And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
(Matthew 27:46 NRSV)
For most of us, there will be a time when, like Jesus, we will find ourselves crying out in distress and frustration, in sorrow and pain, this same cry Jesus made from the cross. Even those of us who are people of great faith can find ourselves at a point in our lives when our pain and distress over a situation that we face leads us to feel like God is not there, that we have been abandoned and left to suffer alone and unloved.
It is understandable that Christ, hanging on his cross, suffering some of the worst pain a human could be subjected to, would be moved to cry out this lamentation. His human nature, driven to the limits of endurance, drove him to cry out as any of us would.
While most of us will never be subjected to the same sort of pain Christ endured for our sake, we can take some comfort in knowing that when we have reached the limits of our endurance, we too can call out in our anger and frustration. Jesus understands all too well what it means to be in pain, to feel abandoned, lost. He knows how even the strongest of us can be moved to such despair that we cannot feel the presence of God in our time of deepest need.
Even in his distress though, Jesus did not give up his trust in God. The phrase “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me,” was just not a random cry of a man giving up his faith in God. Actually, it is the beginning of a Psalm, a Psalm traditionally credited to King David. Written perhaps during a time in his life when he too was suffering, watching his Kingdom go through the throes of a Civil War. Maybe it was written as he watched helplessly as his own son died as punishment for his own sin of murder. Maybe it was written before he had become King when he was forced into exile to escape the wrath of King Saul.
It is a Psalm that expresses some deepfelt, gut-wrenching pain at first, but ends expressing confidence that no matter what, God is in control:
“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. Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help. Many bulls encircle me, strong bulls of Bashan surround me; they open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion. I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; my mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death. For dogs are all around me; a company of evildoers encircles me. My hands and feet have shriveled; I can count all my bones. They stare and gloat over me; they divide my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots. But you, O LORD, do not be far away! O my help, come quickly to my aid! Deliver my soul from the sword, my life from the power of the dog! Save me from the mouth of the lion! From the horns of the wild oxen you have rescued me. I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you: You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him; stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel! For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him. From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will pay before those who fear him. The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the LORD. May your hearts live forever! All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him. For dominion belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations. To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, and I shall live for him. Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord, and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.”
(Psalms 22:1-31 NRSV)
In those times when we too may cry out that same lament that Jesus did on the cross, we do not need to add to our sorrow any shame in feeling that same sense of abandonment that Jesus did. He knows what’s it like, and fully forgives us. But he also asks us to remember, just as he did that even in our times of great misery, God is still there, still hears our cries, even though we may not feel it at the time. And let that knowledge give us the strength to endure, as it gave Jesus the strength to endure what he did for our sakes.