Did God forsake Jesus?

Here’s something most of my my readers and students have never known about me until now… 

For many years I harbored a secret fear that if God forsook or abandoned Jesus while He was dying on the cross, would God also abandon me some time…for some reason?  I’ve suffered three episodes of depression during my adult life.  During two of those episodes I mistakenly felt God had, indeed, abandoned me…and I felt that I had lost all hope!  It was a horrible feeling that God had abandoned me forever.  I couldn’t even begin to imagine what Jesus must have felt when He believed that God had abandoned Him during his hour of greatest need.

When Jesus was dying a torturous, agonizing death by crucifixion on a cruel Roman cross, just moments before He deliberately ended his mortal life by releasing his spirit back to God, He cried out, My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?”  In Matthew 27: 46 and Mark 15: 34, that’s how in reads in English.

Let me give a little background to what was happening that fateful day of Jesus’ crucifixion. 

In the Old Testament portion of the Bible, there are some Psalms known as the Messianic Psalms.  A Messianic Psalm is a Psalm written about Jesus—the anticipated Jewish Messiah—hundreds of years before He was born as a human being.  Such Psalms are considered by followers of Jesus as “prophetic;”  that is, they were fulfilled by the birth, life, and death of Jesus hundreds of years after they were written—some of them even having been quoted by Jesus as specifically applying to his life and death. 

Psalm 22 is one of those Messianic Psalms, quoted in part by Jesus as noted above in Matthew 27 and Mark 15.  Most Jewish people today feel such Psalms are still waiting future fulfillment because their Messiah has not yet come—not believing that Jesus was their Messiah, whereas followers of Jesus believe such Psalms were fulfilled by Jesus of Nazareth, the true Messiah who was to come.

During the life and times of Jesus (and still today in many Jewish circles), Jewish boys memorized large portions of the Old Testament Scriptures.  During his life, it was apparent by his speech and behavior that Jesus had memorized large portions of the Old Testament, applying many of them to his personal life and mission to redeem, restore, and reconcile all humanity to Himself.

When Jesus cried out from the cross, asking God why God had forsaken Him, Jesus was quoting from Psalm 22, which He had doubtless memorized as a boy.  He knew that Messianic Psalm was about Him, the Jewish Messiah who was to come (even though the Jewish people of his day did not believe He was the promised Messiah).  In fact, one of the reasons the Jewish leaders of his day constantly sought to have Jesus put to death was because He boldly claimed to be the Messiah, often quoting the Jewish Old Testament Scriptures to prove that He was.

 Okay, that’s the background of why Jesus cried out to God that fateful day when He was dying an excruciating death on a Roman cross; He was quoting from Messianic Psalm 22: 1 which reads this way in English in many standard Bibles:  “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?  Why are you so far from helping me, and from the words of my groaning?” 

If one reads the New Testament carefully, one will clearly see that sometimes Jesus and some of the writers of the New Testament did not always quote the Old Testament word-for-word; sometimes they would add to, detract, paraphrase, or otherwise slightly change the wording of the Old Testament reference they were quoting.  This was the case with Psalm 22 which Jesus quoted as referring to Himself as the Jewish Messiah.

One modern Bible translation of Psalm 22: 1 reads this way:  God, God…my God!  Why did you dump me miles from nowhere?”  (The Message Bible).  Another modern translation reads this way:  “My God, my God!  Why have you forsaken me?  Why do you remain so distant?”   (The New Living Translation)  Finally, another modern translation states it in these words:  “God, my God!  Why would You abandon me now?  Why do You remain distant, refusing to answer my tearful cries…”  (The Passion Translation).  

I am emphasizing the words “in English” because it’s very possible those words in both the Old and New Testaments do not have the same meaning in the original language in which they were written:  Aramaic.  In fact, the words were first translated from Aramaic into Greek, and then from Greek into English—rather than having been translated directly from Aramaic into English.  There is some reliable and reputable scholarship indicating that the words Jesus cried out in the Aramaic language did not mean what they say in English.

The Aramaic language is not spoken today except by a very few, small isolated groups of people in the Middle East.  Aramaic was an ancient Semitic language that was the lingua franca (the common language used between various groups of people) spoken throughout the Middle East from approximately 350 B.C. to 650 A.D. Eventually, it replaced Hebrew as the language of the Jews.  Aramaic was the dialect spoken by Jesus.

Now let’s take a brief look at some mistaken, human-contrived “theology” about those words Jesus cried out to God.

There’s a very prevalent, mistaken “theological” view that God did, in fact, forsake, abandon, or turn away from Jesus on the cross because God could not bear to look upon the awful, weighty burden of the sins of all humanity which Jesus was carrying and for which He was dying; such theology teaches that God had no choice but to turn his “face” away from Jesus because He could not view those sins carried by Jesus:  human sin was just too repugnant for God to view; He was compelled to forsake Jesus and look the other way because our sins were so repulsive to Him. 

Along with that view is the contention that God had no choice but to forsake Jesus; otherwise He would in effect be helping Jesus carry our sins, when it was necessary that Jesus bear them alone, all by Himself as God the Son; it is mistakenly said that Jesus was not only bearing humanity’s judgment of death as a result of sin, but also the judgment of humanity’s separation from God. 

One thing that makes such theological views questionable is the teaching that it is possible for humanity to be separated from God.  Can that be true?  If God really is God—all-knowing, all-powerful, all-where, all-when…then nothing in the entire creation—including humans—can ever really be separated from God.  If God is really God, then He is everywhere, everywhen, and in everything down to the smallest, infinitesimal particle of creation.  As God, He cannot be anywhere that separates Him from anything and anyone in all creation. 

An 11th century writer, Hilbert of Lavardin, wrote these words:

“God, You are within all things, but not enclosed.
Outside all things, but not excluded.
You are above all things, sustaining them.
Wholly beneath, the firm Foundation of all.
You are wholly outside, embracing all things.
|Wholly within, filling all things.”

That somehow humans have separated themselves from God by their sin is a myth—or that our sin caused God to separate Himself from us. Yes, it is true that there are a few biblical references stating that (Isaiah 59: 2, for example), but in the light of the Bible’s overall teachings, it is clearly understood that nothing can separate us humans from God, even our worst sin.

During roughly the past 100 years or so to our present day there have been a few notable biblical language scholars who have challenged what Jesus really said in the Aramaic language translated into English when He cried out, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?”

One of those notable biblical language scholars was Kenneth Wuest (1893-1962).  He felt those references in Matthew 27 and Mark 15 should have been translated something like this in English:  “My God, my God, why have You left me helpless, failing me at this time of need?”

Another notable scholar was George Lamsa (1892 – 1975), who grew up in present-day rural Turkey speaking Aramaic very similar to that which Jesus and his disciples spoke 2,000 years previously. Lamsa translated those references directly from Aramaic into English:  “My God, my God, for this I was spared.”

Dr Brian Simmons, still living, published his translation (The Passion Translation) of the New Testament portion of the Bible (along with a few of the books of the Old Testament) in 2018.  Simmons translates Matthew 27: 46 and Mark 15: 32 this way:  “My God, my God, for this purpose You have spared me.”

Like Simmons, another scholar of biblical languages, Jonathan Mitchell, is still living, and published his translation of the New Testament in 2013.  He translates Jesus’ cry to God with  multiple possibilities.  Most consistent with Wuest, Lamsa, and Simmons is this suggested translation by Mitchell:  “My God, my God, this was my destiny.”

Obviously, the translations of these four scholars are vastly different from the typical, generally accepted English language translations of the two references we are examining.  These four scholars indicate that in some way Jesus understood that God had spared Him from premature death until the specific, destined time and moment in salvific history when Jesus was dying on the cross.  

When had God previously spared Jesus from death?  One example was when Jesus was preaching in his hometown of Nazareth, and the people there sought to kill Him by pushing him off a nearby cliff (Luke 4: 28 – 30); that attempt to kill Jesus was premature:  it wasn’t yet the specific time God pre-planned for Jesus to die.

Another attempt on Jesus’ life was when Satan told Jesus if Jesus would jump off a high parapet angels would catch Him (Luke 4: 9 – 12); Satan—being the consummate liar and the “father of lies”—was lying and knew full well that Jesus would die if He had jumped at Satan’s challenge.

In the Garden of Gethsemane the night before Jesus’ death, it was clear that Jesus could have died (or been killed) that night…but it was not the time God had pre-planned for Jesus to die (Matthew 26: 38 and elsewhere).

Those are merely three instances when it would not have been part of God’s plan for Jesus to die prematurely.  Doubtless there may have been other instances not recorded in the New Testament (John 21: 25).  Jesus was hated by many of the “religionists” of his day who constantly sought ways to take his life, but it was never God’s pre-planned time for Jesus to die until that fateful, pre-planned day when He died by crucifixion on a Roman cross.

There are a number of other biblical references that relate to this matter.  Here is a small sampling of some of those pertinent references.

First, Colossians 2: 9 and 10 need to be considered.  “Just as the fullness of God dwells permanently in Jesus, in the same manner God dwells fully in us.”   If God’s fullness dwelled in Jesus, could God’s fullness decrease or somehow be emptied out of Jesus, thus meaning that God abandoned Jesus?

Then consider Psalm 139: 7 and 8:  “Where could I go that your Spirit is not present?  Where is there a place I can run to get away from You, God?  If I go up to heaven, You are there!  If I go down to the realm of the dead, You’re there too!  If I were able to fly to any place on earth, You are there also.”  Doesn’t that reference sound like God’s presence is always everywhere and everywhen?

Consider Hebrews 13: 5 where God is speaking about Jesus’ followers:   I will never leave you alone, never, never, never!  And I will never loosen my grip on your life.”  If God promised that to us who are Jesus’ followers, could He have ever left Jesus alone?

“My own sheep will hear my voice and I know each one, and they will follow me.  I give to them the gift of my own eternal LIFE and they will never be lost and no one has the power to snatch them out of my hands.  My Father who has given them to me as his gift, is the mightiest of all, and no one has the power to snatch them from my Father’s care.  The Father and I are one.”  (John 10: 27 – 30)  If Jesus and his Father God were one in every aspect and in every respect, could they ever be separated?

Those are just four references out of many others in the Bible that teach God is fully present at all times with Jesus’ followers. 

Think about some logical assumptions that can be made based upon just those four references alone.  First, there is no place where God is not fully present at all times.  Second, there can be no “anywhere else” besides everywhere.  Third, there is no place where—even for an atomic second—God cannot be.  Fourth, if God is fully present at all times in Jesus’ followers, how could He not be fully present at all times in Jesus?  Fifth, it is inconceivable that Jesus and his Father’s “oneness” could be “split apart” in any manner.

 Having written all of the above, now let me attempt to offer an amplified, paraphrased English language version of Jesus’ cry to God from the cross (based on some of the modern scholarly translations mentioned above):  “My God, my God, You have spared me from premature death until now, my destined time to die!”

I realize what I have briefly written in this teaching is controversial and perhaps raises many questions and issues about exactly what Jesus cried out to God while He was dying on the cross.  For me, I do not believe it was possible for God—being God—to forsake or abandon Jesus—to be ever separated from full, equal union with Jesus in any manner; that view is called the hypostatic union—Jesus was fully God and fully human equally.  Jesus and God had always been one, were one when Jesus was dying on the cross, and will always be one. 

The alternative views presented here have put to rest long-standing fears and questions I have had; these views seem more logical and rational to my mind (and also resonate deep within my spirit) because I believe that God cannot forsake, abandon, or be separated from anything or anyone in creation—especially from his own Beloved Son!

I invite you to study a companion teaching on this website, 72 Hours of History, that gives a timeline of the so-called “Holy Week” in which Jesus died.  It may be of interest to you to know that some reliable biblical scholars believe Jesus died on Wednesday, not on “Good Friday,” and was raised from the dead by God on Saturday of Holy Week, not on Sunday, the first day of the following week.

Bill Boylan
Revised and Updated January 2023

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