"Why have you forsaken me?"

A Good Friday Reflection

When Pastor Alex asked me to do one of the seven last words, I asked “which one;” he replied“the hardest” (I was not sure if that is a privilege or a punishment). What he probably does not remember was he asked me to do the same thing four years ago in Trafalgar Towers“my God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” Which made it doubly difficult because I do not like repeating myself as if anybody remembers what I said or was even here in Union Church of Manila (UCM) 4 years ago.

It is that difficulty that made me ponder. Why is “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me” the hardest to understand and explain. Having taught theology, I know the theological difficulty behind this fourth of the seven last words. And it is how can God die, or much more, how Yahweh the Father can forsake Yahweh the Son. It blows the mind because it does not fit in the theological givens of what we have affirmed so far in orthodox Trinitarian doctrine. We affirm in the extended version of the Apostle’s Creed—the Nicene Creed—that Jesus is very God of very God, very Light of very Light, it seems to be a contradiction that he can die or even be forsaken by His Own Father.

There are explanations of sorts that say that Jesus did not really die, he just went into a coma; and/or that he was not really forsaken, he only felt he was forsaken and was in fact quoting or singing Psalm 22 to express his feelings.

But let’s face what we believe. Jurgen Moltmann
has a book entitled “The Crucified God;” ever so often we sing Charles Wesley’s hymn “And can it be…that thou my God should die for me;” and every Sunday morning we declare, “Jesus Christ…was crucified, died, buried…”—and the ultimate expression of forsakenness—“(he)…descended into hell.”

But that discussion is academic and best left to theologians; normal people (which is to say that theologians are not normal) are confronted differently with this word. The idea that it could happened to Jesus it forces us to confront our own forsakenness. Middle class suburban Christianity can artificially pretend or deny “forsakenness.” We can—so to speak—buy our way out of it in the same way we can “buy” or “buy into” friends, family and community. Having worked with the urban poor for more than 20 years made me face forsakenness through the eyes of the socially forsaken. But for us who have economic advantages, it reveals something that humanity has been primordially afraid of since Adam and Eve were thrown out of the garden. Nothing in “The Fear Factor” can match this—the fear of ultimately being rejected or forsaken by God.

But the good news is that because Jesus was forsaken, we who are in him need not fear being forsaken. He promised to those who will believe that He will never leave us or forsake us; to his disciples he said, “Behold I am with you through the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:29) Because Jesus was forsaken, I need not fear being forsaken by God ever. That’s the good news. 

But there’s also bad news.

Because Jesus was forsaken, we who are called to follow him, have to be ready to be forsaken. We are called to take up his cross, go on the journey to forsakenness and face the possibility of being forsaken by family, friends and community.

Hey! I thought coming to faith and salvation was becoming a child of God and benefiting from the Kingdom with all kinds of spiritual blessings? Is that any way to treat a child of God?

Jesus the only and real begotten son of God, was allowed—indeed called—to go through it, who are we mere adopted children—to complain?