Did God Abandon Jesus on the Cross?

One of the most powerful moments in the passion narrative is when Jesus on the cross calls out to his Father. Matthew records it this way:

About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lemasabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). (Matthew 27:46)

CrossThe way this passage was taught to me was that at this moment the sins of humanity are being placed on Jesus. Since God cannot look upon sin, for the first time in all of eternity, the Father turns away from the Son, leaving him abandoned on the cross.

I took that interpretation for granted for a long time. But the longer I have studied it, the more I have doubted that interpretation. For one thing, none of that is mentioned in the text.

In this passage, Jesus is quoting from Psalm 22. Those words were first used to describe David’s own feelings of despair in the midst of suffering. The phrase made perfect sense in David’s experience, just as many of us feel forsaken by God in our trials.

I believe that Jesus’ use of Psalm 22 is more likely Jesus having the same human response that anyone would in that situation. Instead of David prophesying about a temporary separation within the Trinity, perhaps Jesus is identifying with the human experience as described by David.

In terms of God not being able to look at sin, God looks upon sin all the time. If not, he would have abandoned this planet long ago.

Instead of rushing into possible inter-trinitarian dynamics not mentioned in the text, perhaps we should just read the passage as it stands.

 

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