As Good Friday comes to a close and we approach Easter Sunday, I felt it was a good time for a new devotional post. However, it was the struggles in my personal life that led me to meditate on these particular words, some of the last Jesus spoke from the cross.
The cry “why have you forsaken me?” is charged with so much pain, so much desperation, that you can hear it even when silently reading the words. This cry from a human toward God is not an uncommon one; indeed, it is one that most Christians will probably make at some time, or at many times, in their lives.
I won’t venture to explain the theology behind Jesus saying, “Why have you forsaken me?” to the Father. Scholars have speculated over what was actually happening in this moment between the Father and Jesus, but I don’t think that’s the most important thing to glean from this passage. What I intend to consider is, Jesus said it, so what does that mean for us when we go through sufferings of our own?
For the past few weeks, I’ve struggled with feeling abandoned by God. I found out unexpectedly that my dog, my constant companion for the last several years, who is nowhere near old age, is very sick. Like, terminally sick. I know this is not the worst problem that someone could be asked to deal with, and I hope that my sharing this does not make anyone feel that I am cheapening their suffering. But, I know that anyone who’s raised a dog from a puppy – or even just loved a pet – will understand how I feel.
Lately, I sometimes feel forsaken by God, not because I think He’s not there, or that He doesn’t care, but because He’s not giving me the easy way out. He didn’t stop this from happening, and I know He could have. As a Christian, of course I knew there would be suffering in life. But when it suddenly happens, we wonder why our good and loving God doesn’t just make it go away.
Jesus spent a lot of time in the Garden of Gethsemane before His crucifixion, wrestling with the Father over this very same issue. He knew the Father could take away the coming agony; He knew that with a word He could bring legions of angels there to drive away the mob. But He didn’t. He trusted the Father enough to say, “‘not as I will, but as You will” (Matthew 26:39, MEV).
I chose this particular image for the post because it is based on John 16:20: “You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy” (ESV). The Full of Eyes Facebook post accompanying this image points out the incredible joy that resulted from the sorrow of the crucifixion. Beloved, there is no deeper sorrow, no deeper pain, than what Jesus suffered in our place. Yet His agony became hope and joy and glory for all of His fallen creation. It is the greatest triumph, the defeat of death itself.
It is not always easy to accept the idea that our present suffering will eventually turn to joy. In the moment, all we feel is the pain, and it can seem as if God is callously standing by, letting us endure chaos just to make us a better person. Yet He doesn’t just stand by. He engages in the sorrow with us, and He never allows it to endure longer than necessary.
Jesus’ cry from the cross comforts me because it shows that it’s okay for us to ask this question of God. Jesus did. God invites you to ask why He has forsaken you. He invites you to throw all your pain, anger, frustration, and brokenness all onto Him. He can take it. Scream, throw things, cry your heart out – wrestle with God. Life can be messy. Pain can be ugly. But God invites us to engage with Him in even our darkest and most pain-filled moments. He wants us to share all of life with Him, even when that involves feeling angry at Him. He already knows how you feel, but He’d like you to tell Him.
I don’t understand why God has allowed this suffering into my life. I don’t yet know how He intends these events to play out. I’m sure there will be many more moments when I cry out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?” But I also know that because Jesus endured the suffering of the cross, allowing me to be reconciled to God, my sufferings are not without purpose.
Sometimes suffering is just life – creation itself is still groaning until its redemption at Christ’s return (see Romans 8:22), so we can’t expect things to be easy. I wish we could. But in the midst of my pain, I have to believe that the same God who turned the suffering of Jesus into the greatest victory of all time can also turn my suffering to joy. And in the meantime, even when I feel forsaken, I know that I am not alone.