As we try to understand these words of Jesus on the Cross and the theology of forsakenness, we must start with the very words themselves, as they give us a tremendous clue to yet another paradox of God revealed in Scripture. Look again at the words:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
This is where Jesus, even in His humanity, far surpasses us in ours. Most of us, in times of trial or trouble, put distance between ourselves and others. Most of us, in the grips of pain, take a step back. It's instinct. Most of us, in the clutches of heartache, in the moments of felt forsakenness, do not cry out my God, my God.
We simply cry out God.
For this reason alone, we cannot ignore what Jesus is saying here. We cannot dismiss these words as simple rhetoric or hyperbole or even poetry. There is a depth of meaning here that we cannot escape. In the toughest of times, in the hardest of trials, as His body hang limp and wounded on the Cross, even after a prayer in which He prayed for there to be any other way, anything else He could do to fulfill His purpose, Jesus has the courage, the faith, the audacity to cry out My God, my God.
This God was still His God.
I struggle with that one, more often than I'd like to admit. (Although I must also say I struggle with it less the more I know about God, the more I come to trust Him.) It's far too easy for me and you to pull back a little bit, to come further into our pain, and maybe we still cry out to God, but not to our God; He's only our God if He figures us a way out of this. He's only our God if He comes through. He's God; that much, we'll still give Him. But is He our God? Let's see how this thing plays out.
Isn't that how we do it? Aren't we always holding God hostage to His own performance? Aren't we always waiting to see if God is going to do anything God-like before we claim Him as our own, before we give Him stake in our hearts again? And don't we, at the moments that we feel most forsaken, boldly claim that we probably don't even have a God any more. This God...this God is still God. He's just not ours.
So even in these words, even in these troubling words from the Cross, Jesus is declaring something about His Father. He's declaring something about Himself. He's saying something about the relationship that we can and should have with God, something that seems far beyond what our flesh is either willing or able to do. Something far beyond what our minds can understand. This...this is the ultimate betrayal and yet this is also my God.
How can this be? How can we wrap our feeble, finite minds around something like this?
It's more than strength of heart; we need not wish that our hearts were simply stronger. As someone with a pretty tough heart, let me tell you that toughness of heart never draws God nearer on its own. A strong heart still must seek Him with everything it's got. It's more than just solid faith. Faith itself wrests more on questions than on answers, which means that even the most solid faith questions from time to time. If you're not questioning, how can you ever believe? It's not even some supernatural, special God characteristic that Jesus has and we just don't have access to. Jesus does not set for us here an example we cannot follow. He does not call us to carry our crosses so that we can come to the place of forsakenness without anything to soothe our spirits. That would go against the very heart of God, the very heart that we know and love.
So what is it? What is it that lets a man (and in this moment, He is still fully man, perhaps most fully man), cry out in a moment of utter betrayal, My God, my God, even when the words must also be, why have you forsaken me? .....