On the eve of Good Friday, and in the midst of the tragedy of this pandemic, I want to reflect on Jesus’ statement from the cross, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).
This question is a quote from the opening verses of Psalm 22 and is a cry of abandonment. The words express what I will call the reality of Jesus’ experience. On the cross, in his awful suffering, Jesus felt completely abandoned by his Father. These words are the truth of what he felt. However, the reality of what he was feeling was not the reality of what was happening.
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.
Psalm 22 which begins with the lament of forsakenness actually states the exact opposite in this later verse, that God did not reject nor turn away from the one suffering. God hears our cries for help always, which is why Jesus can also say from the cross “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46). The Father will not be unfaithful to the Son. God the Father cannot separate himself from God the Son, somehow dissolving himself and no longer, even for a brief moment, not being Father, Son, and Spirit, one God.
We are seeing two realties which Jesus was experiencing and which we do as well. We will often feel absolutely alone and forsaken by God. The feelings are real and honestly we cannot perceive any Holy Presence near to us. At the very same time, we are within the reality of divine love and care. The limitations of our capacity to sense the ever-present love of God is a harsh trial of the soul, sometimes called “the dark night of the soul.”
If we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself. 2 Timothy 2:13
As strange as it might seem to some, we can and should talk about what God cannot do. God cannot abandon himself, but will unfailingly be true to himself. The Father cannot deny himself, which would happen if the Father abandoned the Son on the cross. That same eternal loving divine essence cannot abandon us either, even if we are not faithful, so says Paul. The reality of our feelings and limited perception is fortunately not the reality of what is true. God will never forsake us, but will be with us to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:20).