My God Why Hast Thou Forsaken Me?

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This week is known as “Holy Week.”  Friday, Christians refer to as “Good Friday.”  Why good?  Because the day Jesus died was the day that salvation was made available, full and free for you and me!  So, even though it is a day of reflection and sadness, Good Friday is also a day of joy.

This Good Friday, I will be preaching the 4th of the 7 Last Words of Christ at Fellowship Chapel United Church of Christ in Detroit, Michigan:

Matthew 27: 45 From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 46 And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”[1]

There are several things worth noting in this 4th of the last “Seven Words of Christ.  First, for Jesus to raise the question, “My God, why hast thou forsaken me?”, there is the implication that Jesus must have felt let down my God.  It is difficult to feel forsaken without first believing there is a prior commitment that has been broken.  For example, when a parent tells a child they will do something and then reneges on that commitment, the child might rightly feel forsaken.  The marriage vows are a commitment to love one another “For better for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health and to death do us part.”  However, when those vows are broken on any level, we feel forsaken.  The city garbage worker who has operated for years under the promise that a pension has been set aside and saved, yet when they learn that the pension is under-funded or insufficiently invested, the worker feels forsaken.

Jesus feels forsaken by God because he does not expect that he would die on this day, in this way.  Jesus knows the will of God because he is God, but still it seems he is caught off guard by the crucifixion.  To use the word, “Forsaken” implies that Jesus expected something else.  I have long wondered if when Jesus uttered these words if he was reciting the larger passage from Psalm 22 where it begins with the question, “My God, why have you forsaken me?”, but then concludes with a positive, powerful victory from God.  Take a look at the larger section from Psalm 22 and ask yourself, was this the expectation of Jesus:

Psalm 22

Plea for Deliverance from Suffering and Hostility

To the leader: according to The Deer of the Dawn. A Psalm of David.

1     My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?

2     O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;

and by night, but find no rest.

3     Yet you are holy,

enthroned on the praises of Israel.

4     In you our ancestors trusted;

they trusted, and you delivered them.

5     To you they cried, and were saved;

in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.

6     But I am a worm, and not human;

scorned by others, and despised by the people.

7     All who see me mock at me;

they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;

8     “Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver—

let him rescue the one in whom he delights!”

9     Yet it was you who took me from the womb;

you kept me safe on my mother’s breast.

10   On you I was cast from my birth,

and since my mother bore me you have been my God.

11   Do not be far from me,

for trouble is near

and there is no one to help.

12   Many bulls encircle me,

strong bulls of Bashan surround me;

13   they open wide their mouths at me,

like a ravening and roaring lion.

14   I am poured out like water,

and all my bones are out of joint;

my heart is like wax;

it is melted within my breast;

15   my mouth is dried up like a potsherd,

and my tongue sticks to my jaws;

you lay me in the dust of death.

16   For dogs are all around me;

a company of evildoers encircles me.

My hands and feet have shriveled;

17   I can count all my bones.

They stare and gloat over me;

18   they divide my clothes among themselves,

and for my clothing they cast lots.

19   But you, O Lord, do not be far away!

O my help, come quickly to my aid!

20   Deliver my soul from the sword,

my life from the power of the dog!

21      Save me from the mouth of the lion!

From the horns of the wild oxen you have rescued me.

22   I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters;

in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:

23   You who fear the Lord, praise him!

All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him;

stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!

24   For he did not despise or abhor

the affliction of the afflicted;

he did not hide his face from me,

but heard when I cried to him.

25   From you comes my praise in the great congregation;

my vows I will pay before those who fear him.

26   The poor shall eat and be satisfied;

those who seek him shall praise the Lord.

May your hearts live forever!

27   All the ends of the earth shall remember

and turn to the Lord;

and all the families of the nations

shall worship before him.

28   For dominion belongs to the Lord,

and he rules over the nations.

29   To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down;

before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,

and I shall live for him.

30   Posterity will serve him;

future generations will be told about the Lord,

31   and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn,

saying that he has done it. [2]

 

Questions for Reflection:

  1. Have you ever felt forsaken by God?  When?
  2. How would you help a person who feels forsaken by God?
  3. If a person feels “Forsaken by God,” there must be a presupposition of a commitment of God that was broken: what are the commitments you feel God has made to you?
  4. Why do you think Jesus felt forsaken by God?
  5. Do you think these words of Jesus about feeling forsaken on the cross were a part of a recitation he made based on Psalm 22?

Prayer:

Lord, sometimes I have wondered where you are.  When people get away with doing bad things, I wonder, where are you?  When wrong is right and right is wrong, I step back and wonder, where are you, Jesus?  The poor seem to get poorer, the rich seem to get richer and I wonder, where are you Jesus?  I pray to you, give my tithers and offerings in church, support the poor, but on significant occasions I have prayed specific prayers and in no uncertain way your response has been no.  Lord, help me to move beyond feeling forsaken.  Remind me that with you, all things will work together for good.  Lord, help me to know that you will never leave me or forsake me.  Your promise is better than gold. Breath and I shall have life.  Touch me and I will travel to the ends of the earth.  Walk with me and I will stride with a deep sense of security.  You fight for me and I sleep with inner peace.  Through Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior I pray. Amen.

 

Written by Rev. Dr. Nicholas Hood III

Photo by Nicholas Hood III

Additional Prayers Photos and Meditations from Rev. Dr. Nicholas Hood III at https://nicholashoodiiiministries.wordpress.com/

Nicholas Hood III Ministries – www.nicholashoodiiiministries.org

 

[1] The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Mt 27:45–46). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[2] The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Ps 22). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.