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

Editor’s preface: This post is actually a comment of response to a post on another blog site. To get the full context of the exchange, you need to go over there also. This whole block of text is a link to that site.

Thank you, brother, for the invitation to respond to your recent posts in this way. I especially appreciate the spirit in which it was given.

You admit in more than one place that you are clearly swimming upstream. By your own admission, no one, or virtually no one has held the view that Jesus’ words on the cross “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” were not (I think you used these words) a statement of doubt and defeat, but rather “a praise song of faith in God in the midst of suffering.” Do you realize in this position you also are implying that none of all those who hold the contrary position ever saw the danger you expressed, of people denying the penal substitution of Christ’s death on the cross? Using the analogy of Scripture, one would immediately point someone with such a conclusion to those more plain passages such as Galatians 3:13, 2 Corinthians 5:21, or Romans 3:21-26. These plain passages would clearly eliminate any false assumptions made concerning the meaning of our Lord’s statement in Matthew 27:46.

You base your exegetical argument almost entirely on the “context” of Psalm 22, which is the source text of Jesus’ statement. I see two problems with this:

1) Jesus doesn’t quote the whole psalm, just the first phrase. If He wanted to express the thought you claim why didn’t he either quote the whole psalm, or pick the latter phrases of obvious praise and victory you claim he meant, or even pick the opening thought of another psalm like Psalm 73, that expresses a more positive thought?

2) Your interpretation of “context” violates the Literal principle of interpreting Scripture, namely, that Scripture is to be treated as literature. Even though it is God’s word, inspired, infallible, inerrant, etc.; poetry is still poetry, and historical narrative is still historical narrative, and each and all types of literature within Scripture is to be handled accordingly. There is nothing magical about the Bible; nouns, verbs, and prepositions still function like they do in the secular world. Psalm 22, like many of the early psalms, is an expression of the psalmist’s “journey” to find God’s goodness. Often times such psalms begin with honest questions: “Where are you?”, “Why am I suffering?”, “What purpose does this have in my life?”, “How long must I suffer?” One exception to the rule is Psalm 73, where the psalmist begins with the conclusion of God’s goodness, and then moves on to the “journey” of how he came to that conclusion.

So the bigger “context” is that this is poetry, not a doctrinal statement. Jesus uses only the first statement, because that is where He is just at that moment. As I have said before, sure, Jesus knew that he must suffer and die, and be raised the third day. He told His disciples as much. That does not prove that He knew the depth of the abyss that He was being plunged into at that moment. As I have also stated elsewhere, this does not have to be a declaration of doubt and defeat, it is, at the very least, a statement of surprise. Jesus did not know everything. Expressed this Himself. To deny this is to deny a critical aspect of His human nature.

Concerning “context”, you are eager to press the issue about the “context” of the whole of Psalm 22, which Jesus does not quote, while ignoring the “context” of the passage of the narrative and events surrounding Jesus’ words on the cross. First of all, there were other words spoken by Jesus on the cross. Most notably, our Lord’s last words were “It is finished.”, meaning “It is accomplished.” Now there is a statement that signifies the beginning of victory.

There is also the “context” of the narrative surrounding Jesus’ words. What about “there was darkness over the land”, or “And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice”, or “And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.”? What about the observations of the people hearing Jesus speak. It doesn’t appear that anyone is aware that Jesus is quoting Psalm 22. The only record is of some bystanders thinking He is calling for Elijah. Matthew is especially good to point out elsewhere that scripture is being fulfilled or quoted. He says nothing about that here, nor makes note of any one saying anything noteworthy about this statement from our Lord on the cross. This “context” clearly points to a different conclusion than you come to.

Last of all, in your argument you set up a straw man by 1) equivocating the phrase “turn His back”, and by 2) creating a cartoon of the opposing position.

1) You are defining a phrase literally that is clearly a figure of speech known as an anthropomorphism: using human qualities to describe an activity or character trait of God (There’s theLiteral principle at work again.). When someone says “God turned His back on His Son.” we all know this is not referring to the inclination of God’s gaze, but rather the disposition of His favor. It is expressing something indescribable concerning something relating to the way the Father is dealing with the Son. As I have said somewhere before, Hell will be every bit as much the ever present wrathful gaze of God, as it will be the chilling absence of any of His goodness. Who knows the relationship that existed at that moment in time between God the Father, and the two natures of God the Son. Did the divine nature, as well as the human nature of God the Son enter into the reception of the wrath of God the Father? I think so, but how, I don’t know. One thing I know, that wrath wasn’t somehow Koom-Ba-Ya.

2) I don’t know any serious conservative evangelical who believes that God turned His back on His Son in some ultimate sense, or that the persons of the Trinity were somehow divided. That is unthinkable. Combined with the point just above, you have created a straw man that is easy to knock down, because it doesn’t exist.

In conclusion, I find it a stretch to accept your argument, or even see the need for the position you have formulated, principally on the basis of your misuse of the whole idea of “context.” I don’t see the need simply because I can think of no one who holds the errors you erroneously claim a classical position leads to. I certainly don’t believe the classical position leads to a denial of penal substitution.

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