing that the devout Jews in the crowd would *recognize* that He was quoting from Psalms.

==> Don’t just stop at the opening lines of the Psalm. Keep going, and look at the part in bold. Are you telling me that we’re supposed to conclude, “God abandoned Jesus on the cross”?

16 Dogs surround me,
a pack of villains encircles me;
they pierce[e] my hands and my feet.
17 All my bones are on display;
people stare and gloat over me.
18 They divide my clothes among them
and cast lots for my garment.
19 But you, Lord, do not be far from me.
You are my strength; come quickly to help me.
20 Deliver me from the sword,
my precious life from the power of the dogs.
21 Rescue me from the mouth of the lions;
save me from the horns of the wild oxen.
22 I will declare your name to my people;
in the assembly I will praise you.
23 You who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you descendants of Jacob, honor him!
Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!
24 For he has not despised or scorned
the suffering of the afflicted one;
he has not hidden his face from him
but has listened to his cry for help.

==> As I mentioned above, there are plenty of objections one might have, including portions from Paul that seem to support the standard view. Crowder tries to answer them. My point here isn’t to tell you, “You’re thinking about this all wrong!” Rather, I’m just trying to show that it’s far more nuanced than you may have originally believed, and the gushers of the Father’s love and mercy should engulf you.

5 Responses to “Did God Forsake Jesus on the Cross?”

  1. Jared Morgan says:

    Great post. The fallacy is that God can’t abide sin j. His presence. This is not supported by scripture. For example, how does the devil go to the gathering in Heaven to talk to God in the beginning of the book of Job if this is true?

    It sounds good that God can’t abide sin in his presence, but there is no absolute principle of belief that requires this and we mainly see it used in this particular situation.

    Second comment ever, both on religious topics. Thanks Bob.

  2. Kevin Regal says:

    As I understand it, it was fairly common in Jewish culture to cite the beginning of a passage in order to refer to the whole of the passage, e.g. “Hear O Israel” can be a reference to the entirety of the shema, even the the entirety of the 10 commands. If so, it could be that Jesus was alluding to Ps 22 expressing confidence in the Father (as seen in Ps22:24) rather than in despair. It is true that he was about to die, but it is also true that his victory over sin and death was only a breath away.

  3. Brian says:

    I think this is the post you were looking for – from earlier this year.


Leave a Reply