PASSAGE: "And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, 'E’lo-i, E’lo-i, la’-ma sabach-tha’ni?' which means 'My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?' And some of the bystanders hearing it said, 'Behold, he is calling Elijah’ "(Mark 15:33-35 RSV).
QUESTION: I do not understand why Jesus thought that God had forsaken him. A loving God would never forsake a man who loves God. Please explain.
COMMENT: It's certainly true that a loving God would never forsake a man who loves God. And it's also true that this human experience sometimes feels as though we've been forsaken. Jesus was moving through this human experience as the Christ, of course. But that's not to say that he wasn't still fully human as well. That said, there are two possibilities that might help us understand the statement more completely.
The statement is actually a quotation from scripture—from the first line of Psalm 22, a psalm that begins in despair but moves through the despair to a kind of exultant understanding. "For dominion belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations. To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, and I shall live for him. Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord, and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it" (Psalm 22: 28-31). That's a pretty ringing and affirming awareness—one that would be entirely appropriate to Jesus at that moment.
Another explanation involves the curious fact that the statement is carefully preserved in Aramaic, not in the original Greek of the surrounding text. It's a delicate language, soft and poetic, with many possible nuances of meaning depending on intonation and rhythm—not at all like the more hard-edged, precise Greek, Latin and English languages through which the translation has moved. Dr. George Lamsa, the Aramaic scholar who translated the Gospels more directly from the Aramaic, suggests that the same words in Aramaic could be understood to mean "My God, my God! For this I was born!" That glorious realization really resonates with me. I can't prove that's what Jesus meant. But I believe it.