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This question was asked by one of our church members following the Easter holiday. I want to address the question as biblically and as honestly as possible. Logically, we know that it is impossible for God to be separated from Himself. We also recognize omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence as characteristics of the Godhead. If God has all knowledge, then it is impossible for the Father to mentally forsake any person. If God is omnipresent, then it is impossible for any person to be entirely separated spatially from God. If God has all power, then there is no other power, including that of sin, that can cause God to forsake any person. Thus, when we say that sin separates people from God, we mean so in a strictly relational sense. All people, even the reprobate, still benefit from God’s providence because God is not ruled by any power on earth or in heaven. How much more so does God’s character prevent Him from forsaking Himself or being separated from Himself in any way? Added to this is the fact that nowhere in Scripture is it ever stated that God cannot be in the presence of sin or that He, for any reason, must look away from or flee the presence of sin. In fact, the truth of the Gospel is that He became sin so that His chosen might become the righteousness of God (1 Corinthians 5:21).
The question was asked, what does Jesus mean when He cries from the cross, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46, Mark 15:34)?
We can either say that the Father forsook the Son, and so discredit the character of God and the essential message of the Gospel or we can see what Jesus meant. Matthew and Mark were both very Jewish Gospels. Luke and John both omit this detail. Luke was a Gentile writing a history and John was writing to new and nonbelievers. So, this statement is going to mean something particularly for the Jews. It was also rich in meaning with consideration to the Jewish Scriptures (the Old Testament).
Secondly, in the immediate context of the passage in both Matthew and Mark, the people assumed that Jesus was calling Elijah when He said this from the cross. It was prophesied in Malachi 4:5 that Elijah would herald the Messiah, who would deliver the people. The Jews present at the cross understood this statement to be a statement meaning explicitly that Jesus was proclaiming the coming of the Messiah, even though they did not seem to believe, yet, that Jesus was that Messiah.
Thirdly, they assumed that Jesus was proclaiming the coming of the Messiah because He was quoting from Psalm 22:1, a psalm of David and what we might refer to as a Messianic psalm or psalm of deliverance. The first verse of the psalm reveals the grief of the psalmist, not the rejection of God. Jesus carried this grief according to both Isaiah 53:10-11 and Matthew 26:36-46. In the remainder of the psalm, David asks God for deliverance (19-21), praises God for not hiding His face (22-24), and predicts that the righteousness of God will be declared upon the people of God (25-31). The Jewish understanding of Jesus’ quotation of Psalm 22 was such that the Messiah was coming, being heralded by Elijah, and would bring with Him righteousness and justice. The understanding according to Scripture was not that God would turn away from any person, in fact the psalm states explicitly that God does not hide His face.
When we see this statement from Jesus on the cross, we know that He is proclaiming the deliverance of God’s people. The Jews present recognized that fact. When Jesus yielded His spirit, even the centurion did not say, “surely this man was forsaken by God.” No, instead He became frightened and said, “Truly this was the Son of God.”
This is the Biblical interpretation of the text. When we interpret the Bible, we must interpret it according to how it is presented explicitly in the Bible.
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