Q & R: Did God the Father Forsake Jesus on Good Friday? Brad Jersak
Question: In the movie, The Shack, Papa says that God never forsook Jesus. But that appears to be exactly what Jesus says in the Bible. When Jesus says this, is he (the man) talking to himself (the God part)? We are told that Christ is fully God and fully man even though apparently there were things that he did not know, but the Father did (e.g. the time of his return).
Response: That’s a common belief for sure, but where does it come from? We developed a whole doctrine of God-forsakenness from one verse! “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” and we took off from there.
What we fail to remember is that Jesus is quoting the first verse of Psalm 22 but he also is referring to the whole of Psalm 22, which speaks of the death and resurrection in great detail. There, you’ll see the prophecies of his hands and feet being pierced (vs. 16), dividing his garments by lots (vs. 18) and even Christ’s glorious resurrection, return and eternal reign (28ff).
Now, Ps. 22:1 reflects Christ’s entering into our experience of despair, as does vs. 2, where he says God does NOT HEAR HIM, and vs. 6, where he also says, ‘I AM A WORM AND NOT A MAN.’ Shall we take that as the last word or our theology? Many have.
But no, we read it in the broader biblical context instead, as Christ stepping into the human condition to heal the human condition, by the power of his supplication and the Father’s firm answer.
And what is the Father’s answer? Keep reading. We get to Psalm 22:22-24:
22 I will declare Your name to My brethren; [why?]In the midst of the assembly I will praise You. [why?]23 You who fear the Lord, praise Him! [why?]All you descendants of Jacob, glorify Him,And fear Him, all you offspring of Israel! [why?]
[HERE IT COMES]
24 For He has NOT despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted;He has NOT hidden His face from Him; but when He cried to Him, He HEARD.
We see this again when Christ cries out, “Into your hands I commit my spirit.” Again, he is quoting the Psalmist, who says, “Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God” (Psalm 31:5).
He doesn’t sound very forsaken there. Why not? Again, he’s aware of the whole Psalm, including verse 22:
”I had said in my alarm, ’I am cut off [forsaken] from your sight.” BUT YOU HEARD the voice of my pleas for mercy when I cried to you for help.”
Hebrews 5:7 affirms this same truth: In Jesus’ vicarious humanity, he cries out on behalf of all who despair, then listens for and receives the answer:
“During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.”
So Christ indeed undergoes the darkness of God’s ‘felt absence,’ even while trusting in God’s real presence (for the Father has not left, nor is standing by as an idle observer. He is ever with the Son and in the Son (along with the Holy Spirit), because “all the fulness of the Godhead dwelled in Christ bodily” (Colossians 2:9). That’s why Yahweh can say, “You will look on ME, the One you have pierced” (Zech. 12:10) and why Paul can say, “God was IN Christ, reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor. 5:19) and that the rulers of the age had “crucified the Lord of glory“ (1 Corinthians 2:8).
And even in his humanity, Christ knew exactly this. Listen to him say so,
“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.” (John 16:32).
Now, I mentioned the Father’s answer. What was the Father’s answer?
1. First, his answer was NOT, “I have turned from you in my wrath to punish you in their place.”
2. Second, his answer is NOT, ”Okay Son, I have heard you and will take you down from the Cross.”
Then what is the Father’s answer?
1. First, that the mission Christ came to fulfill was fulfilled, complete, “accomplished!” (John 19:30).
2. That Christ has not abandoned him or turned from him, even for a moment (Psalm 22:24).
3. That God would not abandon Christ in Hades, but raise him from the dead (Acts 2:27-28).
4. And in fact, the Son will be raised from death AND given the keys of death and hades (Revelation 1:18).
So, as above, Christ is crying out to the Father vicariously for all humanity, in faith that his cry will be heard and establish the salvation of all.
While the Father had not revealed to the Son (in his humanity) the time of the parousia, the Son did have a specific revelation prior to the Cross that he would in fact be arrested, die and rise from the dead on the third day (Luke 18:33) … and on this he did not waver. In working through (again, for us) the painful reality that we endure and he will bear, Christ prays to the Father in Gethsemane. He naturally resists (as we all should) death taking the God-given gift of life from us … but he sees the greater gift for which he came: by death, rescuing from death those who all their lives feared death (see Hebrews 2:14-15).
A final note: the idea that God the Father actually forsakes the Son imports one of two formal heresies identified by the ancient church. Either the One God (Father, Son and Spirit) is temporarily divided, as if they were three beings — this is tritheism — or the one Person (Jesus Christ, the one God-man) is temporarily divided into two persons — this is Nestorianism. Both these notions are foreign to the New Testament and rejected by the same church fathers who gathered and gave us the New Testament and established the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation. Not that they composed these truths–rather, they simply settled them as the ‘faith once delivered’ (Jude 3) by Christ through the Apostles.