Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Moment When God Abandoned His Son

"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Words uttered by Jesus as he hung, dying on the cross. Words that would have pierced the heart of any person standing near enough to hear them. Words that pierce us even today as we read them. But were they words that would have pierced the Father's heart? Most of us do not understand these words just as those around the cross did not understand them then:

When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.”
Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink. The rest said, “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.” (Matthew 27:47-49)

But Jesus wasn't calling for Elijah. Matthew records these as the last words that Jesus spoke, except for the loud cry he uttered, before he died. How sad if this was a cry of despair, but it wasn't. It was actually an utterance of trust.

"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" is a quote from Psalm 22, an incredible psalm of faith and trust. The psalmist starts with how he felt in the natural:

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? 
   Why are you so far from saving me, 
   so far from the words of my groaning? 
O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, 
   by night, and am not silent. (Psalm 22:1-2)

Wow! How many times have we been there? None of us can imagine what it was to hang on that cross, slowly suffocating, the pain of those nails, the rawness of our open back with shearing pain as we tried to breathe, feeling the weight of the sins of the entire world on us, but we do know what it is to feel pain and to face hardships. We know how these experience in the flesh can block our experience with God, how he can seem to disappear in the cloud of our experience. We know what it is like to search for him but not be able to get beyond our pain and suffering. Little do we know that he hasn't gone anywhere, that he is right there with us, that it is only our suffering in the flesh that will not allow us to experience him. Most of us are not mature enough to understand that it is in these moments that we must trust he is with us there in our pain, simply hidden by our experience and that we need to walk in the faith that he still has us in his arms. This is real faith, when it matters most.

When Jesus quoted this psalm it wasn't just to refer to the first two verses but to the whole psalm. He was commanding his spirit to rise up beyond the pain and suffering, the weight of the sin, and trust that his Father was with him. Many will tell you that his Father abandoned him because of the sin but I disagree. Has our Father abandoned us? Wasn't Jesus a result of God not abandoning us? Doesn't Scripture say that it was while we were still sinners that Jesus died for us? The Father did not abandon Jesus on the cross and Jesus was using the reference to this psalm to express his effort of pushing past the pain to experience the presence of his Father in faith. After these first two verses (read them again) the psalmist pushes through and declares who God is:

Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; 
   you are the praise of Israel. 
In you our fathers put their trust; 
   they trusted and you delivered them. 
They cried to you and were saved; 
   in you they trusted and were not disappointed. (Psalm 22:3-5)

Pushing through the pain we must remember who our God is and allow him to be that to us. The pain can be physical, it can be emotional, it can even be mental but our only hope is to allow God to sit on the throne of our life. We have to announce time and again that we trust him, even if it has to be based on the past. We can confess the weakness of our flesh, the difficulties we are encountering as the psalmist did, as Jesus was doing. Read and see if what the psalmist writes next sounds familiar to Jesus' experience:

But I am a worm and not a man, 
   scorned by men and despised by the people. 
All who see me mock me; 
   they hurl insults, shaking their heads: 
“He trusts in the LORD; 
   let the LORD rescue him. 
Let him deliver him, 
   since he delights in him.” (Psalm 22:6-8)

The trick is not to dwell on these experiences or to allow the pain to become the dominant thing of your day. You need to get your eyes back on Jesus, even if you can't experience that presence yet. You have to walk in the faith that his presence is there, just masked in the pain of your situation. So you concentrate on your relationship with him:

Yet you brought me out of the womb; 
   you made me trust in you 
   even at my mother’s breast. 
From birth I was cast upon you; 
   from my mother’s womb you have been my God. 
Do not be far from me, 
   for trouble is near 
   and there is no one to help. (Psalm 22:9-11)

There is much more to the psalm but I will leave you to discover it on your own. What I want us to take from this is that there are times we need to force our spirit to have dominance over our flesh. There are many times when the experience of our flesh will threaten our relationship with God, the cloud of pain hiding his face from us, but that does not mean that God has forsaken us, far from it. In these moments we will have to trust what we know of Jesus, trust the evidence and testimony of the past and trust that his promises are "yes" and "amen". Even though Jesus felt in his flesh that he could not sense the presence of his Father, he knew according to faith that he was with him. Even on the cross, in the last moments of his life, Jesus was setting for us an example that would allow our spirit to soar with the eagles even if our body, emotions, and mind were lost in pain. Do not believe your flesh. God has not forsaken you, he is just hidden by your pain. Reach out, you will discover he hasn't gone anywhere.

Why are you downcast, O my soul? 
   Why so disturbed within me? 
Put your hope in God, 
   for I will yet praise him, 
   my Savior and 
my God. (Psalm 42:5-6)

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