Many proofs have been given for the reality of Jesus Christ and the faith of His followers – Christianity. Some of these proofs include: the resurrection of Christ, the truthfulness of the Bible, the witness of countless people to Christ’s work in their lives and, the list goes on.
However, one proof that is seldom brought into the discussion about the veracity of Christianity is what happened at the cross at the ninth hour –12 noon in the Jewish time frame.
“And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46, KJV).
The proof of the truthfulness of Christianity although not obvious, is contained in Jesus’ despairing words at the cross: Why has thou forsaken me? There are four aspects of the abandonment of Christ, which if carefully understood, can serve as pointers to the reality of the Christian faith:
1. The Son was abandoned by the Father at the Cross
The Bible teaches that Jesus the Son of God became man while retaining his godhood. Jesus’ cry of anguish exposes in a real way the lowest point of his life on earth. As it were, Jesus descended into the abyss of hell, to experience the most painful kind of trauma imaginable. It is so full on, so deep, so staggering that it appears to be incoherent and incredulous.
When Jesus alone on the cross, experienced the full brunt of His Father’s wrath, (the wrath against the sins of the world), He could not remain silent.
After Christ uttered these words of despair, miraculously, darkness descended, and midday became midnight and then a terrifying earthquake shook the earth. So real and absurd was this, the abandonment of the Son of God that even nature convulsed revealing its utter disdain.
2. If the Son was abandoned, then God virtually abandoned Himself
God is one being with three persons. So, what happened to Jesus impacted God the Father and the Holy Spirit – the other two persons in the Godhead. Paul alludes to the fact that God was present at Christ’s work at the cross:
“God was in Christ reconciling the World unto Himself” (2 Cor. 5: 9).
As a Father, I cannot imagine the thought of ignoring my child in his or her time of need. In the same way, the time when Christ suffered and died at Calvary must have been the greatest trial for God the Father. It is common for us to think more of the Saviour’s public sacrifice and less of the Father’s unmentioned but real sacrifice.
You can turn to any of the world’s religions and search out their divinities – you will not find a God who abandons himself so that we, his people can escape eternal abandonment.
This is the very essence of the Christian message and it welcomes both believer and non-believer to examine the faith seriously. God abandoning himself (and the fact that Jesus was rejected by God) is a great mystery. The finite mind cannot resolve this incomprehensible act. All we can do is to stand in awe of a God who is willing to do the unthinkable for the salvation of the people he dearly loves. Logic and rational reasoning must give way to this new dimension of reality that transcends the boundaries of human reasoning.
“God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son…” (John 3:16) simply means that God absolutely and fully gave Himself to us when he sent Jesus. And Jesus gave himself to us completely – even to the point of feeling abandoned by God because that is what it took for Jesus to be an offering for the sin of the world.
3. The abandonment of Christ was what it took to forgive our sins
“For he hath made him (Christ) to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him (2 Cor. 5:21)”.
When Jesus died on the cross, all our sins were placed on Him. He was sinless because He was God in human flesh. As all our sins were placed on Him, He became the final and complete sacrifice for our sins. And in that moment, He was excluded from the presence of God for sin cannot co-exist in God’s presence. Jesus’ cry speaks of this reality – He experienced the separation from God that you and I should have incurred.
With Jesus as our substitute, God’s wrath is satisfied, and God can justify those who believe in Jesus (Rom. 3:26). The end of forsakenness and pain is forgiveness, new life and eternal life for those who turn to Christ. So, Jesus was abandoned so that we could be adopted into God’s family as his children.
4. If Jesus was abandoned – then we are not alone in our current struggles and despair
The cry of abandonment of Jesus was a real cry of despair. That cry means we are not alone in our journey of faith as we face times of despair, trauma and suffering. Our suffering is not the result of fate – neither is it an illusion as some faiths purport.
Our cries are heard and understood by the forsaken God. In Christianity we have a God who is intimately acquainted with the totality of human affliction, temptation and pain. The writer of the book of Hebrews says, “We have not a high priest who cannot be touched with the feelings of our infirmities…” (Hebrews 4:15a KJV). Jesus has been through it all. He was tempted in every way like us, yet without sin.
You can turn to all the world religions and you would be hard pressed to find one where God cries out in abandonment like Jesus cried out at the cross. Christianity has the answer to the agelong dilemma of mankind: How can a loving God allow evil and suffering?
In Christianity, the God of the universe suffered and one day he will completely put an end to all suffering, sin and evil.
So, Jesus understands not only our physical suffering, but also our spiritual suffering and all feelings of abandonment. As you navigate life in a world of struggle, suffering and pain and when you pray in times of darkness and despair, remember you are praying to someone who is fully human and fully divine, You are praying to someone who understands your suffering intimately and completely.
As someone said, If Christianity is silent on this matter of suffering – then it might as well be silent on everything else. The fact remains that only Christianity involves a God who is forsaken. This teaching reaches out to believer and non-believer in inescapable ways. The forsakenness of Christ stands out as the answer not only to the perennial issue of suffering, but also, the veracity of Christianity’s claims.
Dr Jonathan D James