“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Can you feel the sense of emotional torture in the Savior’s cry? “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It’s difficult to read those words, imagine that scene, and not shudder in horror. In we look long into that anguished cry, we glimpse something of what it means for the Father to forsake His Son. First, the Father allowed the Son to suffer social abandonment. But there’s more.
2. The Father Allowed Jesus to Suffer Emotional Desertion
Of course, the cry itself is a quote of Psalm 22:1. Psalm 22 is a psalm of David. It’s one of the Messianic psalms that clearly point beyond anything David ever experienced to the experience of Jesus the Messiah. The psalm is best read on Jesus’ lips.
Four contrasts in Ps. 22 give us a glimpse of the emotional intensity of Jesus’ cry. These contrasts are really gaps—gaps between Jesus’ expectation and God’s actions on that day. For forsakenness is not simply a matter of loneliness. Forsakenness involves loneliness, but extends to something deeper. Nor is forsakenness simply a matter of being let down. Forsakenness is that loneliness and let down that includes a sense of betrayal—at least the betrayal of unfulfilled expectations. The U.S. Marines pride themselves on “never leaving a man behind on the battle field.” To leave your troops and fellow soldiers stranded represents the greatest betrayal. That’s forsakenness. Or, imagine the groom dressed in his tuxedo awaiting his bride. While expecting to see her dressed in white, slowly sauntering down the aisle, he learns that she left him at the altar. That’s forsakenness. An expectation, a longing, a hope… knifed in the back. Forsakenness is to be cast off, abandoned, deserted, left, spurned, ditched, marooned, walked out on, jilted, spurned. Forsakenness carries all the emotional thrust of that image of a knife in the back or a punch in the gut.
Consider the four contrasts in Psalm 22 as an illustration of the emotional forsakenness Jesus felt on the cross. We may experience these things in our human trials; but Christ Jesus, the perfect man and perfect God, experienced these things in a degree we cannot imagine.
First, feelings of emotional desertion come if prayers go unanswered when we clearly know God rules. Psalm 22:2-3—“O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, and am not silent. Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the praise of Israel.” God is the ruler of all things. He sits enthroned. He is high and lifted up. We could translate verse 2 as “enthroned on the praises of Israel.” Yet, this ruling God does not answer the incessant cries and prayers of the one who trusts in Him. We have the sense that the righteous prayers of righteous men ought to be answered by a righteous God. If God does not grant such a man his prayers, then we feel a gap, a sense of forsakenness. The more righteous the man and the prayer the more forsaken the feeling. Have you ever had that feeling? Yet, beloved, there was never a man more righteous than Jesus. Never was there a deeper forsakenness caused by unanswered prayers offered to a ruling God than that forsaken feeling Jesus felt on Calvary’s cross. “My God, my God, how could you not answer my cry when you rule all things?”
Second, feelings of emotional desertion come when the righteous are forsaken while sinners are delivered. When we see God deliver others yet leave us mocked and persecuted, it heightens our sense of emotional abandonment. In Psalm 22:4-5, Jesus calls to mind God’s deliverance of Israel:
In you our fathers put their trust;
they trusted and you delivered them.
5 They cried to you and were saved;
in you they trusted and were not disappointed.
Remember: This is sinful, backsliding, stiff-neck Israel who repeatedly turned from God to idols. Yet, YHWH repeatedly delivered them and rewarded their trust. Verses 6-8 contrasts backsliding Israel with righteous Jesus’ treatment.
6 But I am a worm and not a man,
scorned by men and despised by the people.
7 All who see me mock me;
they hurl insults, shaking their heads:
8 ”He trusts in the LORD;
let the LORD rescue him.
Let him deliver him,
since he delights in him.”
Psalm 22 was written hundreds of years before Jesus was born, but it’s like reading Matthew 27 verbatim. How could God deliver a sinful people like Israel and leave the perfect Son of God to suffer the mockery of men He made? For that matter, how could God deliver a sinful people like us and leave the perfect Son of God to suffer abandoned? The gap heightens Jesus’ emotional desertion. “My God, my God, how could you abandon me to insults when you’ve delivered sinners and backsliders?”
Third, when faithfulness is repaid with abandonment feelings of emotional desertion increase. We see this in Psalm 22:9-11.
9 Yet you brought me out of the womb;
you made me trust in you
even at my mother’s breast.
10 From birth I was cast upon you;
from my mother’s womb you have been my God.
11 Do not be far from me,
for trouble is near
and there is no one to help.
When we consider the years of our trust in God and obedience to Him only to be left alone with no one to help in our time of need, then the sense of emotional betrayal grows more intense. Jesus was miraculously conceived by the Virgin Mary. He lived to do the Father’s will. The only trouble the Lord ever gave His parents came at age 12 when he stayed in the temple too long teaching the religious leaders. From birth Jesus served the Father. But now, in trouble on the cross, the Lord cries with a loud voice, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And there was no one there to help. The feeling of abandonment after a life of perfect obedience and trust left the Son of God overwhelmed with emotion. “My God, my God, how could you leave me alone after doing all you asked?”
Fourth, the feelings of desertion rise when our enemies are close but our God seems far off. We see this in Psalm 22:12-21. Listen for the hints and prophecies pointing to our Lord.
12 Many bulls surround me;
strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.
13 Roaring lions tearing their prey
open their mouths wide against me.
14 I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint.
My heart has turned to wax;
it has melted away within me.
15 My strength is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;
you lay me in the dust of death.
16 Dogs have surrounded me;
a band of evil men has encircled me,
they have pierced my hands and my feet.
17 I can count all my bones;
people stare and gloat over me.
18 They divide my garments among them
and cast lots for my clothing.
19 But you, O LORD, be not far off;
O my Strength, come quickly to help me.
20 Deliver my life 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.
Bulls, lions, dogs, and wild oxen surrounded the Lord on that day. Men turned to beasts by their sin and blindness. The Savior feels his heart melting, His bones dislodged, his strength dried up, his hands and feet pierced, stripped naked and gawked at while his clothes were divided. Isn’t it amazing how Calvary shows up so clearly in psalms written centuries before Jesus came and the gospels were penned? It’s how partly how we know these things are true.
There is the Creator of the world hanging powerless, looking to the Father to be His strength. But the Father stands far off—farther away than the women who were there (Matt. 27:55-56). Yahweh, who was His strength, withdrew just when Jesus’ heart melted and failed. Can you imagine a greater sense of abandonment, of being left by God? “My God, my God, where are you when I’m scared and weak?”
Psalm 22 helps us understand what is happening emotionally to our Lord in those final moments on the cross, when He lets go with that wailing question, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Not only was the Savior socially abandoned by the men He came to save, He was also emotionally deserted by the Father in whom He trusted.