I have been reflecting the Gospel accounts of our Lord hanging on the Roman tree, and I am gripped by the sheer terror of the event. As Jesus hung there in great anguish, He cried out “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” (My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?) (Mt.27:46)
For a long time, I thought and taught that because Jesus became sin for us on the cross, the holy God (who could not stand to look on sin) turned His back leaving His Son to suffer the horror of the cross alone. Like many, I rationalized this view based on part of a verse in Habakkuk 1:13 where it suggests that God is too holy to look at the sinful. It fit well with my shame-based theology of a God revolted by sinners. A god happy to do away with them in some calamity lest His holy glory be somehow diminished or sullied by the filthy creatures. Oh, I wouldn't have said it like that but despite the theological spin and finery, this is what many believe.
There were many collisions for me in this thinking and after much wrestling and study, I found that I could no longer hold this view. This could not possibly be the Abba of Jesus. The God, who while we were still sinners waded into the muck and mire of broken hurting humanity to rescue His good creation. The God, who deeply loves humanity and gave Himself as the very cure for the plague that has ravaged us since the Fall. I revisited Habakkuk and discovered that while indeed the thought begins with God is too holy to look upon the sinful, the author continues with the idea of then why do you still look upon them?
Which brings me back to Jesus' cry from the cross "My God, my God why have you forsaken me?" Imagine my surprise to discover Jesus was likely quoting a familiar song - Psalm 22. Songs and music are so much a part of our lives. They tell stories, share ideas, and they share feelings. As a teen of the 1980's I am always amazed, when I hear a song from my youth how a flood of memories come back to me. Some of my favorite songs, even today often carry a great deal of meaning for me. In fact, I need only remember the first couple lines of a verse or chorus and it unpacks the whole song for me. This has certainly been the same for many throughout history with hymns and the spirituals, and it was also true for the first century Jews. It was common practice to quote a line from a Psalm as shorthand for the entire Psalm. Palm 22 indeed begins with "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" but climaxes in a completely different way! Psalm 22:22-30 declares:
"Here’s the story I’ll tell my friends when they come to worship and punctuate it with Hallelujahs: Shout Hallelujah, you God-worshipers; give glory, you sons of Jacob; adore him, you daughters of Israel. He has never let you down, never looked the other way when you were being kicked around. He has never wandered off to do his own thing; he has been right there, listening. Here in this great gathering for worship I have discovered this praise-life. And I’ll do what I promised right here in front of the God-worshipers. Down-and-outers sit at God’s table and eat their fill. Everyone on the hunt for God is here, praising him.“Live it up, from head to toe. Don’t ever quit!” From the four corners of the earth people are coming to their senses, are running back to God. Long-lost families are falling on their faces before him. God has taken charge; from now on he has the last word. All the power-mongers are before him—worshiping! All the poor and powerless, too—worshiping! Along with those who never got it together—worshiping! Our children and their children will get in on this as the word is passed along from parent to child. Babies not yet conceived will hear the good news—that God does what he says." (MSG)
Jesus' cry was not suggesting that His Father had abandoned Him. In quoting the first line of Psalm 22 Jesus was making a clear declaration of the exact opposite! Despite the worst that we threw at Him - God has come through on the promise of Psalm 22. It was a cry of victory, not defeat. The Father in Christ has dealt once and for all with the plague of sin and in the fullness of time manifests with shouts of Hallelujah as things are finally put right.
The truth is the Father didn't abandon Jesus, and the GOOD NEWS IN THE RISEN CHRIST is that He has NOT abandoned us! He didn't leave Jesus alone on the cross, and we are not alone while we suffer our crosses, our trials, and hardships. Even the long dark shadow of death has been dispelled by the bright SON-rise of Easter morning! Together, let's live lives that shout Hallelujah, He is risen indeed!