"My God, My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?"
We know the passages that describe death in the Old Testament. It is sleep (Dan 12:2). It is total unconsciousness (Eccl 9:5). Death is the antithesis of life.
But there is something else of the greatest importance that was central to the thinking of faithful men like David and Hezekiah:
"My soul also is greatly troubled. But you, O LORD — how long? Turn, O LORD, deliver my life; save me for the sake of your steadfast love. For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who will give you praise?" (Psa 6:3-5).
"Do you work wonders for the dead? Do the departed rise up to praise you? Selah Is your steadfast love declared in the grave, or your faithfulness in Abaddon? Are your wonders known in the darkness, or your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?" (Psa 88:10-12).
"O LORD, by these things men live, and in all these is the life of my spirit. Oh restore me to health and make me live! Behold, it was for my welfare that I had great bitterness; but in love you have delivered my life from the pit of destruction, for you have cast all my sins behind your back. For Sheol does not thank you; death does not praise you; those who go down to the pit do not hope for your faithfulness. The living, the living, he thanks you, as I do this day; the father makes known to the children your faithfulness" (Isa 38:16-19).
Death completely separates man from fellowship with God. For the faithful man or woman, this is the worst possible thing that could happen. Nothing is of greater consequence. Fellowship with God is the essence of life itself.
Life derives all its meaning from our relationship with God.
The faithful man or woman, for whom fellowship with God is life’s greatest joy, shrinks from anything that severs this holy relationship. Death is an enemy indeed.
No one knew this better than the Lord Jesus Christ. His life was fellowship with the Father in a degree that we can only try to contemplate. He walked with his Father every moment of every day. And His Father walked with him. It was an earnest of the eternal joy that God set before him.
Jesus knew, of course, that he must die to put away the sin of the world. He knew that the grave would not hold him; that he must rise to life again. But this did not diminish the full awfulness of death that loomed before his face.
His words as he entered Gethsemane were an echo of Psalm 6:
"Then he said to them, ‘My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain
here, and watch with me.’ And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will’ " (Matt 26:38,39).
May I suggest that the cup that Jesus prayed might pass from him was not just the cup of physical suffering? It was the bitter cup of death that would separate him from his Father and his God.
Where now would be his remembrance of God? Where now would be his life of praise? Could not God transfigure him, as He had once done on the holy mount, and give him immortality without the horror of even a moment’s separation between them?
Do not holy men and women think this way?
Then the ninth hour of the next day drew near: the hour of his death on the cross, the end. Jesus must have felt the last vestiges of life slipping from him:
"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?’ " (Matt 27:46).
Why have you abandoned me to this end? You are everything to me, even life itself!
Is it not possible that this cry of Jesus simply expressed the anguish of his soul as the darkness that had settled over the land turned into the reality of his death? Heaven must have cried, too. God derives no pleasure from the death of a sinner, let alone the death of the righteous man.
In Psalm 22, the opening words of which anticipated the anguish of Jesus’ soul, the immediate context is separation from God:
"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest" (vv 1,2).
In David’s case, the experience was some living death when he had sought but received no help from God; when he had prayed but gotten no answer. For Jesus, it was about to become the complete separation of death itself.
How thankful we can be that reassurance follows. God has saved the faithful before. He will do it again. He will yet be enthroned on the living praises of His people:
"Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. In you our fathers trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them. To you they cried and were rescued; in you they trusted and were not put to shame" (Psa 22:3-5).
God is now forever enthroned in the praises of the Son whom He delivered from the darkness of death. But for a little while their fellowship was severed. The separation of the Father and the Son by his death was a tragedy of the ages. It was not because of anything he had done. Our sins made it happen. Hear his cry from the cross and be ashamed. God forgive us!
Jim Harper (Meriden, CT)
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