For Good Friday: Why Have You Forsaken Me?

by Nicole Sheets

I grew up in a church that prized certainty. Faith, I was told, was based on facts, not feelings. If you knew that Christ had come into your heart and “saved” you, then you were saved, even if you didn’t feel that way.

Some years later, it was a revelation to me that questions can be an act of devotion. Questions weren’t just a challenge to Mrs. Jordan during Sunday school, as she affixed a paper Jesus to the flannelgraph board. Questions mean that you care enough about something to take a second look, that you’re open to a new answer rather than just a well worn conclusion.

Questions helped me realize that facts weren’t the underpinning of my spiritual life. I didn’t become a Christian by reasoning my way into God’s love. Indeed, love sometimes drove me to do things that were against all reason.

One of the most piercing questions in the entire Bible is one we hear today: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus speaks from the cross. The question reveals that Jesus is alone, even though he’s surrounded by crowds who’ve called for his crucifixion, a couple of thieves, and his mom.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? About this haunting question I have some questions. I think about the timing of Jesus’s words. He has been betrayed by a disciple, interrogated by Pontius Pilate, fitted with a crown of thorns, mocked, whipped, subjected to unspeakable physical suffering. Has Jesus felt the presence of God through all of that, only to lose that presence so near the end?

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

What does it mean for Jesus to be forsaken? If Jesus and God are one, then could they really be estranged from one another, any more than I could try to ignore my own thoughts or memories? Was division and unity something that God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit could turn on and off like a switch?

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Was the resurrection a forgone conclusion, a hope that Jesus could cling to in these darkest hours, a buffer against his total abandonment? Or was Jesus, at least in this anguished moment, much like us: Able to see where the road has brought him, but unsure of its end?

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Jesus quotes Psalm 22, in which David both affirms the Lord’s praiseworthiness and pleads to be heard. I had a very King James childhood, and the opening words of the Psalm ring out best that way:

“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring? O my God, I cry in the day time, but thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent.”

Who has not cried out in the daytime or in the night and feared that no one was listening?

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Are we reminded that Jesus knows the pain of being turned away by someone he loves?

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Do we feel the ache of Christ’s words, and the heavy silence after?

Nicole Sheets is the web editor for Rock & Sling and the editor of the forthcoming online anthology How To Pack For Church Camp

Crown of thorns image is from here.

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