Challenge #10: Jesus is Eternally God vs Jesus was Forsaken by God
As Jesus is on the cross there are seven things that he was recorded as saying. Easily the most difficult of these significant sayings is found in Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
This Psalm (21) in the Septuagint (first Greek translation of the Old Testament) says, Ὁ θεὸς ὁ θεός μου, πρόσχες μοι, ἵνα τί ἐγκατέλιπές με.
Matthew quotes Jesus as saying it in Aramaic, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani,” translating it, θεέ μου θεέ μου, ἱνατί με ἐγκατέλιπες
Mark has the exact same Aramaic quote, translating it, ὁ θεός μου ὁ θεός μου, εἰς τί ἐγκατέλιπές με.
These two Gospel authors are translating from the Aramaic, so are able to put their own distinct twist on what is being said. They are saying the same thing. The direct quote, by the time it has reached our ears, has gone from the original Hebrew to the Aramaic—possibly by way of the Greek—back into Greek, and finally into English—sometimes by way of Latin. So any differences are semantic preferences that really communicate the same thing. They are making an added point that Jesus’ words sounded like he was calling out to Elijah. “God” was Eli or Eloi, and “Elijah” was Elias or Elia.
The phrase πρόσχες μοι is not recorded. These two words could be significant to understanding what is going on. These two words mean “hold to me” or “offer me.” Could it be that the 22nd Psalm was so specific in the first line to indicate the closeness, yet forsakenness that was involved in the “offering” of the Christ?! But why does neither author include the words πρόσχες μοι? It’s probably because, well, Jesus did not say these words. Could Jesus only imply the words in which he said? I don’t think so. His extremely limited energy on the cross would have restricted what he was able to say, especially as time went on.
There are a couple other reasons to think that Jesus was referencing the prophetic Psalm of David in that moment. His wording in which he addresses God, “My God, my God” or “God, my God,” cannot be found anywhere else. He always had addressed Him as Father, or some derivative of that. Second, he was quoting the introductory line of the Psalm. If a preacher got up and said “Come though fount of every blessing” or “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound” or virtually any song in a hymnal, then the listeners would know that he was referring to the song—they may even continue the words. Third, Jesus’s last word before giving up his spirit seems to parallel the ending of the Psalm 22—“it is finished” (John) or “the Lord has done it” (Psalm).
Remember that Jesus says these things for the benefit of the listeners. The Father would have heard him without Jesus vocalizing it. Jesus was still centered on others as he was being tortured. He wasn’t saying, “Pity me”; he was saying “pity yourselves.” Jesus is saying these things to say something about himself, to glorify the Father in completing His mission, and so that we can investigate them and grow through them. He brought to remembrance the Psalm that made the most shocking depiction of the forthcoming Christ’s death—and this was done 1,000 years before the events took place. The detail is truly staggering. As Jesus referenced that Psalm, practically the whole Psalm was being played out before their eyes.
So this brings out a lot of the meaning behind that simple phrase from the cross, but the philosophical and theological issue of the abandonment of Jesus has largely been untouched. Clarification of the meaning of Psalm 22 and the saying of Jesus helps greatly in an indirect way. When we consider the whole Psalm, we realize that a) it’s about the total crucifixion, and b) it is about God’s faithful and enduring presence.
This begs for clarification of the theological/philosophical side of the situation. Jesus was, is, and will always be in perfect union with the Father. To imply that he was completely forsaken would be to say that there was an actual break in the eternal Trinity. This would be on par with saying, “God stopped being God for a little while.” God is unchanging, and Jesus’s nature as the Son is unchanging. But the human will of Jesus sometimes would reflect human senses, but not the truth in the spirit. Remember that a day earlier that Jesus said, “Not my will, but Your will be done.” While Jesus’s greater will was always in union with the Father, his human senses would provoke a will distinct from that. We experience such things all the time.
Jesus’s human senses led him into a desire for food, but the greater will which he was committed to kept him from eating. The Father led Jesus into many situations that would be deemed difficult to the human senses. The experience on the cross follows these. His human senses felt complete abuse and neglect, as one cursed by God. At the same time, since he was always fully God, his deeper will—his spirit—was in complete union and love with the Father. While his body, along with all his human senses, was under most extreme torture, his heart was held heart to heart with the Father (which seems to be indicated in the two aforementioned Greek words πρόσχες μοι). God is the deliverer to His own even when certain human instincts don’t detect His closeness.
I know the customary interpretation of this, at least in the churches/teachers that I have grown up under. They say that in that moment the Father put the sins of the world onto the Son. Then the Father, to maintain His holiness, had to abandon the Son because of the ugliness of sin. We sometimes mistakenly think that God cannot look at sin; but what is actually the case is that God cannot look favorably upon sin or show any agreement with it. God can occupy the same space as sin in His omnipresence—after all, that’s what Jesus did. If God cannot “look upon” (be near) sin, then how can we say that Jesus can become sin for us? If Jesus can remain perfect while taking the sin of the world upon himself, then how could we say that God could not continue in perfect harmonious relation with the Son through this?
If God must become less than holy—therefore less than God—to “look upon” sin, then we would have to admit that Jesus ceased being God in order to take sin upon himself. But if Jesus became less than God, then he is not a perfect sacrifice, and much more than this, not God at all. To be God is to always be God. The sin that Jesus took upon himself did not affect his deity any more than creating an imperfect world affected God’s deity.
The roles of the two natures of Christ—the hypostatic union—is the only way that such a sacrifice for sin works. And carefully examining its doctrine should very well clarify the challenge of this passage. Jesus is both man and God. During all of Jesus’s time on earth he was fully man and fully God. The two natures are able to be carried out completely and do not violate each other. The capacity of humanness had “limitations” due to the nature of God, as only the Godly actions would and could be carried out. Likewise, the capacity of God was limited to what was potential within a human body. Yes, there were exceptions to this with specific and purposeful miracles. But by and large, Jesus restricted his capabilities to what a human body could endure.
On the cross we get an even more extreme picture of the hypostatic union at work. There is Jesus, ugly in terms of physical appearance, while beautiful in terms of the appearance of his heart. In his humanity, all his vulnerabilities are exposed and hurting; in his deity there is utter confidence and spotless conscience. There is the feeling of the punishment due for the sin of mankind in his body. Then, in his deity, he is making a payment out of the perfect riches of his limitless character. He experiences the curse that was due to all of us. In his body it felt like the ultimate abandonment of God; but in his deity he rejoiced in the redemption of his friends. His body would die, but his soul would be with the thief in paradise.
The body was laid lifeless from Friday night to Sunday morning, as if the curse upon him was ultimate. Yet Jesus, in the truest depth of who he is, was still in control of that body. While the body was in that seemingly neglected, cursed, destroyed state, Jesus was also waiting for the proper time to bring it back to life. While the mere physical human was as an abandoned one, the other full nature of Jesus was up to so much more. Then he proved that God’s abandonment is not the destined state for those in Jesus. He rose from the dead, cementing the promises, eliminating the fears, proving his character once and for all.
So there is a total prophetic and messianic Psalm to comprehend as Jesus is on the cross. There is the totality of Jesus’s two natures to keep in harmony. And there is an ultimate purpose of what God had been up to from the foundations of the world. “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Maybe when the body feels like God doesn’t care, He is actually doing the most in the spirit.
 Septuaginta: With morphology. (1979). (electronic ed., Ps 21:2). Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft.
 Aland, K., Aland, B., Karavidopoulos, J., Martini, C. M., & Metzger, B. M. (2012). Novum Testamentum Graece (28th Edition, Mt 27:46). Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft.
 Aland, K., Aland, B., Karavidopoulos, J., Martini, C. M., & Metzger, B. M. (2012). Novum Testamentum Graece (28th Edition, Mk 15:34). Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft.