The Fourth Word:
“My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”
The Eleventh Station of the The Stations of the Cross at Serra Retreat Center, Malibu, California. Photo by Mark Roberts
As Jesus was dying on the cross, he echoed the beginning of Psalm 22, which reads:
My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?
Why are you so far away when I groan for help?
Every day I call to you, my God, but you do not answer.
Every night you hear my voice, but I find no relief. (vv. 1-2)
In the words of the psalmist, Jesus found a way to express the cry of his heart: Why had God abandoned him? Why did his Father turn his back on Jesus in his moment of greatest agony?
This side of Heaven, we will never fully know what Jesus was experiencing in this moment. Was he asking this question because, in the mystery of his incarnational suffering, he didn’t know why God had abandoned him? Or was his cry not so much a question as an expression of profound agony? Or was it both?
What we do know is that Jesus entered into the Hell of separation from God. The Father abandoned him because Jesus took upon himself the penalty for our sins. In that excruciating moment, he experienced something far more horrible than physical pain. The beloved Son of God knew what it was like to be rejected by the Father. As we read in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (NIV).
I can write these words. I can say, truly, that the Father abandoned the Son for our sake, for the salvation of the world. But can I really grasp the mystery and the majesty of this truth? Hardly. As Martin Luther once said, “God forsaking God. Who can understand it?” Yet even my miniscule grasp of this reality calls me to confession, to humility, to worship, to adoration.
Questions for Reflection
Have you taken time to consider that Jesus was abandoned by the Father so that you might not be? What does this “word” from the cross mean to you?
O Lord Jesus, though I will never fully grasp the wonder and horror of your abandonment by the Father, every time I read this “word,” I am overwhelmed with gratitude. How can I ever thank you for what you suffered for me? What can I do but to offer myself to you in gratitude and praise? Thank you, dear Lord, for what you suffered. Thank you for taking my place. Thank you for being forsaken by the Father so that I might never be.
When I survey the wondrous cross,
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.
Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God;
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to his blood.
See, from his head, his hands, his feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down;
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown.
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.
“When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” by Isaac Watts (1707)
Resources for Lent, Holy Week, and Easter
The Seven Last Words of Christ: Reflections for Holy Week
(the seven-part series, of which today’s post is part 4)