Tuesday, August 27, 2013

My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?

"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
Today is the second day in our 34th week, reading the Bible through together in a year.  Our scriptures* today are: Isaiah 11-13; Matthew 27; Psalm 22.

Have you ever felt abandoned?  At some point in life, many feel that the people who are closest to them have either rejected them or abandoned them.  It's a horrible feeling, knowing that those who should be defending you, giving you comfort and hope, have turned their backs on you.  It's bad enough when people abandon you--but what about God?  Does God abandon us when we sin?  Did God abandon Jesus when He hung on the cross, bearing the sin of all humanity?  The answer we come up with here is pretty important.

Matthew 27:45-50 says:

45 Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. 46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 47 And some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, “This man is calling Elijah.” 48 And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink. 49 But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” 50 And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.

What an agonizing thing--in your last moments, with some of your last breaths, to cry out to God with a sense of total abandonment!  How horrible Jesus must have felt as He carried our sins to His death!  To us, it is unimaginable.  

Many ask, "Why would God turn His back on Jesus like that?  Didn't the Father love His Son?"  Of course, God the Father loves Jesus.  So, why would God abandon Him?

Some people answer this question by quoting Habakkuk 1:13, which says, "You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong, why do you idly look at traitors and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?"  So, God can't look at evil?  How, then, do we explain Genesis 6:5?  That scripture says, "The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually."  If in one scripture it says that God cannot see evil, and in another verse it says that God saw evil, we have a problem...unless we understand that Habakkuk 1:13 doesn't really mean that God is incapable of seeing evil.  Think about it--if God were incapable of looking upon evil, then God wouldn't have known about our our sin, and would never have sent His Son as our Savior.  Of course, God can look upon evil!  Besides, we ought to be careful whenever we say that an omnipotent God "can't" do something.  So, what does Habakkuk 1:13 mean?  You have to take a look at the context--because we get ourselves in trouble whenever we look at a verse out of context.  It really means that God can't look with complacency on evil, that God can't endure the sight of evil without doing something about it.  That's why the prophet asks God why He sits idly by.  Since God sees evil, why does He do nothing about it at that time?  (The answer for Habakkuk's question is for another study.)

So, those who say that God abandoned Jesus, "because God cannot see evil and cannot look at wrong" are taking a verse completely out of context.  

When Jesus hung on the cross, it's true that He felt abandoned.  Just as Jesus was fully divine, Jesus was also fully human.  Though He Himself was sinless, Jesus completely identified with the sin of humanity.  In that blindingly agonizing moment, Jesus felt the loneliness of the cross.  So, He quoted words from Psalm 22:, drawing comfort from the knowledge that He wasn't the first or only human to feel abandoned by God.  That psalm says: 

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?

This psalm is an amazing expression of David's sense of abandonment and pain, when he was in a terrifying situation.  Much of the psalm is a prophetic foreshadowing of Jesus' crucifixion.  That deserves a study in its own right, but that's not my purpose for writing here.  I'll simply say that as He hung on the cross, Jesus so identified with this feeling of isolation, fear, and abandonment that He quoted some very strong words in order to express it.

It's important to understand here that while Jesus felt abandoned by God, the Father had not actually rejected Him.  For the Father to separate Himself from the Son would be a violation of the true nature of the unity in the Trinity.

Have you ever felt rejected by God?  You can take comfort in knowing that even Jesus felt this way at one time.  This is part of the human experience, so your feelings are not abnormal.  But you should also understand that while it's normal to feel this way, the problem doesn't come from God turning His back on us.  The problem comes when we are so enveloped in sin that we become unaware of His constant, loving presence.  In reality, "The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18)."  God's Word promises us, "It is the LORD who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.”  

By receiving Jesus as your Savior, you have the guarantee that the Lord lives inside you.  As such, it is impossible for God to abandon you, for how could He ever abandon Himself?  2 Timothy 2:13 says, "if we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself."  God didn't deny Jesus because of His lack of faith as He hung on the cross.  Certainly, He won't abandon you, who are a vessel of His presence.  If you're feeling isolated, afraid, and alone, then be encouraged today--God will never leave you nor forsake you.


*Scriptures are taken from the ESV.

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