“Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?”
During His last moments, Jesus uttered a phrase that has often left me wondering. It’s usually quoted during this season, as Easter approaches, as the pinnacle of suffering.
“My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?”
Whether it was watching The Passion. Reading through the Gospels. Or from the mouths of friends going through a hard time quoting Jesus to justify questioning God.
This shocking cry of angst often leaves us unsettled. If Jesus bore the cross while looking forward to the joy set before Him, why would He be so confused?
If we were honest with ourselves I think many of us would like to believe questioning God is what we SHOULD do when life gets hard.
YOLO principles for the millennial. You can’t be close to God unless you are angry, emotional, and constantly wrestling with Him over everything. #terriblepeoplearethebest.
There’s like a million books about how it’s good to doubt and be angry at God. But… Maybe… like in a real relationship, in real life, that’s a terrible idea. A relationship should be founded in trust and love. Glorifying doubt and anger well…
That’s a terrible way to approach things. We don’t like being around people who doubt our every move, and yell at us with high expectations.
Over the past two years I have felt forsaken more than enough to feel a bit embarrassed about it. Sometimes those words on the cross came to mind.
But what if Jesus was not just screaming out in agony? What if this exclamation on the Cross is not a crutch for our failures as humanity, but one of the most extreme examples of faith ever witnessed upon this Earth?
“They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” – Luke 24:32
Ancient Jews knew the scriptures well. And not perfect Sunday school well. They knew the scriptures soul deep, that inner knowledge that wells up when you hear an old song from middle school. You can’t help but finish it. Your mind connects dots that you would think have long since burnt away with Smart Phones and This Is Us. And just a snippet of verse before the Backstreet Boys is stuck on repeat.
Ancient Jews knew the scriptures to the point of memorizing the Torah as young children. That’s about 80,000 verses. And the knowledge they had of the Bible was soul deep.
There were these nifty rules that Jewish people had for interpreting scripture (The Seven Rules of Hillel). One of those rules is used by Jesus nearly every time He speaks.
And that is the simple principle that scripture illuminates itself, when the Bible talks of an object, location, event, and later on this same word is seen. There is most likely a divine connection, where wisdom is buried underneath.
Rabbi’s connect these words and passages, looking for new insight in a process known as string the pearls. Even a small child in Ancient Israel would have gotten references to scripture because he had memorized near 80,000 words of scripture. It was his soul language.
Like annoying Simpsons fans, Trekkies, Gamers, Car enthusiasts, they could talk in an almost foreign language, using references to scripture and story. An intimate knowledge of word, that lead to deep flowing conversation using the words of God.
When Rabbis would converse with one another they would sometimes just use a small phrase and the audience would be expected to know where that phrase was from in scripture to understand the context of this conversation.
Jesus was a Rabbi.
He had 12 disciples.
And he was very very good at stringing the pearls.
In fact a vast amount of what Jesus said was not, “New.” Rather it was an expert mic drop quoting of the ancient words of the Torah, the Wisdom literature, and the Prophets.
“Whose image is on this coin?”
BAM! The crowd yells Caesar. The Jews think, “God made man in his image. Therefore God’s image is on this coin. Give to God.”
The Good Samaritan is a parabolic retelling of a story in chronicles where the Samaritans rescued, took care of, and healed some Jewish people during a time of war.
“It shall be a house of prayer for all people!”
Jesus chases people out of the Temple, while quoting Isaiah and showing how far the Israelites have came from God.
Even as the flayed skin hangs from his arms, Jesus thinks of us. He calls out, stringing the pearls once more. Telling His story and connecting us to God.
What if during the crucifixion, Jesus wasn’t pointing us toward the painful nihilism of abandonment from God, but carefully exclaiming that God is in charge. His plan is better. And you must merely keep your eyes on Him.
What if, during those last moments of pain so unimaginable, Jesus was actually saying “Hey, it’s finished Israel. My people. God loves you, He has overcome.”
“My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”
I think the first cursory observation would be, weird word choice. If you are trying to make the point God is in control, forsaken was not the word most of us would choose.
That’s because in our minds, we think Jesus didn’t have an answer to that question. We read into that moment as a raw, heart-wrenching moment of Jesus questioning how this horrible atrocity could happen to Him.
We assume, this God-King who can literally put ears back on people and heal the blind, was stumped by the mystery of why He was forsaken, after willingly going to the cross.
Just hours before he said the Son of Man lays down His own life, no one takes it from Him.
That question? Why has God forsaken me?
Is a pearl in a long string of pearls to reveal the beautiful depths of the gospel.
Any God-fearing Jew worth his salt would have connected the words of Jesus with Psalm 22.
And without going into the whole Psalm (As no one in 2017 has the attention span and half of you have already left this article to look at artsy shots of feet on mountains because we are just SOOOOOOOOOOOOO adventurous today, and you need to see what food your friend is eating on Instagram.) Jesus was quoting scripture.
Psalm 22 is a Messianic Psalm. It is a prophecy, that proclaims the story, in 1st person, of someone pierced and persecuted. Whose garments are torn. Who is absolutely crying out in desperation to God. And immediately knows that God is there.
He has not hidden his face from him, but has heard when he cried out to Him – Psalm 22
And the Psalm ends with this powerful line.
“He has done it.”
This is connected to Jesus, yelling, “It is Finished.”
He begins Psalm 22. Lives Psalm 22. And finishes Psalm 22.
It is a Psalm of victory, a proclamation that God has made the wicked bow, saved the people, and restored the righteous. God had a bigger plan here. He loved his only son. But there was a bigger purpose behind the suffering and death of Jesus there was hope.
The end of this Psalm ends with the Earth in worship
Sometimes in the suffering of our days when we think that God might have forsaken us, we need to remember that there is a bigger purpose to our suffering. That God is not caught off guard by the hard parts of life.
The Cross is NEVER an excuse to point a finger at God and ask Him why things aren’t panning out the way we want. Rather, it is a shower of grace, washing over us and showing us Jesus obedience to God all the way until death. Even death on a cross. The Cross is our pursuit. It is God for our sake, loving us.
No matter the sufferings, the pain, the trials, the struggles, we can look forward knowing that God has gone before us. Jesus proclaimed Himself messiah, living out the most painful experience we can ever imagine.
So circling back. Life can be hard. Sometimes, I do want to ask why things are happening, but not in that inquisitive child-like manner that a legitimate question is asked. No. I want to ask a passive aggressive question towards God, “Really? This is your plan?”
That’s not fair. God has never failed me, will never fail me, and may not always make sense, but I know He will never forsake me. The Cross is the last proof of being forsaken, rather it is the very image of being loved beyond my own value.
If anything, He has pursued me, and separated my sin as far as the East is from the West.