At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?”). When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, He’s calling Elijah.” Someone ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave Him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take Him down,” he said. With a loud cry, Jesus breathed His last. The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how He died, he said, “Surely this Man was the Son of God!” — Mark 15:33-39
We would do well to consider just how devastating that experience of separation must have been for Jesus. Wevbgy read the book Lion, which became an Oscar-winning film. It tells the harrowing story of a young Indian boy, aged five, becoming separated from his older brother at a train station and getting lost. He boards a stationary train in an attempt to find his brother, and when the doors slam shut behind him, he begins a journey across the breadth of India, all the way to Calcutta. The separation from his mother and his siblings is heart-wrenching and couldn’t fail to move even the steeliest reader. The helplessness, the isolation, the sense of being so cruelly ripped out from the safety and security of his loving family — it all hits you in the stomach.
It is hard for us to conceive a separation worse than that of a young child from a parent, but that’s exactly what we see at the Cross.
“My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” is one of the most remarkable questions in the history of humanity.
It has always been one of the most difficult of all Jesus’ sayings for me to understand. It not only gives us a glimpse into the emotional dimension of His suffering, but also the relational dynamic at the Cross. Jesus has become sin — as He chooses to identify 100 percent with the wrongs of all humanity across all time — and the perfect relationship between the Father and Son that existed before all eternity is put under the most extreme pressure. In fact, this is the only time in the Gospels when Jesus prays to God and doesn’t use the word Father.
Why? That single word reverberates through every human population in every age, through every nation, tribe, and family that has ever existed, through the experience of every single person on the planet who has ever lived.
At some point in our lives we will find ourselves asking, “Why?” Or, more likely, shouting, screaming, or crying, “Why?”
Why does a disease devastate whole populations? Why does a ferry go down with the men, women, and children on board lost? Why does an airplane disappear, leaving behind distraught relatives without even a shred of comfort from knowing what happened to their loved ones? Why earthquakes? Why tsunamis? Why the subtle mutations in otherwise good cells that lead to cancer? Why is there sorrow, illness, violence, bereavement? Why are my prayers not answered?
Whenever we pray, cry, or scream, “Why?” we are, intentionally or otherwise, placing ourselves alongside Jesus in a kind of communion with the One who asked that same question of His Father. “Why? Why have You forsaken Me, Your very own Son?” We might feel so totally abandoned, so thoroughly rejected, so fundamentally lost that all we can do is cry, “Why?” Yet, in Jesus’ cries from the depths of suffering and violence on the Cross — the deepest grief ever known — He carried our why with Him. We are not alone. He understands us, He’s been there, and He assures us that He has a plan to wipe away every tear, to make “everything sad… come untrue,” as J. R. R. Tolkien put it at the end of The Lord of the Rings. No one likes tough times, but those tests add power to our testimony.
If God didn’t withhold from us His very own Son, will God withhold anything we need?
Suffering is unbearable unless you know God is for you and God is with you. Because if we think amid our pain and suffering that we are forsaken, we could fall into three possible traps: isolation, self-absorption, and condemnation.
Isolation. Suffering can make you feel cut off from everyone else’s everyday experiences, leaving you feeling isolated from your friends and family, whom you may feel can’t really understand what it is you are going through. Many people may stay at a distance because a person who is suffering reminds them that none of us are truly in control of our lives. Suffering and turmoil can fall upon any of us.
Self-absorption. Suffering makes it hard for us to take our focus off of ourselves. Our pain absorbs every ounce of our head space, and it leaves no room for us to feel compassion or empathy for other people who are suffering.
Condemnation. When unexpected, excruciating suffering arrives at our door, it is hard to avoid feeling as though we are being judged or punished for some behavior or some action that we have previously taken.
But back to our story. When Jesus cried out, it was with a loud voice. That adjective reminds us of another incident right at the start of Jesus’ ministry — another loud voice. In the moment of His baptism by John in the Jordan River, we are told that there was a loud voice from Heaven, which proclaimed, “This is My beloved Son.” At the same moment, a dove was seen to descend from Heaven to alight upon Jesus. This was the confirmation by the Holy Spirit of the words that were spoken from Heaven. The Holy Spirit confirmed the love of the Father for His Son, Jesus. And so we would do well never to forget that the same Holy Spirit who affirmed the Father and Son’s loving relationship at the start was also present alongside Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane and on the Cross itself, even at the moment of abandonment.
We must not think for a second that the Father was sitting safe and untroubled in Heaven, detached and unconcerned as He watched His Son suffering. This was not the case at all. This was a moment of suffering and crisis for the Father as much as for the Son. He experienced the desolation of the loss of His Son, just as the Son experienced the anguish of the loss of His Father. Jesus found Himself fatherless, disowned, and disinherited. The experience of the Father cannot really be named; it remains in the realms of deep mystery. Clearly, there was loss and deprivation, but it’s unfathomable. But it is the consistent, faithful presence of the Holy Spirit that provides the glimmer of hope in the midst of the despair. The Spirit holds the Father and Son together in love even as their intimacy is threatened to the breaking point by the Cross.
The Holy Spirit is the life-giving Spirit, and He led Jesus through a life of ministry and healing and power to the place of sacrifice and suffering, to death and loss. These were places Jesus had to pass through as He was led into life through the resurrection. Here is the extraordinary truth:
love was still flowing in deep and hidden channels even at this time of suffering, judgment, and separation.
And so I find I have the audacity to claim that there are glorious implications for us, and the way we live, in the story of Jesus being forsaken, however paradoxical that sentence might seem. I would like to mention three.
First, we can choose a Spirit-led walk. When we look to the Cross, we see that this God alone is for us because this God alone has been one of us. How else could He have been our Savior if He hadn’t known suffering Himself? How could we relate to Him and how could He understand us if He wasn’t wounded? We can know that there is no situation or trouble that we will ever go through where Jesus isn’t standing with us and cannot understand.
Second, we can adopt a Spirit-led worldview. From the ruins we can rejoice because God still reigns. The mercies of God will never let us down, and His mercy insulates the outer circumference of our lives amid the troubles, challenges, and difficulties of our lives.
The masculine noun in Hebrew for mercy is the word rechem. The root of the word refers to the deep love found or rooted in some natural bond such as childbirth. It describes a deep inner feeling we can know as compassion, and this compassion is what epitomizes God’s mercy — a mercy that insulates our inadequacies and sufferings, a mercy that insulates the abused and hopeless.
In the midst of such pain, the Spirit comforts us and cries: “There is possibility, there is hope, there is God even in the worst moments of your life!”
Third, when we look at Christ being forsaken on the Cross, it enables us to fight a Spirit-led war. It’s at the Cross that sin met its match. The veil in the temple was rent in two, so there is no longer a divide between the common and the hallowed, and the whole earth is full of God’s glory. Christ is no longer nailed to the Cross; He is seated at the right hand of the Father in power and glory, with everything as His footstool. The only thing nailed to the Cross is our sin.
And so it is that the enemy has ultimately been defeated, and we can withstand the fiery trials that are sent our way. We don’t work to come into Christ’s presence; when we place our trust in Him, His presence enters us. He didn’t come just to reveal the nature of His strange kingdom; He came to reconcile us to Himself and to live within us. We have the opportunity to join the multitudes who have gone before us, and the masses who will come after, who at times got defeated, soiled by life, and beset by trials, wearing the bloodied garments of life’s tribulations, but through it all clinging to the cross of Christ.
It is a strange kingdom indeed when suffering and abandonment are transformed into the power of God’s presence and love. The sorrow that hurts you? God can fashion it into faith that sustains you. The grief that shattered your heart? God crafts that into unshakable faith. The loss you never expected? God molds that into strength you can’t explain. He loves the disconnected, the discarded, the disenfranchised. Those who are categorically or specifically “dissed.” Even death won’t hold fear for us, as Christ has claimed us. No present predicament or future contingency can change His unconditional love for us. So
you can know your future is secure and you are held firmly by Jesus, and once he grabs hold he never lets go.
Jesus makes our low places stepping stones to climb higher with Him if we take our thorns of grief to the throne of grace because there sits our godforsaken Messiah, who knew no one higher and yet lowered Himself to the lowest point. For you, for me, for all. Our grief doesn’t need to be suppressed, we don’t grieve alone, and there is hope beyond the grave. Death doesn’t have the last word. Jesus has defeated it. And one day He will remove it entirely. On that day God will wipe away all our tears and bury our grief for good.
And so it is that we embrace the mystery, the paradox at the heart of the Cross: that in Christ’s experience of being God-forsaken, we know we need never face suffering alone. If you are going through a period of darkness and it feels as if God has abandoned you, don’t let it drive you to despair. Instead, if Jesus went through it, why not you? If C. S. Lewis went through it, why not you?
God is with you through divorce, He is with you through failure, He is with you through bereavement, through disappointment, through fear and guilt and shame. He is with you through the deepest despair and the most savage betrayal.
Let me encourage you with the promises of Scripture: if God is letting you go through the valley and you are in a time of great testing where you feel separated from Him, you can be absolutely certain that even this separation cannot ultimately frustrate God’s grand scheme and story.
Never will I leave you, nor forsake you. — Hebrews 13:5 par
Therefore, one thing is without doubt. If you are feeling isolated, alone, and abandoned, there will come a time when God will reveal Himself to you again. And when that happens, you will come out more mature in your faith and with a much stronger sense of who God is and how much He cares about you. You may perceive that God is absent, but
neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. — Romans 8:38-39
The forsakenness of Christ is a promise of God’s eternal presence.
Lord, we know that You have suffered for us, You have suffered like us, and You suffer with us. And we know that Your time of abandonment was our promise of Your presence. And, as we thank You, we pray for an increasing awareness of You with us, amen.
Excerpted with permission from Strange Kingdom by Ken Costa, copyright Ken Costa.
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Even in the times when we feel abandoned by God, we are not. We still can cry out, My God. Come, Holy Spirit. The forsakenness of Christ has become a promise of God’s eternal presence. He is with us. ~ Devotionals Daily