On the cross, Jesus cries out “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34) This line is the focal point of many a Good Friday service. It is profoundly disturbing, because of the implication that in that moment God the Father turned his back on Jesus.
Christians have wrestled with this for a long time. One of the more common views is that Jesus, on the cross, in that moment, was bearing all the sin of humanity. But a holy and righteous God, good though He may be, still cannot stand to look upon sin. Even if it is His own Son who is bearing it and it is not His own sin but the sin of all humanity that He bears innocently in humanity’s stead. So God turned away from Jesus and forsook Him, albeit for only that moment.
Simple though this explanation is theologically, it is still very disturbing. For one, there is the idea that there was a moment in time when the Trinity was divided and rent asunder, when there was nothing but a gaping void in the place where the Son ought to have been in the Trinity. What do we do with that? Even if that state of affairs lasted for only a moment, we still must come to grips the fact that the Trinity was divided and one of its members was lost.
Even more disturbing than this is the idea that God forsook His Son. If God could forsake and abandon His only begotten Son whom He loves more than anything, even if just for a moment, what is to stop Him from forsaking any of us at any moment?
Al Hsu at Christianity Today argues that this view is misguided. Jesus’ cry of “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” was not a cry of desolation or forsakenness, even though it may have felt like that at the time. Instead it was an allusion. It was intended to have the same effect that saying “I have a dream”, “I am not a crook”, or “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” would have upon us today–you would hear that introductory line and think of the entire work that it came from (in these cases, MLK’s “I Have A Dream” speech, Nixon’s “Checkers” speech, or Dickens’ “A Tale Of Two Cities”).
And in this case, the work Jesus was referencing was Psalm 22. Any devout Jew would have heard that line and immediately been able to recite all the words following it. Now there were no chapters or verses in the Scripture back then–those are relatively modern innovations–so in order to reference a particular psalm you couldn’t just cry out “Psalm 22!!!” You had to recite at least the first line.
Psalm 22 was a poignant lament written by David. In it David expressed abject abandonment and forsakenness, but in the end confidence that God would be there for him and he would be vindicated. Many believed that it pointed to the then-coming Messiah. So it was as if Jesus was shouting out for all to hear, “See!!! This is fulfilled in your presence today!!!!!”