Are You There, God?
From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Matt. 27:45-46
The traditional view of the above section of Scripture says that when Jesus was dying on the cross God forsook Him because God could not look upon sin, and on the cross Jesus was bearing the sins of the world. Thus the question was asked, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
The reader might be surprised to learn that there is another interpretation which I believe is more in line with the context of the Scriptures and with the relationship that Jesus had with His Father. The alternative interpretation says that Jesus was simply crying out for God to respond to His suffering. In other words, it was a cry for God to come and help Him. Jesus was asking God, “Are you there? Where are you? Wake up. Keep your promise that you will never leave me nor forsake me.”
The expression “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” is a quote from Psalm 22, a Psalm that is a plea or a cry for help.
19 But you, O LORD, be not far off;
O my Strength, come quickly to help me.
20 Deliver my life from the sword,
my precious life from the power of the dogs.
21 Rescue me from the mouth of the lions;
save me from the horns of the wild oxen.
Notice in the Psalm that David not only asked for help but asked for help to come quickly. Jesus, like most Jews, would have had this Psalm memorized and would have seen His situation as paralleling that of David. Now the question is, did Jesus understand the Psalm as a cry for help or a statement of fact that God had forsaken Him? My contention is that Jesus understood the Psalm as a cry for help and quoted it as a plea to His Father to help Him. Moreover, in the Psalm David did not believe that God had forsaken him.
24 For he has not despised or disdained
the suffering of the afflicted one;
he has not hidden his face from him
but has listened to his cry for help.
In this verse, David confirms his faith in God and when Jesus used it on the cross He was doing the same thing, i.e., confirming His faith in God; faith that God would deliver Him and that He would be alive to praise God among His brothers. “I will declare your name to my brothers; in the congregation I will praise you.” (Ps. 22:22) Verse 22 is a prophecy of the resurrection and pointed to the greatest rescue operation that the world has ever seen. However, the Scripture clearly says that God did not hide His face or turn away from David or Jesus.
When Jesus prayed this prayer for God to come quickly to help Him, the Scripture tells us that He cried out, “It is finished.” and God took His spirit. In other words, God send His angel to rescue His Son and in doing so answered His prayer immediately. This is in keeping with the relationship that Jesus had with His Father. He knew that His Father always heard His prayers.
Moreover, a close examination of the accounts of the death of Jesus will also show that people at the foot of the cross understood Jesus cry as a prayer for help. “When some of those standing there heard this, they said, ‘He’s calling Elijah.’ The rest said, ‘Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.’ ” (Matt 27:47-49) Well, we have seen that God did send Elijah to rescue Him from the hands of His enemy and in three short days from death itself when He raised Him from the dead.
There seems to be little in the text or the context to support the interpretation that God literally turned His face away from Jesus on the cross because He could not look upon sin. Did not God, in the person of His Son, eat with sinners? Does He still not do it every time His church gathers to eat the Lord’s Supper?
What we have is a traditional interpretation that is based on a theory of the atonement versus one that is based on a plain passage of Scripture that says that God did not turn His face away from Jesus. One view tells us what happened at the crucifixion and the other is a hypothesis of what was going on in the mind of God and why He had to atone for sin in a certain way.
How does God speak to us through this section of Scripture? I believe He is telling us that what seems to be, only seems that way and what appears to be, only appears to be. It may appear to others that God has forsaken us and we may even feel He has forsaken us, but appearance and feelings are not reality. What is real is the Word of God and His covenant promise that says, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” The next time you feel that God has forsaken you, talk to God about it. Ask Him for help and remind Him of His promise. You might even tell Him to wake up and hurry up. He will answer and He will surely understand your impatience.
23 Awake, O Lord! Why do you sleep?
Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever.
24 Why do you hide your face
and forget our misery and oppression? Ps. 44:23-24
Above all remember the covenant promise of God for God has said
5“…Never will I leave you;
never will I forsake you.”
6 So we say with confidence,
“The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.
What can man do to me?”
 The traditional view of this passage is tied to the penal substitution theory of the atonement, which was first taught by Anselm of Canterbury in 1098 AD in his book, Cur Deus Homo (Why a God=Man?) and was popularized by John Calvin. Note: A Better Atonement by Tony Jones.
 Deut. 31:6, Josh. 1:5 The covenant promise was made to the nation of Israel and to its leaders. Jesus would have taken the promise made to Joshua personally.
 John 11:42 “I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”
 For many the penal substitution theory of the atonement is Scriptural and some go so far to make it a part of the gospel. However, it is only a theory and there are no plain passages of Scriptures that teach that. The Scriptures teach that Jesus died for our sins, but does not go beyond that statement. It does not tell us why He had to die. Throughout church history there have been a number of theories trying to explain the “why” of the death of Christ. If you are interested in knowing more about these theories, I recommend Tony Jones’ book, A Better Atonement.