Did God the Father actually abandon Jesus the Son on the cross or did it just feel that way to Jesus, and does this matter? ( this acknowledges the mystery that it was God on the cross) This question was posed in the context of a discussion on suffering among Christians. For one person, it was essential that Jesus was indeed abandoned.
The best answer I’ve heard is no, the Father did not literally abandon fellowship with the Son, it just seems that way if we read the text without knowing the appropriate context. When Jesus says, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He is quoting the beginning of Psalm 22, which (as I understand it) was a common psalm for Jews to recite in times of trouble. Read in full, it’s clear that the author of the psalm trusts God to deliver him, even though God seems distant. Consider verses 3-5 (NIV):
“Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;
you are the one Israel praises
In you our ancestors put their trust;
they trusted and you delivered them.
To you they cried out and were saved;
in you they trusted and were not put to shame.”
Consider also verse 24:
“For [the Lord] has not despised or scorned
the suffering of the afflicted one;
he has not hidden his face from him
but has listened to his cry for help.”
So why did Jesus recite only the first verse and not the whole chapter? Probably He was having trouble breathing (every breath taken would have required shifting His position from hanging by the nails in His wrists to standing on the nail in His feet and back) and was too weak to speak all thirty-one verses.
@tbshepley I agree with @MicahB and would only like to provide some further supporting evidence. Below is a review of a book from the Southwestern Journal of Theology entitled “Did God Abandon Jesus at the Cross?” I highly recommend giving it a read. The book being reviewed points out that the entire narrative of Mark reflects the narrative of Psalms 22 - an expectation both of suffering but also of resurrection and of glory. And because of this fact, the reader would naturally call to mind both Mark’s emphasis on the resurrection and the latter half of Psalms 22 about the vindication of God.
A similar thread could be traced through each of the synoptic Gospels - Matthew, Mark and Luke in which this particular event in Jesus’ life is referenced. I believe the reason for the emphasis on Mark is because it is often assumed to be the earliest of the synoptics (or perhaps that was the author’s area of focus). Either way, the main idea is that the Gospels contain an expectation within the narrative of Jesus’ vindication.
Jesus repeatedly predicts His resurrection (and suffering): Mark 8:31, Mark 9:9-10, Mark 9:31, Mark 10:34, Mark 14:28
Mark 9:9-10 - As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10 They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what “rising from the dead” meant.
Mark 14:28 - But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.
But this does not mean He has abandoned the Son in the sense of taking His presence away
from him. The picture of God as turning His back to the Son is not biblical.
God is with His Son, but He is not intervening to stop the crucifixion.15 The
triune God is present at the crucifixion. The cross is not an experience for
Jesus alone. The cross is possible because the triune God is there. The cry of
Jesus at the cross is the cry of the person of Psalm 22, the messianic righteous
sufferer, who in the midst of extreme mistreatment claims His innocence
and asks God to vindicate Him.
Chapter three presents an analysis of Mark’s narrative. It is this narrative
that allows us to see that the writer has created an expectation on the implied
readers. They are supposed to wait not only for Jesus’ passion, but also for His
vindication via the resurrection. Central, but not exclusive to the evidence
provided, are the predictions of Jesus’ death throughout this Gospel. Carey
renames those predictions as to include the resurrection. They are not simply
predictions of Jesus’ death, but of His resurrection as well, and as such they
create an anticipation of Jesus’ vindication after His death and passion.
So, Carey concludes: “The implied readers’ expectations of Jesus’
vindication after suffering, fostered by various passages that foreshadow these
events in the Markan narrative, makes it likely that the same plot of Ps. 22
(the suffering and vindication of the speaker) would have been recalled when
Mark includes the allusions and citation of the Psalm in the context of Jesus’
death. In other words . . . an allusion to Ps. 22 in Mark 15:34 would probably
have not gone unrecognized by his implied readers because they would have
been prepared previously by the narrative to anticipate and recognize the
shared reference (implicit in the citation, explicit in the narrative) to his
vindication within the plot of the Psalm” (171–72).
DidGodAbandonJesusonCross.pdf (731.8 KB)
You may also find the Bible Project’s overview of the book of Mark helpful.
In summary, Mark’s Gospel is a narrative proclamation that Jesus is the Messiah and Son of God, whose death and resurrection paid the penalty for our sins and achieved victory over Satan, sin, and death. With this joyful announcement comes the call to all believers for faith and cross-bearing discipleship.
Thank you SeanO and MicahB. Yes, I have considered the Psalm 22’s arc of suffering and vindication when answering this question. I am inclined to agree with both of your comments and the book SeanO cited was an excellent resource. Thank you.
I wonder what is at stake for someone who needs to think that God literally abandoned Jesus on the cross (as if) Why would God abandon creation? There is no Biblical reason for an expectation of abandonment by God in our human or creaturely existence ever- God with us, right!
@tbshepley I believe the argument for Christ’s separation from God is generally tied quite closely to a person’s view of the nature of the atonement. Personally I believe Jesus shed His blood for our sins on the cross and that He paid the penalty for our sin - death. He died so that we can live.
But some people say that Jesus not only died in our place - He actually suffered ‘hell’ in our place. And since ‘hell’ is separation from God, therefore Jesus must have been separated from God on the cross or He could not have paid for our sins since we deserve eternal damnation. Personally I do not think that it was the quantitative amount Christ suffered that saved us, but simply that He, a perfect sacrifice, died in our place. So I do not find this reasoning either logically valid or Biblically based.
In addition, I think God’s love and justice can be maintained within a few different views of how God will finally deal with the problem of injustice and sin. For example, once you dive into it you get into questions like: “What did the Church fathers really believe (there is a diversity of views)?”, “What do the words translated ‘hell’ in the Bible really mean (Gehenna, Sheol, Tartarus, Hades) in context?”, “What does ‘eternal punishment’ mean (in Jude 1:7, Sodom and Gomorrah were burned with ‘eternal fire’, but is it still burning today)?” I believe there is more than one valid answer to these questions, though all valid answers must recognize that God is both just and merciful - that sin is real and deserving of judgment and that love does not mean overlooking sin - the cross came at a cost.