Fourth Word: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Mark 15:34; Matthew 27:46
I love scripture. I love studying scripture. I love teaching scripture and, most of the time – thanks in part to my husband who is a bible scholar – I can help people learn, through scripture, new things that deepen their relationship with God. For a pastor, that’s a rewarding and exciting experience. But I’ll tell you what’s not rewarding: to be asked a question about scripture and have no answer; none whatsoever. There are just a few passages of scripture that defy our best, most studious and devout, efforts to explain. In Mark’s and Matthew’s accounts of Jesus’ death, Jesus only speaks one discernible sentence: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” By their accounts, his ministry doesn’t end on a high note.
Read as many books as you’d like and, if you take the time to really break down their theories, no one will have given you a satisfactory answer for Jesus’ expressed feelings of abandonment as he hung on that cross.
Some say it’s because Jesus took on all of our sin when he was nailed to that cross and the heavenly Father couldn’t bear to look at it or at him. That seems like a pretty lame answer to me.
Some remind us that this passionate question from the cross is the opening line of Psalm 22 and that 2/3’s of the way through, the psalmist changes his tone when he begins to affirm God’s responsiveness, saying: “For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him.”[i] And yet, if that was the part of the psalm Jesus meant to communicate, well, why didn’t he just say so?
And so I confess, once again, I have no good explanation for these words from the cross that, in the company of atheists, frankly become a little embarrassing.
But here’s one thing I’m sure of: this question is a direct address… which means it is a prayer and it is not a prayer to some impersonal deity. This is an intimate prayer for Jesus says, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This is personal. Some might be offended that Jesus comes off sounding pretty demanding when he speaks these words… which leads me to the conclusion that there is still faith behind these words.
Perhaps there has been a time in your life when God has seemed unresponsive or distant. What did you do? I hope you did not berate yourself. And if you were angry with God, I hope you did not try to talk yourself out of it. After all; God knows what you’re feeling whether you acknowledge it or not. Every good relationship requires honesty. And Jesus wasn’t afraid to speak honestly to his heavenly Father when he was hanging on that cross that day. And, I would say, that teaches us a lot about prayer.
[i] Psalm 22:24