My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
From Matthew’s gospel, the words of Christ on the cross, near the end.
It rings of total despair and abandonment. It’s a question some have considered troublesome for the Christian faith. Can God forsake himself? If Jesus is God, then he’s all-knowing, right? So how can he ask this question of the Father?
It occurred to me tonight that maybe the question is asked by Christ for our benefit—so that we will arrive at the answer ourselves.
God gives us the example of human marriage in part so that we can understand his triune nature and his relationship to us, the believers he collectively refers to as the Bride of Christ, in personal terms.When a man and a woman get married, if they use traditional wedding vows, they will say of their union something like “forsaking all others.” The intention is that the relationship that is being established won’t be divided by another's interest in either of them. Unlike the Godhead in its perfect unity, human unions must strive for harmony of will and direction and for mutuality in love. But even so, the unity of the couple is sacred and the two are committing to protecting their oneness from division by other people. It’s a lifelong process for most thriving marriages. The symbolism is used to show how the people of God are related to Christ—as the bride to the bridegroom.
But we strive for a unity with a spouse on earth which will never fully reach the unity Christ already enjoys with the Father and the Spirit. He understands the complete oneness of communion.
My pastor has given an example of what happens to two people when they become divorced. He takes two pieces of paper and glues them together. After a time, he then tries to separate them again. He likens the separating of two who have been joined as one to this process of separating the glued pages. They don’t come apart cleanly. There is tearing, there is pain, there are open wounds. Neither is left intact.
When Christ on the cross took onto himself the sin of the world, he had to separate from the Father. He had to carry those sins and the punishment for them far away from us and from God. He took them into the ground for purification. But the separating from the Father was a rending of their total unity. Oh, how it must have hurt! To be ripped from the bosom of the Father, the place he had held from eternity.
And even as he cried out in the anguish of the moment, I think his cry was not so much a question he needed to have satisfied as a question he desired for us to fully understand.
Why, my God, did you forsake him?
And the answer, is “for you.”
God chose to forsake his own son. The son chose to be forsaken. Because of me. To include me in communion with them, God had to tear himself apart.
It is completely incomprehensible that something so perfect as the communion of the Trinity would be rent on my behalf.
Just who does God think I am?