“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
guest post by Russell Joyner
Why would Jesus say something that sounds so discouraging? In Jewish tradition, in a moment of great distress, one should pray. When all looks hopeless, pray. When you can’t think of what to pray, then recite one of the pre-approved inspired prayers.
In first century Israel, In the middle of the afternoon, around three PM, Jews would stop for prayer. Somebody was supposed to call together at least ten Jewish men (constituting a minyun / quorum), then lead out in a Hebrew prayer, preferably one memorized from Scripture. Those who knew the prayer were supposed to corporately join in out loud.
Matthew 27:46 tells us “At about the ninth hour, Jesus cried out in a loud voice…” The ninth hour after sunrise is the time to offer the afternoon prayer. Nobody else took the leadership to select one of the psalms to pray. So Jesus took the lead, and started the prayer. When 1st century Hebrews started reciting Scripture, they did not use the number references like we do (chapter and verse numbers). The opening phrase also served as the title of the prayer. Jesus was inviting those standing around the foot of the cross to join him in one of the most dynamic petitions for deliverance ever written, very likely penned by King David himself.
Psalm 22 is a classic example of a “Prayer of Lament” (along with about two dozen in the Book of Psalms). The Biblical lament expresses a desperate situation, but the whole point is to confess that the situation can be changed by the LORD. The lament psalms raise a cry out of the depths, fully believing that God has the power to lift a person up, around or through the pit & to set the believer’s feet firmly upon the rock. Therefore, these Biblical laments are ultimately expressions of praise; admitting circumstances are at their worst, yet praising God for his faithful presence & deliverance. Things may look bad, but my God is sufficient for me. In each case, the complaining lament is shown to be invalid as a truth statement within the prayer itself.
Psalm 13:1 How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?
Psalm 13:5-6 But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, for he has been good to me.
Psalm 74:1 Why have you rejected us forever, O God? Why does your anger smolder against the sheep of your pasture?
Psalm 74:12 But you, O God, are my king from of old; you bring salvation upon the earth.
While the complaint truly springs from genuine human anguish, once the individual looks at the lamentable circumstances through God’s eyes, the logical fallacy becomes clear.
Psalm 22 opens up with this address & complaint: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from me, so far from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, & am not silent.”
Some have taken that statement at face value, to conclude that God the Father did in fact forsake Jesus. I must go wherever the evidence leads me, and the evidence leads me to say “NO”!
- The ultimate message of Psalm 22 was trust in Yahweh’s covenant faithfulness: God will deliver.
- The way God has revealed himself consistently throughout Scripture:
- Immanuel literally means, “God With Us”
- The name Yahweh can be translated, “I Am Faithfully Present”
- Deuteronomy 31:6 – “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
- Psalm 94:14 – “I will not forsake my inheritance.”
- The opening lines of psalms were used as titles, therefore, mention of title invokes the whole prayer.
- Psalm 22:24 itself tells us “For He 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.” The initial complaint is corrected by the forthtelling prophecy.
- New Testament confirmation:
- Matthew 27 quotes four times from Psalm 22; Matthew understood the whole represented by the part.
- “When he offered up prayers & petitions w/loud cries & tears to the one who could save him, He was heard” (Hebrews 5:7).
Jesus gave his life willingly. He knew the ultimate message of Psalm 22 was trust in Yahweh’s faithfulness. He also recognized the lament psalm for what it was: a prayer of praise in the midst of lamentable circumstances. Not a hopeless lamentation.
The evidence & example of Christ leads us to be more willing to express ourselves to God openly without white-washing our problems. The prayer closet is the place to freely and firmly make your complaint and appeal. When we are at our wit’s end, Psalm 22 can guide us in taking our problems to the LORD. Don’t despair!
APPLICATION: Do not build your view of God on your feelings, but upon the WORD of God….The BIBLE. The true & living God has revealed himself to us in the Scripture, that we might know him & obey him.
Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Psalm 100:3, NIV
One of the worship response stations that I’ve used at multiple retreats and summer camps is a table where kids can go and write down questions they have about God or the Bible. We call it “Question Cards.”
There are Bibles on hand at the table and adults on hand as well to help answer any questions the kids have. The adults facilitating the table won’t have all the answers, so sometimes the answer is “I don’t know” or “Let’s do some more research on that one.”
The kids LOVE this station. They are free to ask any question they have about God or the Bible, no matter how weird or difficult the question may seem. I find that the kids really open up when given the chance to physically write a question down on a notecard. They will express more that way versus asking them point blank to verbally ask a question they may have about God.
The goal is to give kids a space to voice their thoughts and questions about God. We want them to know that its OK to have hard questions about God and the Bible. It also provides opportunities for deeper conversations and ministry to happen when kids (and adults) bring up these hard or “weird” questions. As adults we want to let them know that many answers can be found in the Bible, but some things may never get answered on this side of eternity.
Here is just a sampling of some of the questions that kids ask. I especially like the one about whether Jesus had “crushes” or not. It might sound silly at first, but when you think about it, that is a very theologically profound question. Did Jesus have any romantic attractions in his life? If He did, what are the theological implications, if any? The Bible is silent on that issue.
I love letting kids ask these questions because they often think of things that we wouldn’t think of as adults. And they challenge us to search out Scripture and the insight of the Holy Spirit as we deal with difficult questions about God.
Have you done something similar in your ministry? How have you done it?
Want more ideas for response stations and other resources of children’s ministry? Sign up for my free newsletter here.
I love the simplicity of Scripture. The ability to rely on God and to have an undivided heart comes from Him!
“Teach me your way, Lord, that I may rely on your faithfulness: give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name” (Psalm 86:11).
The great thing about a holiday is not just the fact that many people get the day off, but it also carves a memorial into the annual calendar that commemorates something or someone that we as a society deem important. When children see that they have a day off of school and that people are celebrating something, many of them naturally ask, “why?”
That is why holidays are brilliant. They ensure that certain topics and values will be passed down through the generations. Even if the adults forget to cover a certain topic in raising children, the holiday topics will almost always come up (year after year) and the children will learn about them.
For Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, we are reminded of the great values of love, respect, diversity, overcoming the impossible, justice, faith, courage, community, and all sorts of other positive teachable topics. What comes with his story is also the harsh truth of sin and darkness in the world – topics such as hate, racism, injustice, murder, terrorism, and the like.
We told our daughter (who is five now) that there was no school on Monday because it was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. That sparked her curiosity about the subject. She had already learned a little about him in school recently, but she wanted to know more when we were talking about it in the car.
Here are some of the things she asked (progressively as I was answering each question:
“What did he do?”
“Is he still alive?”
“How did he die?”
“Why did someone kill him?”
“Where was he when he died?”
As you can see, she was very curious about his life and the circumstances of his death. I chose not to sugarcoat anything and answer her in a very honest matter-of-fact way. She may be five, but I have learned that even young children are ready to hear about the harsh realities of this sinful world in which we live. Of course I’m not graphic in describing how he died, but I tried to be straightforward about it – and she was able to understand and handle it well.
Before I show you how I answered, I wanted to jot down a few ideas on what I feel are helpful things to keep in mind when speaking to young children about tough, dark subjects. I don’t claim to have all the answers. I’m just sharing what appeared to work with our daughter…..
- Be honest – the worst thing we can do to our children is lie to them and make them think there is nothing bad or evil in the world. They will wake up to that reality someday and it is best if they hear it first from their parents.
- Be straightforward – I don’t see any value in beating around the bush or creating a fog of confusion in her mind by using ambiguous generalizations such as “we need to be nice to other people.” It’s better to be specific and use MLK Day (and every other day) to combat racism in its face and talk with children as early as possible about treating everyone with love and respect no matter their skin color.
- Be God-focused – we believe in God. So did Martin Luther King, Jr. In fact, he was known for saying that the arc of the universe curves towards justice. And that curve is because of the hand of God. Full justice and love may not be evident at this moment, but God’s finger is pointing in that direction. We shall follow, and he shall lead.
Here is the gist of the answers I gave:
“What did he do?” A lot of people are mean to other people just because of the color of their skin. He challenged those ideas and gave a speech about a dream he had. He had a dream that little girls of different skin colors would hold hands and play together in the playground. And guess what? That dream came true (I said that not to say that all is well, but to point to the example that she knows, which is the fact that she does play with and hold hands with children of different skin colors). Now there are no more laws that black people need to use different water fountains or bathrooms than white people. (We will continue to explain to her that not all things are completely better between people of different skin colors and there is still a lot of work to do to make sure there is equality and community amongst our diversity in this nation).
“Is he still alive?” No.
“How did he die?” Somebody shot him with a gun and killed him.
“Why did someone kill him?” The man hated him and did not like what Martin Luther King, Jr. taught and wanted to keep doing things that were very bad for black people.
“Where was he when he died?” I think he was on a balcony of a motel in Memphis, Tennessee.
I added, “We believe that God made all people – and that he made all different colors of skin. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a pastor who believed in God and that God was going to bring justice to this earth over the course of history.”
Let us press on in every fight against injustice and trust in the grace of God as we follow Him on the journey towards justice.