On the cross, Jesus cried out, “My God, my God! Why have you forsaken me?”
From this single sentence, many bible teachers and pastors have theorized that it was in this moment that the Father looked away from Jesus – because of all of our sins being laid upon Jesus – and it was in this moment that Jesus experienced separation from the Father for the only time in all of eternity.
As dramatic and poetically compelling that might be, the truth is simply this: The Bible nowhere supports this theory.
So, where does it come from?
Well, apparently the teaching that the Father actually did forsake Jesus on the cross, and that Jesus experienced separation from the Father comes from a few assumptions:
First, the assumption that God is too holy to look upon sin.
Second, the assumption that Jesus’ cry from the cross at that moment was meant to communicate that His Father did actually forsake him.
Let’s take these two assumptions one at a time and see if they are true.
Is God really too holy to look upon sin? Not according to the scriptures.
Instead, we see all throughout the Bible that God does indeed look at mankind. We see that God’s eyes move to and fro over all the earth, searching the hearts and minds of His people. [See 2 Chron.16:9; Job 31:4; Jerem. 16:17; Zech. 4:10; etc.]
“And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.” – [Heb. 4:13]
Q: What would happen if God wasn’t able to look at sin?
A: It would mean that looking at us would be pointless because all He could ever see was a world full of sinful people [which is everyone].
The doctrine that God is too holy to look upon sin is actually based on one single verse of scripture in the Old Testament that says:
“Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrongdoing.” [Habbukuk 1:13]
But if you keep reading that chapter what you’ll notice is that Habbukuk wraps up that statement by asking: “So, why do you?”
In other words, the question is asked assumptively, but then the question itself is cast into doubt as the prophet observes that God does indeed look on evil after all.
Another verse that is often used to support this idea that God is too holy to look upon our sins is found in Isaiah where we read:
“But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.” [Isaiah 59:2]
But if we keep reading [a good idea as you can see], we read:
“The Lord looked and was displeased that there was no justice. He saw that there was no one,
he was appalled that there was no one to intervene; so his own arm achieved salvation for him,
and his own righteousness sustained him.” [v.16]
“As for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the Lord. “My Spirit,who is on you, will not depart from you…” [v.21]
So, here, in the very same chapter, we read that God DOES look, and that He DOES see our sins, and that “[His] Spirit…will not depart…”
Finally, let’s look at Jesus. He was the “exact representation of the Father” and he was the only one who had ever seen God and who came to reveal the Father to us.
What do we notice about Jesus? Does He, as God in the flesh, avert his gaze when surrounded by sinners? Hardly! Instead, those sinners are his closest friends. He spends so much time with them that the religious elite [who, by the way, were too holy to spend time with sinners], criticized him for it.
So, is God really “too holy to look on our sin”?
Second: When Jesus says, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” doesn’t that mean that His Father really did forsake Him?
This statement from Jesus was a quote from Psalm 22 which begins:
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?” [v.1]
But, this is a Messianic Psalm. In this Psalm we also read prophetic statements like:
“…they pierce my hands and my feet.” [v. 16]
“…They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.” [v.18]
Perhaps Jesus is quoting this Psalm because he hopes to point out how these exact words are being fulfilled in their midst?
Note also what this same Psalm has to say about what God is doing:
“For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.” [v.24]
The Psalmist says that they will pierce the hands and the feet of the Messiah, and that they will divide his clothes and cast lots for his garments…and that God “will not hide His face from him”.
So…once more I need to ask: “Did the Father turn His face away from Jesus when He was on the cross?”
No. Not even once.
Finally, notice that Jesus affirms that His Father will never abandon Him:
“Jesus replied. “A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me. I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” [John 16:31-33]
Notice that Jesus not only affirms that His Father will not leave him [even though the disciples will], but that this abandonment by the disciples and the ever-present nature of the Father occurs at the same time: While Jesus is hanging on the cross!
This really should not surprise us.
God promises all through the scriptures that He will never leave us or forsake us.
Jesus reminds us that He will be with us always, even unto the end of the age.
[See Matthew 28:20; Hebrews 13:5; Deut. 31:6, Isaiah 41:10, etc.]
So, to recap:
The Father did NOT look away from Jesus while He was on the cross.
God is NOT too holy to look at sin. [Jesus did it all the time]
God will NOT leave or forsake us, either.
I hope that helps!
If this has blessed you, please share it with your friends on social media.
*NOTE: Written with assistance from insights gleaned from Brian Zahnd, Brad Jersak and others.
For more on this: Brad Jersak: A Beautiful Gospel in Chairs
Keith Giles is a former pastor who left the pulpit 11 years ago to start a church that gives away 100% of the offering to the poor in their community.
His new book “Jesus Unbound: Liberating the Word of God from the Bible”, is available now on Amazon and features a Foreword by author Brian Zahnd.
He is also the author of the Amazon best-seller, “Jesus Untangled: Crucifying Our Politics To Pledge Allegiance To The Lamb”.
Keith also co-hosts the Heretic Happy Hour Podcast on iTunes and Podbean. He and his wife live in Orange, CA with their two sons.
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