Matthew 27:46: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”
Forsaken: left all alone, tossed aside, rejected
My God, why?
This fourth word is among the hardest to hear. Jesus – the one who so closely communed with God that people knew God through him, felt God’s love and grace and healing just by being near him – cries out here in pain. He knows God is always with him, but he can’t feel that in this moment. He knows God loves him and yet this struggle makes him feel alone, makes him feel like God isn’t paying attention. He seems to be asking: is there any sense in his suffering – or, for that matter, in any suffering?
These words are hard to hear, but they say more than they might appear. These words are a code, or a cue, for anyone who might have been near the cross, listening; or for anyone who might be hearing or reading the story, years later. Jesus uses these words from the beginning of Psalm 22. The Psalms are the songbook, and the prayerbook, of Jesus’ community. And this Psalm is a dialogue between two voices – one desperate, persecuted, nearly hopeless; the other confident in the memory that God has always been with him and his people, and promises to always be with them.
Here’s the beginning of the conversation:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;
and by night, but find no rest.
Yet you are holy,
enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In you our ancestors trusted;
they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried, and were saved;
in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.
But I am a worm, and not human;
scorned by others, and despised by the people.
All who see me mock at me;
they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;
“Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver—let him rescue the one in whom he delights!
”Yet it was you who took me from the womb;
you kept me safe on my mother’s breast.
On you I was cast from my birth,
and since my mother bore me you have been my God.
Because the Psalms were Israel’s songbook and prayerbook, anyone who heard Jesus cry out from the cross would’ve heard not just the words he said aloud but, after that, this whole conversation. If someone sings, “Jesus loves me, this I know…” and trails off, maybe your mind continues with the next line, “for the Bible tells me so…” That’s what we can imagine happening here. Jesus cries out, and his words give voice to his sorrow, his loneliness, his pain. They also hint that all is not lost, that God, who has journeyed with God’s people through all of history, is still by their side now, even in the depths of despair. That truth doesn’t make the pain Jesus speaks from any less; it doesn’t erase it or take it away. But it does let us know that the pain and agony are one part of a larger, longer, unfolding story. It is a reminder that as far as Jesus felt from God – at this moment – this is not all that is. It doesn’t answer his question of “why?” – or any of the other myriad of questions that are asked – but maybe it answers a different question. Maybe sometimes there are no answers to his – or our – questions of “why.”
What this Psalm answers, instead, is the question of “where?” – where is God? Where is our hope? Where is the love that every single one of us was born into, that promised to hold us forever? And the answer, even when all else is unknown, is always, “here.”
QUESTIONS TO DISCUSS
• What are some songs or scriptures you know by heart like Jesus and his community knew the Psalms?
• How would you describe the two voices in the Psalm?
• Can you share a story of a time you’ve known God’s nearness?
• Can you share a story of a time you’ve felt God to be far away?
• Do you ever struggle with the distance between what you know is true from your faith and what feels true in your circumstances? How do you manage that difference?
-From Illustrated Children’s Ministry