Today is Father’s Day. And it’s a Sunday. Anyone who attends church on a regular basis knows that this means it’s time for your pastor to stand up and talk about how God is the greatest, most loving Father of all!!! Yay!!! But all this talk about the amazing, unconditional love of God reminds me of a belief common to most Christians that I have had a very hard time understanding. I have a big problem with the belief that while Jesus was on the cross, he was forsaken by his Father. They say that when Jesus was crucified, he became sin, and since God is so holy that He cannot even be close to sin, of course He turned His face away. It’s supposed to represent both how completely good God is and how much Jesus loved us to go through this ordeal to the point where even God forsook him.
But, as I mentioned, I have a huge problem with that. First of all, literally the entire purpose of the Bible is to demonstrate that God always and unfailingly loves us and that nothing we do could make Him abandon us. He sacrificed His only son for us, so why would He turn around and abandon aforementioned son. If He’s so deathly allergic to sin, why did He not just destroy humanity after the Fall and be done with this sin business once and for all. Why does the Bible consistently say (and show) that God does not abandon us? And why in the name of everything that’s holy should we expect God to be with us in our darkest moments, the moments that we feel like everything that is dark and there is no light in our minds, when he was so quick to abandon His son on the cross, the son in whom He was “well-pleased,” the son who said “not my will but Yours be done.” We can never ever claim the kind of goodness that Jesus presented, and if Jesus wasn’t good enough for God, how can we ever be?
Sure, you can make an argument for the idea that we don’t become sin when we mess up because we are redeemed by Christ, and when Jesus became sin, he made it impossible for us to ever truly become sin, so therefore we will never be abandoned, but the question that arises from that idea is are we redeemed before we’ve even repented? And if we are not, aren’t we also “become sin” before we repent? Or if we’ve rejected God and refused to turn back to Him or even believe in His existence, then what? Are we just totally screwed at that point? God just says “well okay if that’s the choice you want to make” and abandons us? I don’t think so.
If you find yourself agreeing with me (or at least find your interest even slightly piqued), please join me on my (long) journey to make sense out of this apparent contradiction. (If not, I suggest you skip this post and possibly the next few weeks as well.) Our first step should be to talk about the language used here. Let me quickly note before I begin that there is some debate over whether or not Jesus spoke Mishnaic Hebrew or Aramaic, but in regards to these specific words, I’ve found that the distinction is fairly irrelevant because both languages actually end up translating the words into the same English words. Eli obviously is addressing God directly. Lama means “why” or “for what purpose.” Okay, that was easy enough. The last word is a little harder. See, while sabachthani (the root of which is the Aramaic shebaq) is used in both Matthew and Mark, that’s not the same word used in the Psalm. David uses the Hebrew word azavthani (the root of which is azab) in Psalm 22.
Both of these words are translated “forsaken” in the two examples that I’m using, but they are also both translated “leave.” To understand the meaning of azab a bit better, let’s look at the context of other uses of the word. In Genesis, Potiphar (Joseph’s Egyptian master) leaves – azab – all of his possession “in Joseph’s hand” for Joseph to steward. In Leviticus, the Israelites are instructed to leave – azab – some of the fruits of their land for the poor. In Ruth, Boaz tells his gatherers to leave – azab – grain for Ruth to collect. And the examples go on and on. The same way that we use the word “leave” to mean two different things, azab can mean both “forsaken” and “kept for a specific purpose,” and we use the context of the word to determine which meaning we use. Shebaq is actually more accurately translated as “to leave behind for a purpose,” if the examples in Daniel are any indication, and according to Strong’s concordance, shebaq means “to allow to remain.”
Secondly, it appears that Jesus was quoting Psalm 22. He used the first line to draw attention to the entire Psalm, just like how if I say “The Lord is my shepherd,” you immediately think of the entire Psalm 23. Look at the crucifixion record and compare it with the Psalm, it is almost the same account. In places, they use the same words. Let me provide a short example for you.
All who see me mock me; they wag their heads (verse 7)
[Those who mock said] He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him (v. 8)
They divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots (v. 18)
And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads (verse 39)
[Those who mock said] He trusts in God; let God deliver him now (v. 43)
Then they crucified him, and divided his garments, casting lots (v. 35)
And as if that weren’t enough, verse 15 of Psalm 22 says “my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth,” referring to Jesus’ “I thirst,” and in verse 16, the speaker says “they pierced my hands and my feet,” exactly what happened during the crucifixion. And hey, while you’re in Psalm 22, look a little further down in verse 24. It reads “He has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; nor has He hidden His face from him.” Nor has He hidden His face from him. Because, as numerous examples from the Bible tell us, God is not in the habit of abandoning those he loves. Deuteronomy 31:8, Joshua 1:9, basically the entire book of Psalms, John 16:32, Hebrews 13:5, and you can look up more examples if you’d like. I am 99.5% sure that love and abandonment cannot coexist. One of the two has to bend.
And as much as I would like to continue preaching at you, I’m going to take a pause here on this super exciting cliffhanger. Tune in next week at this time to read the next installment in the series on the love of the Father.
Here are links to the websites from which I got most of my information: