~ The Blessing of Forsakenness ~
Many of the Psalms express the experience of feeling forsaken by God: "How much longer, Lord, will you forget about me? Will it be forever? How long will you hide?" (Psalm 13:1) "You are my mighty rock. Why have you forgotten me? Why must my enemies mistreat me and make me sad?" (Psalm 42:9) "Our God, don't just sit there, silently doing nothing!" (Psalm 83:1)
There are so many challenges to God's presence in times of human suffering throughout the Psalms that they must make us wonder. Does King David really believe that God forsakes His servants or is his questioning a reflection of his own human feelings? After all, feeling forsaken or abandoned is a common human experience. Who among us never had the feeling of being ignored, unloved, or forgotten by someone we know in our hearts would not ignore, forget, or stop loving us?
While David laments the feeling of God's forsakenness, he also declares the wondrous truth in his Psalm 139: "Where could I go to escape from your Spirit or from your sight? If I were to climb up to the highest heavens, you are there. If I were to dig down to the world of the dead, you are there also. Suppose I had wings like the dawning day and flew across the ocean, even then your powerful arm would guide and protect me. Or suppose I said 'I'll hide in the dark until night comes to cover me over.' But you see in the dark because daylight and dark are all the same to you... And when I awake, I will find you nearby." (Psalm 139:7-12, 18)
The most heart-tearing expression of abandonment is Psalm 22:1, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far away?" Psalm 22 is considered prophetic of Christ's crucifixion and, indeed, Jesus cried those very same words on the cross. (Matthew 27:46)
Many preachers explain that Jesus truly felt forsaken because He was "made sin for us" and the Father could not "look upon" sin. But this explanation ignores the many times when God saw the sin of humankind and was greatly hurt and angered, resulting in various responses from sending prophets to call for repentance to global destruction by the great flood. So God can and does look upon sin.
Another thing to consider is that Jesus knew all the Scriptures and frequently quoted them in His teachings to the people. Surely He knew Psalm 22:1! And surely He knew Psalm 139! It is quite probable that Jesus, even in His anguish, was quoting Psalm 22:1 to keep teaching us about the nature of God's presence and responsiveness.
This probability increases and the essence of His teaching is revealed as we consider the original language of the New Testament. In 15 of the 17 verses that express "gave up the spirit" or "yielded the spirit," a single Hebrew or Greek word is used to render the meaning "breathe out" or "expire," to die. The Gospels of Mark and Luke use this term to describe Jesus' death.
However, there are two notable verses which interestingly translate "gave up the spirit" with a Greek phrase of two words literally meaning "give over the spirit" or "deliver up the spirit." (Matthew 27:50 and John 19:30). The difference is quite spiritually significant. Death, the expiration or breathing out of the spirit, happens to you. But "giving over" or "delivering up" the spirit is a matter of will and indicates a new life. When the Scriptures speak of being crucified with Christ, denying oneself, surrendering and trusting all to God, doesn't that involve a giving up or delivering of ourselves to God through Christ? "Your soul shall be required of you." (Luke 12:20)
Throughout the Scriptures, the experience of feeling forsaken by God seems to always be followed by deliverance and rescuing from trouble and the enemy. "Please listen Lord! Answer my prayer for help. When I am in trouble, I pray, knowing you will listen. (Psalm 86:6-7) Then I said 'God Most High, what hurts me most is that you no longer help us with your mighty arm...' Everything you do is right, and no other god compares with you. You alone work miracles and you have let nations see your mighty power." (Psalm 77:10, 13-14)
When some feel forsaken or abandoned by God, their response is often, "Where is God? He must not care or many not even exist." Faith is crushed and despair takes the place of hope. But take heart in the teachings of the Scriptures! Just when the feeling of forsakenness is the most you believe you can handle without losing faith and falling into despair, God says "I am the Lord All-Powerful. So don't depend on your own power or strength, but on my Spirit." (Zechariah 4:6) And when you depend totally on God, "delivering your spirit" to Him after acknowledging your feeling of forsaken helplessness to God and all watching you, just as Jesus did on the cross, then God can gloriously rescue and save you, restoring your soul, and inviting you to eat at His table in the presence of your enemies.
Forsakenness pushes us
to cry out to the Lord, to give our spirits over to Him completely, opening
the gates of our soul to Him. "Who is this glorious king? He
is our Lord, a strong and mighty warrior. Open the ancient gates,
so that the glorious king may come in. Who is this glorious king?
He is our Lord, the All-Powerful! (Psalm 24:8-10)
John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
Spiritual Resource Services
Weekly Reflections © December 12, 2000
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