One of the most difficult words of Jesus is the word He spoke on the Cross, just before drawing His last breath. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
The reason these words are so difficult for us to comprehend is because of the deep theological thinking required to process them. What is Jesus referring to when He says He's been forsaken? What is He feeling? What does this mean for the Son of Man? What about the Son of God? What about the Holy Trinity?
Just a few hours before, Jesus had been in the garden of Gethsemane. He'd been praying for there to be another way, any other way, although He remained fully surrendered to the plan that God had had for Him from before time began. Not my will, but yours be done. He knew what was going to happen. He knew how it was going to happen. He knew everything that awaited Him just a few heavy steps away. When He cries out forsaken on the Cross, is it because He feels this final prayer of His has not been answered? Is it because this cup has not been removed? Is it because, like us, He prayed this fervent, honest prayer and was met, seemingly, by silence by the very Father who claimed to both hear and love Him?
Maybe in that moment, maybe in those final breaths, God somehow pulled away from His Son. Maybe at the very moment that Jesus felt He needed His Father the most, at the very time His eyes and His heart were crying out Abba, God Himself turned away. Jesus could not see the eyes of the Father; only His back. Only His shoulder. Only His drooped head as He looked the other direction. Is this what forsaken is? Is it possible for the Father to turn away from the Son so decisively without threatening the community of the Trinity? What can we possibly make of this if even the Father and the Son can turn away from one another?
Maybe at the very moment that the entire world is being saved, Jesus feels profoundly what it is to be unsaved. There is no one there to take away His pain. No one there to cover His shame. He's beaten, bloody, bruised, broken, and naked. Maybe He's feeling a little bit of what we all feel - with all this amazing grace, with this incredible saving work happening right now, why is there no one to save Jesus? Why is there no one to rescue Him?
The theology here is thick. There are implications no matter how we come to interpret these words of Jesus, implications that can be either challenging or comforting, depending on how we are able to process it. Does the Trinity hold together even in this critical moment...or is it prone to the same relational stress that we are? Is Jesus still a Son...or just a sinner? Is God a good Father...or an omnipotent puppetmaster?
Most pressingly, if even Jesus, the very Son of God, can be forsaken by Him, what possible hope is there for the rest of us?
And that's why we have to wade through these murky waters. That's why we have to ask these tough theological questions. That's why we have to figure out what in the world Jesus meant, what He was saying, what was really happening, at this moment when He cries out forsaken. It's absolutely crucial for our understanding of God, of Christ, and of ourselves.
Thankfully, the very words themselves give us at least a good starting point....