Why did Jesus say on the Cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me”?

W hen Jesus uttered these words, whilst hanging on the Cross, he was quoting the first line of Psalm 22. This Psalm is a remarkable prophecy of Christ’s saving passion, describing His pain and His utter kenosis (κένωσις, self-emptying) in a vivid prophetic description:

For dogs have surrounded Me; The congregation of the wicked has enclosed Me. They pierced My hands and My feet; I can count all My bones. They look and stare at Me. They divide My garments among them, And for My clothing they cast lots (v. 16-18).

By repeating the first verse of this psalm, Christ was not merely repeating it mechanically: He was fulfilling fulfilling fulfilling the prophecy. However, these words have led people to question whether God the Father actually deserted Jesus. Some non-Orthodox faiths would say that Jesus was deserted and punished by God as a scapegoat; providing an outlet for God the Father’s anger, who is angry at all of us for living sinful lives. This is certainly not what we believe as Orthodox Christians. We do not believe in an angry, vindictive God. Jesus accepted his passion voluntarily: becoming the perfect sacrifice, and through His Resurrection, becoming the master of our salvation. In the Great Anaphora Prayer in the Divine Liturgy, we hear:

He came and fulfilled all the divine plan for us, and on the night he was given up, or rather gave himself up, for the life of the world, he took bread in his holy, pure and blameless hands…

Therefore, as stated, God the Father did not abandon Jesus. Indeed, as the Ecumenical Councils testify, it was not possible for God the Father to forsake His Son in any real or factual sense, because the Father and the Son are united in one Godhead. The Trinity is indivisible. Jesus’ cry, therefore, does in no way indicate that there was a true abandonment. Instead, the prayer conveys that as human, He experienced that God the Father was distant. The abandonment was psychological, not ontological (that is, not a true separation of the Trinity). God never abandons those close to Him, much less His Son. Nevertheless, it happens that even His closest followers can feel abandoned.

Therefore, in uttering these words, Jesus was also identifying Himself with every human being who has ever felt himself to be a great distance from God. It was the ultimate way to empathise with our predicament. As we read further in Psalm 22:

For He has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; Nor has He hidden His face from Him; But when He cried to Him, He heard (v. 24).

Furthermore, by identifying with us in every way possible and then resurrecting in His human body, He opened up the way for our corrupt nature to be resurrected, with a new body and a new mode of existence. As Psalm 22 continues, this new existence carries to eternity:

The poor shall eat and be satisfied; Those who seek Him will praise the LORD. Let your heart live forever! (v. 26).

These words of Jesus on the Cross were uttered at the pinnacle of His suffering and self-emptying. That moment may have humanly felt too hard to bear, but by remaining obedient to the Father’s will, He has elevated to glory not just Himself, but also all of us. Glory be to God!

Source: Lychnos June / July 2016