DID GOD LET HIS SON DIE ALONE?*
by R. L. (Bob) Craig
I cannot conceive of the Father in heaven turning his back on his son, Jesus. Yes, I know of the statement the Lord made in Matthew 27:46: “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?” This, of course, is the same cry of David as recorded in Psalm 22:1. A question that comes to my mind is: “Has God ever forsaken anyone?” And the answer would have to be, “Yes.” We read in the Old Testament of many times the people of Israel were warned that God would forsake them IF, and only IF, they forsook him. (2 Chronicles 24:20) “And the Spirit of God came upon Zechariah the son of Jehoiada the priest, which stood above the people, and said unto them, Thus saith God, Why transgress ye the commandments of the LORD, that ye cannot prosper? because ye have forsaken the LORD, he hath also forsaken you.”
But it will have to be extremely grievous for God to forsake anyone. Notice what Nehemiah says concerning Judah: (Ezra 9:9) “For we were bondmen; yet our God hath not forsaken us in our bondage, but hath extended mercy unto us in the sight of the kings of Persia, to give us a reviving, to set up the house of our God, and to repair the desolations thereof, and to give us a wall in Judah and in Jerusalem. And now, O our God, what shall we say after this? for we have forsaken thy commandments.”
The point is made by these verses that God will forsake his children only when they forsake him. To forsake him is not necessarily the committing of a sin. Every sin is grievous in God's sight and could cause us to be lost but we are not discussing that kind of situation; we are discussing forsaking. The people of Israel committed sin all the time and he never forsook them until they completely turned their backs upon him. David committed grievous sins but God never forsook him. He committed adultery; he committed murder; he disregarded God's commandment and numbered Israel but never once did God forsake him. He suffered ill treatment by Saul, by many of his own brethren, by his sons, and the enemy was always waiting to devour him. He reached a point in his life where he cried out in anguish, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Had he forsaken God? God forsakes those who forsake him. Notice the reading: this is a personal cry. Had God forsaken him? Why, before he departs from this hyperbolic (exaggeration) soliloquy, he acknowledges the fact that he knew all along; God would not desert him: (Psalm 22:23-24) “Ye that fear the LORD, praise him; all ye the seed of Jacob, glorify him; and fear him, all ye the seed of Israel for he hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither hath he hid his face from him; but when he cried unto him, he heard.” In other words, David had experienced so many bad things he was speaking in hyperbole; everything has gone wrong so it seems like God had forsaken him also.
His enemies, at one time, had the same idea. Notice the reading from the 71st Psalm: “In thee, O LORD, do I put my trust: let me never be put to confusion. Deliver me in thy righteousness, and cause me to escape: incline thine ear unto me, and save me. Be thou my strong habitation, whereunto I may continually resort: thou hast given commandment to save me; for thou art my rock and my fortress. Deliver me, O my God, out of the hand of the wicked, out of the hand of the unrighteous and cruel man. For thou art my hope, O Lord GOD: thou art my trust from my youth. By thee have I been holden up from the womb: thou art he that took me out of my mother's bowels: my praise shall be continually of thee. I am as a wonder unto many; but thou art my strong refuge. Let my mouth be filled with thy praise and with thy honour all the day. Cast me not off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength faileth. For mine enemies speak against me; and they that lay wait for my soul take counsel together, Saying, God hath forsaken him: persecute and take him; for there is none to deliver him. O God, be not far from me: O my God, make haste for my help.”
So it was with Jesus. Everything that could go wrong had, seemingly, gone wrong. His own, the Jewish people, had not received him; they rejected him. His closest friend has denied him. A chosen comrade had betrayed him. His disciples had deserted him. His enemies had crucified him. In his humanity, it seemed that he was all alone so he used the same hyperbolic cry that his fleshly father, David, did in the long ago. Had he forsaken his Father? Remember, God forsakes those who forsake him. This is the same personal cry we heard from David. We know that this attitude did not prevail for almost his next words were, “Father, into thy hands, I commend my spirit.” Luke says, “And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice ...” Evidently that loud cry was the one recorded by Matthew, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” and immediately after the loud cry, “into thy hands, I commend my Spirit.”
Let's look at some conclusions: God had never forsaken anyone unless that person had forsaken him. (Psalm 37:25) “I have been young, and now I am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.” Paul gives us that same assurance: “Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for He hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” (Hebrews 13:5). If he would forsake His only Son, how can we be sure he will not forsake us.
I am well aware of the burden of man's sins, not his own, that he bore. Isaiah said, “He bore our griefs and carried our sorrows --- When thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin --- He was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many.” I am also aware of the sacrifice of the scapegoat --- one taking the guilt of another. But I am not discussing, and I don't think the cry of Jesus had anything to do with, the sacrifice of the lamb of God that took away the sins of the world. Remember, as an Old Testament type, at the mercy seat where the sins of all Israel were presented, God said, “I will meet my people there.” There their sins were forgiven on the basis of the shedding of the blood of Christ. (Read Hebrews 9 & 10) Following that figure, we have the sacrificial offering of Christ on the cross, a propitiation for their sins and the sins of the whole world. Some say that there he forsook Christ, the sacrificial offering. Does someone believe that? He couldn't, he wouldn't, turn his back on that for which he had prepared the world. But that leaves only the person, Jesus, his son. No sin, no iniquity, no trespass. Those were to be taken away in the sacrifice so he couldn't turn his back on that promise. Did God actually turn away from his Son and leave him to die alone or is this cry the hyperbolic cry of humanity?
Some have said, “this is speculation on your part.” Perhaps. But I have the same right, with some scripture to back me up, as those do who describe this dark time in their own words and their own way without any scripture to back them up. Theirs is speculation, also.
One last concluding argument and, perhaps, the strongest point in my favor: (Matthew 26:56) “But all this was done, that the scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled. Then all the disciples forsook him, and fled.” There was only one left that he could depend upon: “And yet if I judge, my judgment is true: for I am not alone, but I and the Father that sent me” (John 8:16). “And he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone” (John 8:29). “That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee” (John 17:21). They were together in all that they did. Is it not reasonable to believe they were still together? I believe they were. “Behold, the hour cometh, yea, is now come, that ye shall be scattered, every man to his own, and shall leave me alone: and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me” (John 16:32). Yes, the hour had come and he was not alone. Many would rewrite that scripture to sound like this: “Behold, the hour cometh, yea, is now come, that ye shall be scattered, every man to his own, and shall leave me alone: and I will be totally alone, because the Father will forsake me also.”
I rest my case.
*Editor's Note: This article written for a local bulletin. Check it out and compare it with Leon Odom's "When Jesus Was Abandoned" in the October, 1982 TER.