Many times when God brings His light upon a passage in the Bible, the things we were taught fall away and all that is a left is a God that is good, beautiful, and in this case, faithful. I know this is long but I'm telling you...this is worth your time.
I was taught that at the cross, God the Father turned His back on Jesus because Christ was carrying the sins of mankind upon Him and God is holy and cannot be around sin. Most of this belief stems from Christ’s statement on the cross when He said, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”
I started to become suspect of our interpretation of this passage when I started learning how faithful God was to me. I watched Him stay near me no matter how knee-deep in sin I got. I took it to heart when I read that He will never leave us nor forsake us. I took it literally when it says that we are seated in heavenly places with Christ, meaning that at all times, if I am seated with Him, the logical implication is that He must, regardless of how I feel, be within an arms length of me at all times.
See, the gospel that changed my life was that God is faithful even and especially when I am not. I believe that is the essence of what the whole bible communicates: We fell short so Jesus came to get ‘er done for us.
My suspicions of our interpretation of Christ’s last minutes on the cross arose simply because He had been so good to me. The last thing I could imagine was God bailing on me, and those words, “Never leave you nor forsake you” were actually uttered prior to Christ, meaning that they were a promise over His life just as they are for me. And honestly, the last guy I could see God bailing on would be Jesus, Mr. Perfect. So what was going on there?
I have heard lots of takes, most with good intentions. The only perspective I have had it up to here with is the “Yep, just deal with it. God is holy and turned His back on Christ.” The picture that paints of God is not only uninformed, but destructive. Does a person realize how many contradictions they have to embrace in order to come to that conclusion? In addition, do we realize that the belief that God bailed on Christ will instill in our hearts a lie that if we sin enough, God will give up on you? It causes people to live in fear of a undesignated and arbitrary line that, if crossed, results in basically losing everything. I have heard drug and religious addicts say this very thing, like they are trying to convince themselves that if they screwed up one more time God would throw in the towel, so they BETTER get their act together THIS time! Forget the power of grace, if I break the rules once more, God will give up on me. That will motivate me! Good luck with that. We have all tried it and it only leads to screwing up more. Humble yourself and receive grace. It is your only way out; Everything else is cyclical.
Check this out. When on the cross, Christ used the exact same words that David wrote down in the first verse of Psalm 22. In that day, someone would quote the first verse of a psalm to allude to the whole Psalm. Have you ever read it? Here are some highlights:
v1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
v7 All who see me mock me;
they hurl insults, shaking their heads.
v8 “He trusts in the Lord,” they say,
let the Lord rescue him.
Let him deliver him,
since he delights in him.
v17 All my bones are on display;
people stare and gloat over me.
v18 They divide my clothes among them
and cast lots for my garment.
Pretty amazing right? Obviously David prophesied about Christ on the cross as the exact things he wrote in Psalm 22 took place, even to the point of people dividing His clothes. When Christ quoted the first portion of this Psalm He was trying to get people’s attention upon these verses. There is something absolutely incredible that He wants us to see in addition to Him basically saying that His crucification was prophesied of long ago and He knew that this would happen. None of this took Him by surprise…which is the opposite of the feel we get from the way we have been taught to read this passage. So what is the incredible thing Christ wants us to see in Psalm 22? The most amazing portion of this Psalm is in verse 24:
v24 For he has not despised or scorned
the suffering of the afflicted one;
he has not hidden his face from him
but has listened to his cry for help.
Isn’t that the exact opposite of what we have learned in the past? God never bailed on Jesus because of the sins of the world being upon Him. Like you, God stays near when you are in the midst of sin. He will not, even cannot, turn His back on you because of sin. He can’t leave you…He lives inside of you. And there is no condemnation left for you, so He won’t and can’t condemn you for your weaknesses. In fact, if the incarnation shows us anything, it is that God likes to get right into the middle of our messiness and does an incredible job at helping us get cleaned up. God hung out with sinners. It even says that He didn’t come to bring salvation to the righteous, but the sinners. He hung out with whores, corrupt lawyers, tax collectors, and alcoholics. He liked being with people that didn’t have it all together.
But it goes further than that. Christ didn’t just quote that Psalm 22 because He wanted us to see verse 24, but because He actually felt like God forsook Him. This is very important. Why? Because in saying that, Christ is saying that He understands how you feel.
There are times when we feel like God has forsaken us. We can relate to that feeling. We all know what it feels like to step out, take a risk, and feel like God didn’t come through. We all know what it feels to have destruction touch down in our life like a tornado, then after overturning everything we know, lift back into the sky leaving us standing in the leftover wreckage wondering what just happened and where God was in the midst of it. We all know what it feels like to experience loss and not know why, when we prayed in faith, our prayers were not answered. We all know how it feels to think we are alone in this journey. We all know how it feels to grit our teeth and spend ourselves doing something good, but even though our motives were beautiful, it all falls apart in our hands anyways. We have all thought that God wasn’t speaking anymore, that we aren’t as spiritual as we used to be, that God won’t provide, that we don’t pray as much as we used to, that He removed His anointing, and finally, that God Himself is no longer close as He once was. Don’t we?
See, Jesus wants you to know that He gets it. He has felt those exact feelings. He has been in your shoes. He understands. He knows what it feels to have every circumstance in His life point to the idea that God has left. He knows how it feels to have His stomach drop out when He realized what He was up against, just like you do. He knows what it feels to have fear claw at His heart, asking for entrance. He knows how it feels when the cold hands of regret condescendingly pet at your soul, telling you to go back on what you know to be true so that it can reorder your thoughts and possess your mind, leading you into the lands of confusion. At every turn in life we are faced not with outright sin, but with misleading ideas and thoughts that determine what paths we will walk for the rest of our life.
Hebrews 4:15 says that Christ was tempted in every way but was without sin. That means a few things.
One, He gets it, no matter what you are going through or have been through. Don’t make excuses out of a desire to legitimize pity and try to say that your situation is unique and Christ didn’t go through it. Let Him understand you and empathize with you by you seeing that He went through what you are experiencing and worse, yet without sin.
Two, and this is really important…feeling like God bailed on you is not sin. Feelings are not right or wrong, they are simply feelings. But heads up… once feelings or ideas come and knock on the door of your heart, you have to make a wise decision if you are going to give them entrance or not. Giving place to and giving into the idea that God has left you or forsaken you will only, hear me, only cause you incredible pain. That idea is simply not true. Don’t go there; only folly is within. At all cost, resist such an idea.
Once again, like the boss that He is, Christ went ahead of us and showed us how to attain the victory in situations like this. Right after Christ says, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me” He declares, “Into your hands I commend my spirit.” Therein is the key.
If God had forsaken Christ, how could he commend His spirit to the Father? You cannot give something to someone who is not near enough to receive it. The fact that Jesus commends His spirit to the Father proves that God was not far off, but near, ready and receiving Christ’s spirit. See, Christ didn’t let the feeling of God forsaking Him to take root. Thus, the battle of if Christ would take His feelings as truth or not was over within seconds. He rejected the idea that His feelings tried to instill in His heart and as a result, instantly had the victory. It was His final battle, a battle that many people lose because it comes in the subtle and quiet places of the heart when you are the most beatdown, exhausted, and worn.
When my dad died in my arms God spoke to me and said, “Your dad is gone. You have a choice. You can believe that I am good, or you can believe that I am not.” That day I chose to believe that God is good though everything in my life pointed to the idea that God had forsaken me. Sometimes we have to resist very legitimate feelings because they will only serve to destroy us.
God cannot forsake you. It is a spiritual impossibility. You are in union with God. He lives inside you. You and God cannot be separated. It is impossible to determine where you end and where He starts. To believe otherwise is to give way to an illusion. Reality is Christ...in you...the hope of glory.