Jesus Christ: Did God Forsake Jesus on the Cross?
Quotes from Theologians on the Interview Program You’re Included
In Alphabetical Order
The Trinity says that God is both above and he is below, God is involved. The one who dies on the cross has to be as fully God as the Father in heaven. Jesus says, “God, my Father, why have you forsaken me?” This has to be, not only the language of Psalm 22, the human lament of forsakenness that Jesus takes on his own lips, but it has to be that God himself has, in a sense, assumed a humanity estranged from God, so that atonement begins in Bethlehem.
T.F. Torrance said, you have to go back to the fact that the one who was born from the womb of Mary was born to assume the human estrangement, to assume the sentence of death, so that, in that sense, Jesus as the incarnate Son of God is a dead man walking. Can God die? No. But for God to overcome human death, God has to become human and God has to assume that human death, so that when God the Son, the Logos (as John 1:1 says), enters in to become flesh, has in a sense, placed God from below….
How do we connect the reality of our doctrine of God with the reality of people’s lives? We do that in narrative form. Every person has a narrative – it’s their life, it’s their suffering, their losses, their pain, the questions they’re raising, “Where is God in my life?” That’s their narrative.
“My God, why have you forsaken me?” – that’s the narrative of humanity.
There’s also a narrative, God says, “I hear their cry” – the Old Testament. I heard them in Egypt. I love them, and because of my love, I’m going to come with them, I’m going to redeem them, I’m going to bring them out, and they will be a sign that I love, and am willing to include all the families of the earth. There is that narrative of God’s love and God’s grace. The job of pastoral ministry is to connect those two narratives….
What has God become in becoming human? God has become the sinner, which simply means without personal sin he still has a death nature, he’s going to die of something, because he has assumed death as a consequence of original sin. What God has assumed in becoming human is to assume God-forsakenness, to assume that condition. That is part of the narrative of the Trinity at work, so to speak. God has assumed death for everyone.
Ray S. Anderson
God’s goodness turns out to be far better than we ever would have dreamed, because God, rather than simply overcoming evil by a show of brute force, enters into the middle of it. God takes our diseased and alienated sinful humanity upon himself, suffers and finally dies the death that all of us will someday experience in order to set us free for fullness of life.
This is not a God who sits aloof from us, outside the universe, playing with our lives like a puppet on a string. This is a God who loves us to the uttermost, comes into the midst of our brokenness in order to redeem us. A God who even cries on the cross, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” – “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” When everything is darkness and we feel forsaken, our brother Jesus, our blessed high priest, has said that [why have you forsaken me?] on our behalf on the cross.
In the Incarnation, Jesus was born of Mary, and received in that, since he came from the seed of Adam’s race, the race that had fallen. Within the Virgin’s womb, he was joined with the Holy Spirit to become both God and man. So he took to himself that which we really are, it was a real humanity. He took it in union with the Holy Spirit, so it was a humanity he wore sinlessly. But often, we tend to think of Jesus as a kind of superman – that he wasn’t really touched with mortal frailty like the rest of us are, that he didn’t really know what it’s like to live in this broken world, to live among people who feel like God has forsaken them, to know the difficulty of temptation. But Scripture teaches that Jesus truly was tempted in all points as we are. He really could have gone into sin. He really knew what it was to wrestle against temptation. He knew how it is to be with us in a lost and forsaken humanity which he wore in perfect holiness and sinlessness….
We are the lost and wandering sheep, we’re the prodigal children and feel that we’ve wandered way outside of the Father’s grace and care. But the good news in the Incarnation is that our Father loved us so much that he sent his Son all the way into the world, all the way into our humanity where we are, sent to find us in our lost and forsaken condition and to join himself to us in the midst of our brokenness, our lostness and to heal us from within….
Jesus is both fully God but fully human in the way that we are human. When the Son of God came to us, as the Torrances love to say, he penetrated into our lost and forsaken condition, or as Douglas Sparrow says, he pursued us all the way to the place of our fallenness. Not just abstractly in some philosophical sense – he did it by becoming what we are, taking up real humanity, he truly embraced us….
The God of Jesus Christ, Jesus himself, is not about karma, making sure everything is handed out according to what we deserve, which would be bad news, but it’s about grace. Because one person has taken our sins upon himself, has paid the price not only at the external level, but in the depths of the depths he’s taken our lost and forsaken condition, made it his own, and healed it so that he can return to us grace in exchange for our letting go of our sin and our guilt.
Gerrit Scott Dawson
We don’t take the vicarious humanity of Christ seriously – that Christ has taken upon himself that despair, he’s taken upon that doubt, he’s taken upon that anxiety. That’s what we hear from the cross, when Jesus says in those cryptic words, a prayer to God, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
I think Jesus is praying that on our behalf. He is taking our despair and bringing it to the Father, and in doing so, healing it. We are not alone in that despair. We are not alone in our aloneness. We may still be lonely, but we’re not lonely alone. Jesus is lonely with us.
That’s extremely important for us to see, how close the humanity of Christ relates to our humanity. That’s why this, what seems to be abstract talk about vicarious humanity, is really very personal talk. Christ’s humanity is so close to us. We’re in union with him. We hear him crying out for us, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” when we’ve gone through a loss of a loved one, or other travails in life in which we’ve questioned the presence or even existence of God. Jesus cries that prayer on the cross, praying from Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” But he prays, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” There’s despair on the cross, but there’s also joy. Some scholars suggest that perhaps Jesus recited the rest of Psalm 22. In effect, with “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit,” he’s
When Jesus died on the cross, God was in Jesus reconciling us. But on the cross Jesus asked, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” How did God answer in the Gospels? He didn’t give an answer. So people looking at God through that wrong lens assume God the Father forsook his son Jesus. The answer is, he didn’t forsake his Son. That was the cry of Jesus when he became sin for us. If he had heard the answer right then and there, God would have said, “I haven’t forsaken you.”
You say, “How do you know?” I’ll prove it. Psalm 22 is the Messianic Psalm from which that cry of Jesus came. First verse, Psalm 22 of the Messianic Psalm, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” You can go on down and read that Psalm and bit by bit you see it’s talking about the cross right down to them casting lots for his garments — everything. It’s describing the cross.
If you go down to verse 24 in Psalm 22, you get the answer to the question. It’s not recorded in the Gospels, but it is in Psalms. Psalm 22:1, “Why have you forsaken me?” Verse 24, “He has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted nor has he hidden his face for him. But when he cried to him for help, he heard.”
Now here’s the neat thing. All the Jews knew these Psalms. When people standing around the cross heard the first line of that Psalm, they knew the rest of it. When Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” every self-respecting Jew standing there knew the rest of it, and the answer was he has not forsaken him or turned his face on him. But here we are 20 centuries later saying, he asked the question why did God forsake him — God must have forsook him. We’ve missed the point. No, he did not forsake him. He was right there in him and with him the whole time.
The Father never forsook the Son. People say, Well, they were fragmented. Are you kidding? Deity being fragmented? The Godhead would have ceased to exist. Father, Son, and Spirit have always been in that perichoresis, in that circle of love. It’s never wavered for one moment, even at the cross, which is encouraging to us, because like Jesus, when we cry out, why have you forsaken me, we can know God says, “I haven’t. I’m with you.” He’ll never forsake us.
T.F. Torrance would say that God never surrendered his divinity in becoming incarnate (so he could forgive our sins, because he was God incarnate), but he could also, from the human side, live our reconciliation subjectively in his perfect life of obedience. Unless the Word actually assumed our fully human nature, he wouldn’t have come all the way to us within our human history. Redemption takes place within the personal being of the mediator, both so that when Jesus suffers God-forsakenness in obeying the Father, he lives out a human life in the midst of sin and temptation, in the midst of stresses and strains that would want to divide the unity that took place in the hypostatic union, but, in the end, did not do so….
When he was baptized, it’s not because he sinned, but because he assumed our sin for humanity and so his baptism was the beginning of his living a human life of perfect obedience, which culminated on the cross where he said, “Not my will, but thine be done,” and then experienced God-forsakenness.
Christ on the cross stands in our place and laments in our place. He prays, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Psalm 22. It’s not in a sense of abandoning God – it’s, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” So he’s lamenting as a way of holding onto God in this situation. Christ does this, Old Testament saints do this….
Oftentimes when in the New Testament someone will quote from the Old Testament, they might just quote a verse or even a phrase, but the hearers will know the Scriptures; they were immersed in the Scriptures, and the hearers will call to mind the whole context, the whole story, the whole Psalm or whatever. So when Jesus says, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” we need to remember that Jesus would have been well aware of how the Psalm ended,
and the Psalm ends with deliverance.
The book of Hebrews in chapter 2 quotes from the salvation part of the Psalm and applies that to Jesus. In the early church, the Christ-followers saw it as very appropriate to take the second part of the Psalm as applying to Christ and the resurrection, and Christ as the one who praises God in the congregation.
But we need to be careful not to collapse or to somehow downgrade the despair or the lament of Christ on the cross as if he knew it was going to come out all happy in the end anyway, so he wasn’t really lamenting. Christ isn’t just putting on a show. He isn’t feigning lament. He really is suffering in our humanity, he really is lamenting on our behalf. He is expressing precisely how he feels. It’s the positive part. In Mark and Matthew, this “why have you forsaken me?” thing comes right near the end. This is something that’s been building up through the whole experience on Calvary. It comes out near the end, “why have you forsaken me?” It’s not just a passing thing and then he gets over it.
We need to beware of somehow collapsing the hope and the despair together — so he’s despairing, but actually he’s happy. No. He’s lamenting, so we need to take that utterly seriously, but also to recognize that Jesus has not given up on God. He says, “My God, why have you forsaken me?” This is lament within a relationship with God where he knows… for the joy set before him, as it says in Hebrews, he endured the shame of the cross.
Where is this God of the cross found? Where is this God who cries out to his Father on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” and hears nothing. Where is this God? If our models of great adolescent faith are just the shiny happy kids, then what about all those kids who know that question deep in their being? But the church never helps them articulate it….
God comes near to us in those moments where we don’t know what to do or when we feel lost. There are certain moments in our life that are utterly God-forsaken and are irredeemable. But often in those moments, someone else will share in our lives with us. I think, in those moments, God becomes concretely present….
The objective of the church is to say, “You’re right — Jesus isn’t here. So together let’s search for God…” and this is the paradox — “let’s search for God in the utter feeling of God-forsakenness, of God not being here,” which is this Christological element that opens up, that Moltmann beautifully does, to the Trinity — that God knows death, that God knows what it’s like. Jesus essentially says “God is not here” on the cross. The Father knows what it’s like to lose the Son to the abyss of separation and death. There’s something very Trinitarian about being willing to say “God is not here,” but not as a nihilistic assertion but as a confession of faith.
“God is not here” as a confession of faith that says “I will now search for God in this place where God cannot be found” because this God who cannot be found, this God who I can’t find now, is a God who is often not found, in certain places like in the barren womb of Sarah or in a people under years and years of oppression in Egypt, in the virgin womb of a 15-year-old girl in a God-forsaken place called Galilee…that in those places where “God is not here” is the place where God becomes found.
The heart of the Incarnation is the doctrine that Christ knows our weaknesses, takes our questions, our doubts to himself (“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”) and identifies with us in our suffering. By the Spirit we are united with that. We don’t float free of the cares of this world. We are given to recognize the One who stands with us in the concerns of this world, who knows our weaknesses, our doubting, our blindness, who in every respect is as tempted as we are and knows our struggles. He knows even our sense of god-forsakenness at times, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
Perhaps the severest forms of judgment we see in the gospel are out of the lips of Jesus. He was absolutely frank. When we look at the cross, we might belittle our sins. We might think it doesn’t matter. I say to people, “You look at the cross, you look at the fact that sin was so serious it
took everything that God himself had got, to remove our sin and deliver us.” I think of that great cry, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” There you see the depths and the horror of sin. Sin is very real, but thank God that we’re delivered from it. Our church needs to be cleansed, I pray every day that we will be cleansed. We thank God that there is complete cleansing, complete deliverance.
He loves us, and he is love in himself — that’s his very nature. He loves us so much that he has even entered into our hell for us on the cross. He’s taken our god-forsakenness and undone it, and cleared away all the barriers between us and him and united us to himself. He has taken our very flesh, our dust, and made it his. He is now a man in Christ. He’s done all that for us. He’s now with us, one with us.
Robert T. Walker
We have this idea that God comes to us and says, “You and I have a problem. Your behavior doesn’t meet up to the standards required, but I have a solution: For you and I to be ok, I’m going to take my innocent Son, whom I love more than anything else in the world, out to the woodshed, and kill him – and then you and I will be ok. Oh, by the way, trust me.”
We’re going, “Is there a disconnect here somewhere? Is that what had to happen for God the Father and me to be ok?” We’re going, “That’s not it at all… that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. It was God the Father that crawls inside of this very thing.”
People say, “What about, ‘My God, my God why have you forsaken me?’” That is Christ on the cross, for the first time as a human being, experiences a sense of separation. He doesn’t believe that it’s real – because the next thing he says is “into your hands I commit my spirit.” There is no real separation, but he feels the sense of it, but God is in him in that whole process. There is no abandonment like that. That cry is a cry of those who have experienced abandonment. For some of us that is such a hope for us….
Psalm 22, which starts off with, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” You read that psalm and it says, “trust, trust, trust.” At one point it says, “Because I know you will not turn your face from me.” We’ve come up with a theology where you can’t trust God, he’s turned his face, he can’t look on sin. He’s gone somewhere and he’s abandoned his son. Like every father
would abandon his son. Come on. I’m a father. There’s no way.
William Paul Young
For more information about the theologians, and the complete interviews, see the e-books titled Trinitarian Conversations, volumes 1 and 2. You may also wish to read Thomas H. McCall, Forsaken: The Trinity and the Cross, and Why It Matters (InterVarsity Press, 2012).