For many years I taught the seven sayings of the cross and when I came to the words of Jesus, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” I used the text as evidence that the Father had turned His back on His own Son when Jesus was on the cross. “The Bible is clear that God cannot look upon sin!” I would boldly proclaim. It seemed reasonable to me that God turned away from Jesus. After all, isn’t that what Jesus said?
The answer is, “No, that is not what He said. That is what He asked. There’s a big difference between making an assertion and asking a question.”
“Do you mean Jesus was wrong?” you might ask. My answer is that it was Jesus, the Man who became sin for us. When he absorbed the darkness and weight of the sin of the world into Himself, He had the sense of abandonment by God the Father that sin always brings. Blinded by sin and horrified by its effect on and in Him, the man Jesus cried out of His humanity, “Why have you forsaken me?” In that moment, He identified Himself with every person who has ever felt abandoned by God. He became one who felt isolated, lonely, abandoned, forsaken and hopeless on behalf of you, me, and everybody who would ever feel that way.
The question Jesus spoke was a direct quote from the prophetic Psalm 22, where in the very first verse the psalmist asks, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It is noteworthy that this is the only time Jesus ever called His Father “God” and not “Father.” In that moment,the man Jesus felt forsaken. Having become sin for us, He could not feel or sense or see His Father’s embrace at that moment.
The gospels don’t record an answer to His question, but Psalm 22 does. In response to the first verse where the psalmist cries out the prophetic words, “Why have you forsaken me?” there is an answer in verse 24. Here’s the answer to the question of Jesus, the question of the psalmist and the question of every person who has ever felt abandoned by the Father:For he (God the Father) 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.
Sin may deafen our ears to the answer, but the reality is that the Father has never and will never despise, disdain or turn His face away from us, forsaking us. He has heard our cry for help!
God the Father forsaking His own Son? Impossible! God the Father was “in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself!” (2 Corinthians 5:19) Jesus didn’t feel it at the time. It seemed like the Father had forsaken Him, but He hadn’t! Nor will He ever forsake you.
But what about the “God cannot look upon sin” part? Doesn’t the Bible say that? Well, it does but we need to put that comment in context. It was Habakkuk the prophet who said that as he watched evil people seemingly getting away with their sins. Here’s the whole quote in context:
Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong. Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves? Habakkuk 1:13
To paraphrase him, Habakkuk said, “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil and you can’t tolerate wrong so why are you?” In other words, it made no sense to Habakkuk that God was looking on sin when Habakkuk believed that wasn’t possible. He was smearing the face of God with the guilt and shame of humanity the same way Adam had done when he hid himself in the Garden of Eden because He thought God wouldn’t want to look at him after he sinned. Adam was wrong. God came for His walk that day just as He had every day. And Habakkuk was wrong too.
The fact is that God can look upon sin. Some people act as if the relationship of God the Father to sin is like Superman’s aversion to kryptonite. They act as if God is afraid of sin, but nothing could be further from the truth. In Christ Jesus, sin has been destroyed – finished- end of story. (See Daniel 9:24) Through the finished work of the cross, sin has been defeated! God hates sin because of what it does to us, not because it does anything to Him.
So, on the cross Jesus took the sin of the world upon Himself. As a man who became sin for us (so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him), He felt forsaken, but He was not. The Father did hear His cry and, as the empty tomb three days later proves, did not forsake Him. The question of Jesus the man was: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The answer from God the Father was: “I haven’t! I’ve not despised, disdained nor forsaken you. I’m here with you, in this moment, carrying you through this death to the glorious resurrection on the other side.”
That was true for Jesus when he felt forsaken and it’s true for you when you feel that way too.