Why Did Jesus say, “Why Have You Forsaken Me?”

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why have you forsaken me?A reader recently sent a a series of questions about the experience of Jesus on the cross. I have answered most of the questions in previous posts (since the list below). In this post I will address the question about what Jesus meant when He said, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”

Here is the question the reader originally submitted:

I am a believer, but I am troubled by an atheist’s questions. I was talking to an atheist the other day, and he said that God doesn’t know what it’s like to lose a son because he knew all along that Jesus would rise in three days, so he only lost him for the weekend! He also questioned that if God is Jesus, why did he beg to be saved from the cross when he was in the garden? Also, shouldn’t Jesus already have known he would rise again in three days? Why did he ask God, “Why have you forsaken me?” Wouldn’t he know that he’s only going to be dead three days?

Since this is such a complex set of questions, I am answering them in four posts:

  1. How to Answer Questions of Atheists
  2. 2 Traditional Explanations for How God knows what it is Like to Lose a Son (both of which I reject)
  3. 2 Ways God Knows What it is like to Experience the Death of a Child
  4. Why did Jesus say, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”

The first three posts covered most of the issues, but there are two main questions left.

First, why did Jesus beg to be saved from the cross when he was in the garden? Second, why did He ask God, “Why have You forsaken Me?”?

That first unanswered question I have already attempted to answer in a previous post where I talked about the phrase, “Let this cup pass from me.” Though my interpretation of that statement by Jesus in the garden is somewhat controversial, it seems to make the most sense out of the context, and Jesus’ attitude leading up to the cross. I do not think Jesus was praying for a way out of the pain and suffering; His love for humanity was too great for that. No, I think Jesus was praying for strength to face the pain and suffering He knew He was about to bear.

So I am not going to write anything more about that here.

Let us focus instead on the statement of Jesus from the cross where He cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”

Why Have You Forsaken Me?

This question from Jesus on the cross is found in Matthew 27:46-47 (and in Mark 15:34), and is a quotation from Psalm 22:1. It is asked by Jesus as He suffers on the cross, and faces the sin of the world being poured out upon Him.

why have you forsaken meThe main point of the question above is that since both Jesus and God the Father knew that God would raise Jesus from the dead (Matt 12:40), in what sense what Jesus forsaken by God?

In other words, if being forsaken means to be abandoned, rejected, despised, how could Jesus say, “Why have you forsaken me?” when He knew that He would be raised from the dead, and therefore, not ultimately forsaken, that is, not really abandoned, rejected, or despised?

The answer, I think, lies in understanding to some degree the eternal relationship that has existed between God the Father and God the Son.  Understanding this relationship, and the cry of Jesus from the cross, leads to a shocking idea (for me, anyway) about the experience of Jesus on the cross.

His Eternal Relationship seemed Broken

Since God the Father and God the Son have existed in an eternal relationship, they had never been separated by anything for any length of time in any way, shape, or form. Nothing had ever come between them the way of will, desires, intentions, thoughts, or purposes.

We humans have a difficult time grasping this, since we don’t know what it is like to live in such a relationship at all, let alone for all eternity. All of relationships, even those that are the most loving, have areas of discord and misunderstanding.

But God the Father and God the Son (along with God the Holy Spirit) always lived in a perfect relationship and perfect unity.

Yet when Jesus went to the cross, He took the sins of all people, throughout all time, upon Himself. He bore our sins in His own body (1 Pet 2:24). He who knew no sin, became sin for us (2 Cor 5:21). He became a curse for us (Gal 3:13).

I believe that from the perspective of Jesus on the cross, it seemed that God had “abandoned” Him to sin.

Though sin cannot damage or pollute God in any way, sin does cause a separation between Himself and the sinner. So it appears that when Jesus took the sin of all people upon Himself, a separation came between Him and God that had never before existed.

So when Jesus cried out, “Why have you forsaken me?” it was because He was experiencing a brokenness in His relationship with God the Father that they had never before experienced. Yes, He knew that God had not finally and ultimately forsaken Him, and He knew that He would be raised again in three days, but the cry of Jesus from the cross is not about those things, but about the separation from God He experienced for the very time in all eternity.

why have you forsaken meThis experience of separation from God elicited the cry of Jesus, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” He had never experienced this separation before, and though He knew that He would be reunited with God in a short while, the pain and agony of the separation was caused this cry of despair from Jesus.

But had God truly forsaken Jesus? I don’t think so. I don’t think God did forsake Jesus any more than God forsakes us. Jesus was not a God-forsaken God.

The God-Forsaken God?

I might be going out too far on a theological limb here, but there is a part of me that thinks it is only here on the cross where Jesus finally experienced the pain and turmoil of what it is like to be a sinful human being separated from God. Though Jesus came as a human being to rescue us from our sinful plight and in so doing, experienced almost everything He could as a human, He never really experienced the fearful and agonizing predicament of being separated from God by sin.

It was only when He took our sin upon Himself on the cross, it was only when the crushing despair of being separated from God came upon Him, that He finally felt what we humans have lived with since we were born. The pain and anguish we feel every day, the suffering of being separated from God that has so numbed our souls, the despair and fear that drives us to live as we do, was felt for the very first time by Jesus on the cross when sin came upon Him.

His cry, “My God, my God, Why have You forsaken Me?” is not the cry of the God-forsaken God, but is the heart cry of every single human being on earth. It is the cry we have been voicing since the beginning when we fell into sin.

And finally, God came to earth in Jesus Christ to experience this separation for Himself. And when He did, the suffering is so great, He cries out, “My God, my God, Why have you forsaken me?”

Do you see? This is not just the cry of Jesus on the cross. This is the cry of every single person on earth. It is our pain, our fear, our hurt, our despair, finally being given a voice. It is the cry of God fully entering into our broken condition and fully experiencing the sense of separation from God that sin causes, and crying out in anguish and despair over this sense of loss, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?”

When we feel that God is ignoring us, or has abandoned us, Jesus knows what we feel, and He cries out to God on our behalf, “Why have You forsaken Me?”

When we experience fear in the night about our future, Jesus knows what we feel, and He cries out to God on our behalf, “Why have You forsaken Me?”

When bad things happen in this world, and we wonder what God is doing about them (if anything), Jesus knows what we feel, and He cries out to God on our behalf, “Why have You forsaken Me?”

When we feel despised and rejected, abused and slandered, misunderstood and forgotten, and we wonder why God seems to be doing nothing to protect and defend us, Jesus knows what we feel, and He cries out to God on our behalf, “Why have You forsaken Me?”

The separation from God that Jesus experienced on the cross is the separation from God that humans experience every day. Certainly, since He is God and since He bore every sin of every person, He experienced this separation to an infinite degree. But still, the cry of Jesus from the cross, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?” is not just the cry of Jesus, but is our cry.

It is the cry of every single human being on earth. Jesus was giving voice to our pain and anguish.

Do you feel abandoned by God? Jesus knows what that feels like. Do you feel forsaken, neglected, forgotten, and overlooked? Jesus knows what that feels like. Do you feel like God has turned His back? Jesus knows what that feels like.

But here is the thing… and I will close with this….

The original question was “How can Jesus say ‘Why have you forsaken me?’ when God did not actually forsake Him?”

Yes. And just as Jesus felt what we all feel to be forsaken, so also, none of us have been forsaken, just as Jesus Himself was not.

Though you may feel abandoned by God, you are no more abandoned than was Jesus. Though you may feel forsaken, forgotten, neglected, and overlooked, these things are no more true of you than they were of Jesus. Though you may feel unloved, this is no more true of you than it was for Jesus.

Though Jesus cried out, “Why have you forsaken me?” He was NOT forsaken. And neither are we.

This is a feeling that Jesus experienced, which is a feeling we ALL experience.

And this feeling does not come because we are forsaken, but because of sin. Sin has separated us from God; it has not separated God from us. This is why God had to reconcile the world to Himself (1 Cor 5:19). He didn’t need to reconcile Himself to the world, for He never left or abandoned us.

Though we may feel forsaken, we are not forsaken any more than Jesus was forsaken.

God did not forsake Jesus, and God does not forsake us. The presence of sin in our lives makes us feel like we are forsaken, like God has abandoned us, forgotten us, or left us alone to suffer and die, when in fact, God is right there all the time, holding us, loving us, and crying with us over our pain.

It is sin that makes us feel separated from God, and this is the feeling Jesus expressed on the cross, and is one reason Jesus went to the cross – to take our sin and bear it away into death so that we can see that God has not left us, has not abandoned us, and has not forsaken us, but has fully entered into our pain, our suffering, and even into our sin, so that He might show us how much He loves and cares for us.

I am not sure if this answers the reader’s question, but it does help explain what Jesus meant when He said, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?” It also helps us understand that on the cross, Jesus understood the feeling of being a sinful human being, and it is for this reason that we can trust His promise that He will never leave us nor forsake us (Heb 13:5).

Comments

  1. Bob MacDonald says

    I think it is a good idea to read the whole psalm. Psalm 22 is being quoted and it is a lovely study in the cost of being in charge. Psalm 20 is a prayer for the ruler; Psalm 21 an answer; and Psalm 22 the cost and the result of such a gift – worship. You wouldn’t read a hymn book in sequence, but the psalms are brought together to be read in sequence.

    In this psalm in verse 20 (Hebrew numbering) the hart (deer or doe, male and female), which is in the inscription(1), is also invoked within the three circles of animals in verses 13-22 (bulls lions dogs – dogs lions wild bulls).

    But you, יהוה, you be not distant
    My hart, to my help, hurry

    This image of the hart and the role of eating in the psalm prefigure the Eucharist. The worship and eating are noted in the second half of the psalm – a uniformly positive section of the poem. Note particularly verses 28-30.

    The afflicted will eat and be satisfied
    Those who search for יהוה will praise him
    May your heart live for ever

    All the ends of the earth will remember and will turn to יהוה
    All the families of the nations will worship in your presence

    for to יהוה is the kingdom
    and he governs in the nations

    All the sleek(2) of the earth will eat and worship in his presence
    All who go down to dust will bow
    but his being he could not keep alive

    Note the corporate aspect of worship. It is vital that we learn to govern ourselves – together – and not just by self-interest or national interest. If indeed the deer or the hart of the inscription takes up into himself all the sins of the world and we eat of his own flesh in the Presence – we are also to note our unity with all the families of the nations. (So we could use this psalm as a prayer for Syria).

    Much more to say about this psalm. It is a good one to pray as a whole. It has taken me years to ponder it and with many distractions and tangles. Working out how the Psalm relates to the New Testament and to the words in the mouth of Jesus is a journey worth taking.

    Notes:
    (1) In the inscription, the word hart is construct singular, ending with the ‘t’ sound. In verse 20, it is a feminine plural form likewise ending in ‘t’. It is convenient that hart can be seen as singular or plural. In verse 20 we have hurry, a word that sounds so similar to the dawn, that one cannot help noticing both the structural play and the allusion of assonance. Hart in its masculine plural form (אֵילִים ayilim) is a cipher for the name of God, (אֱלֹהִים elohim).

    (2) sleek, דשׁן (dshn) fat, feels like a misprint for sleep, ישׁן. So one might translate with the correction to the text as ‘All who sleep in the earth…’

    • michael says

      you know that Jesus came to the world in body and soul. So it was the flesh saying to God the father that “Why have you forsaking me” the Spirit will never die but the flesh will die. So it was the flesh saying and not the spirit.

  2. says

    I’m afraid that this is one where I’m going to totally disagree with you, Jeremy. :)

    I don’t believe that Jesus was truly forsaken by God in any way. When he said, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me,” he was simply quoting the opening line (or the title) of Psalm 22. He was effectively saying, “Take a look at this Psalm. It is being fulfilled in me.”

    And indeed, when we do look at the Psalm, we see messianic fulfillment all the way through it. Furthermore, by the end of the Psalm, we see very clearly that the Psalmist never really was forsaken either. The grief he endured simply caused him to feel as though he had been forsaken, but God never forsakes us, and I don’t believe he ever forsook Jesus.

    • Mark Pixley says

      Totally agree with Chuck here, Jesus is using a typical Rabbinical motif by only quoting the first part of a scripture, consider he probably wants to quote it to the end but physically it is almost impossible due to what is happening to his lungs and rib-cage during the Crucifixion. This Psalm declares boldly that “He has not abandoned the afflicted”(vs.24)…Psalm 22 is probably one of the most graphic representations of exactly what was going on and Jesus is declaring the reality to everyone who can hear it…by only speaking the first phrase his hearers would immediately know the rest of the Psalm and understand…the Psalm ends with the same phrasing that Jesus ends with, he says “It is finished” the psalm says “He has done it”…its easy to miss-see from a Greek model rather than the Hebraic model…God di not forsake Him…that is not what the Father is like…not even slightly.

          • says

            Jeremy did write the words, “God did not forsake Jesus.” But he still maintained that Jesus was in some way separated from the Father. I don’t believe that Jesus was forsaken in any way whatsoever or that he experienced any level of separation.

            If anything, I would say that God’s presence was more fully and directly upon Jesus during his crucifixion than any other time. God is love, love comes from God, and Jesus’ death on the cross was the single greatest act of love this world has ever known. So we can be absolutely certain that God was right there in the middle of it.

          • Taco Verhoef says

            I thought Jerry meant that it was a feeling Jesus experienced, just like we experience lots of feelings. He was human after all. But you might be just as right in that he quoted the first line from the psalm and meant the whole.

    • Sandra Leigh says

      If we take seriously the holiness of God, then we must believe that when Jesus took sin upon himself, that the result was a temporary separation between Jesus and God. If we do not admit this, then maybe we don’t really believe that sin separate us from God.

      As for Psalm 22 – if the Psalmist did not feel abandoned by God, then why did he write it that way? The Psalm begins with an expression of an honest human feeling, but feelings do not always equate to fact. The Psalmist then progresses to a place of faith that triumphs over those feelings. Don’t we all progress in our faith? Don’t we all struggle with feelings that lead us astray? In the end, neither Jesus nor the Psalmist were abandoned.

      I personally think that the author did a great job explaining the passage. My thanks to him.

    • RaD says

      How could Jesus take a line out of something that was not even written yet. The bible was written over 1000 years after Jesus’ death..

      • Jonathon says

        >The Bible was written over 1000 years after Jesus’ death.

        Even the mythists, who deny that Jesus existed, put forth an individual (Jude the Galilean) who died circa 100 BC, as one of the physically existing figures that Jesus was composed from, when the Bible was written in 300 AD.

        IOW, even using the false chronology of mythists, less than 500 years passed from the birth of the model, till the entire New Testament was written.

      • Thomas Johnson II says

        I am not sure how true it is, but I read in a similar article that Psalms 22 was written nearly 1000 years before Christ, that would mean this Psalm foretold of Christ’s sacrifice for us.

  3. Tony Vanfe says

    I must say that I too believe this statement rests in the fact of the relationship that the Father & Son had. Its uniqueness could only be understood by the eternal Godhead. Yes, forsaken, only truth can come from the lips of Jesus, he was forsaken (in Godhead). I have always believed the eternal Godhead suffering (i.e.spiritual) was the true suffering of the cross. Good thoughts Brother.

  4. Danny says

    Every time that Jesus directed prayer to God, he always used the intimate term Abba Father, with one exception i.e. His cry from the cross. This leads me to believe that this was not Jesus praying or crying to His Father, but was simply, publicly declaring that He was now fulfilling Psalm 22. Infact rather than God forsaking Jesus, I think, if it were possible, it was the opposite. Surely at that time there would be such a closeness, a reassurance of that great love. The amount and intensity of the pain, anguish and suffering that Jesus went through on the cross, on our behalf, is beyond human comprehension.
    Jesus said “As the Father has loved Me, so also have I loved you; abide in My love.” (John 15:9) Charles Spurgeon made some comments about this verse, that have always stuck with me.
    Here is:
    1 Love without beginning. God never began to love Jesus
    2 Love without limit. God loves Jesus with an unbounded love.
    3 Love without change. God always loved Jesus alike, equally.
    4 Love without end. When will God leave off loving Jesus?
    In the same way does Jesus love you and me.

  5. Joseph says

    This bothered me at one time in my relationship with Jesus until I had a dream in which the Lord said to me,
    “I said these words not for my sake but for yours. I paid every penalty that should have been yours including being separated from God. I did this for you.”

  6. Vivek Chaudhary says

    Isaiah 9:6 …his name shall be called ….everlasting father. In john Jesus said, me and my father are one; you have seen me so you have seen the father. Jesus Christ creator of this world said that I have power to give my life and bring it back. He said that you will destroy this temple and I will build it again in 3 days.

    My point is that the omnipotent God became flesh and he had all the qualities of a normal human being. If he had any other divine powers manifested at the cross, he couldn’t have been a perfect sacrifice. He had to fulfill old testament prophecy from Psalm 22:1 but interestingly in verse 24 it says “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.”

    I have a beautiful story to illustrate why the punishment that he took. Will leave it for some other time.

      • Vivek Chaudhary says

        No I haven’t. Although I have thought about writing on several topics including my parents and grand-parent testimonies.

    • jim says

      ps 22.24 is the verse that answers the question. God did not turn his face away. just as it was pointed out, God does not abandon us, tho we feel he does. jesus expressed the universal cry of mankind. God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. 2 cor. 5.19 the teaching we have heard on this about abandonment has come from the mind of man, not the word of God, i think. where does the Word itself teach this? rather it teaches God NEVER abandons those who seek him ever. grace and peace my brothers.

  7. RaD says

    all this article shows is opinion. Why can’t humans just admit they do not know? There is no proof for the existence of a religious God. Stop making things up.

  8. FERAS says

    Read psalm 22 specially verse 11-18

    jesus was fulfuling what was said in psalm 22

    he wanted draw our attention to that verse

    • says

      The burden of proof doesn’t lie wit the atheist it lies with religion? Religion must prove the existence of god which in my opinion it does not. A bunch of words written in a book, that supposedly made it through the most corrupt times of civilization unchanged, is not proof. You can sit 20 people in a circle and give a statement to the first person and 19 people later it will come out different so it should be expected for people that don’t believe to believe. A book of stories and blind faith isn’t enough. Jesus didn’t die for any of my sins! If there was a god and a Jesus…Jesus died for gods sins because god would have already known we would be sinners. There are 7 billion people on this planet of which 2.1 billion are christians that means there are 4.9 billion people that believe differently than you do and they believe it to there souls. Yet Christians will say that they will face some god on judgement day for their beliefs? Why? Because they weren’t fortunate enough to be born into a Christian household ? Most people believe what they believe because that is what they were born into, is that their fault? No! So why should they be judged by anyone or any so called god. How about the newly discovered tribe in the amazon? I assure you the name Jesus has never crossed their lips. Christians are a bunch of self-righteous people passing there judgement on those who do not believe. Who would ever follow any god that would supposedly send people to any kind of so called hell because they do not believe. That is not love…that is fear. There should never be an “or else” factor in any religion, of course unless it was invented to control the masses. Which it was!

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