“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” is what David cried about 3,000 years ago (Psalm 22:1). Famously, Jesus cried out these exact words of Psalm 22:1 while he was dying on the cross (Matt. 27:46; Mark 15:34).
The question arises: was Christ really forsaken? There is a profound sense in which the answer is “Yes.” There is also an important sense in which the answer is “No, Christ was not ultimately forsaken by God.” Let’s look at each of these for a minute.
Answer 1: Yes, Christ Was Forsaken
When David wrote Psalm 22, he felt forsaken. Like all good Biblical laments, Psalm 22 begins with brutal honesty about heavy circumstances. The psalmist feels that God is distant and unwilling to answer his prayers (see Psalm 22:1-2).
When Jesus chose the words of Psalm 22:1, he was, indeed, walking through the valley of the shadow of forsakenness. He genuinely experienced the same kind of forsakenness that David had written about—except worse. As Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me,” he was dying under the curse of our sins (see Gal. 3:13).
This brings us into the deeply important doctrine of “penal substitutionary atonement”—the teaching that Christ died as our substitute bearing the punishment due for our sins. Luke Bray pointed us to the doctrine of substitution on Sunday when he quoted from Isaiah 53:4-6: “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows…All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
Our statement of faith explains it like this: “Moved by love, [Christ] voluntarily offered His life on the Cross. Christ bore in our place the punishment due us for our sins, to bring us to God. This is the heart of the gospel. By dying on the Cross for our sins, Christ satisfied God’s justice and reconciled to God all those who believe.”
This is a truly marvelous doctrine. Heaven does not tire of singing the praises of the Lamb who was slain, whose blood has ransomed people for God from every nation (Rev. 5:9ff.). And if Heaven isn’t moving on from this, we don’t want to move on from it either!
Answer 2: No, Christ Was Not Ultimately Forsaken
As we said above, Psalm 22 begins with brutal honesty about heavy circumstances. But, like all good Biblical laments, it also concludes with confidence and hope. “All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you” (Psalm 22:27).
In David’s darkest hour of forsakenness, he had confidence that God’s plan would not fail.
Even more profoundly, in Christ’s darkest hour, God’s plan had not failed. When Christ cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”—precisely in this moment—God was not abandoning his good and precious promises to Christ or to the nations.
This is what Luke Bray emphasized on Sunday when he taught from Psalm 22. All the way through Christ’s darkest hour, the promises of God held true. In this sense, Christ was not ultimately forsaken by God. And all the way through our darkest hours, the promises of God will hold true. This is our hope even in the darkest of our days.