Is Al Hsu correct when he claims that Jesus was not forsaken on the cross–that this is a misinterpretation?
What do you think about the claim below about the cry from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” by the author Al Hsu below?
The Cry of Vindication
By Al Hsu
When the Jesus film is screened in cultures that have never heard of Jesus, viewers often love the movie. But the crucifixion comes as an utter shock. Many audiences jump up and cry out in protest. The crucifixion of Jesus has always been profoundly disturbing. For me, what’s most troubling is not the unjust trial, how the crowd turns against Jesus, or how his disciples abandon him. The most troubling part is one line. Mark 15:34: “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”) This line horrifies me. It calls into question the very nature of God. Is God the kind of God that turns his back on his Son?
Here’s the key biblical insight that changed how I read this passage. It’s a simple historical fact about how Israelites cited their Scriptures. The way they referenced a passage was to quote it, especially the first line. So when Jesus said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” he expected his hearers to catch the literary allusion to Psalm 22 and to think of the whole psalm: “[I am] scorned by everyone. . . . All who see me mock me . . . . All my bones are out of joint. . . . They divide my clothing among them and cast lots for my garment” (vv. 6, 7, 14, 18). Is Jesus saying “I have been forsaken by God”? No. He’s saying, “Today Psalm 22 is fulfilled in your hearing. I am the embodiment of this psalm.” Psalm 22 is not a psalm of forsakenness. It starts out that way, but it shifts to confidence in God’s deliverance: “For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help” (v. 24). Jesus is declaring: “Right now, you are witnessing Psalm 22. I seem forsaken right now, but my death is not the end of the story. God has not despised my suffering. I will be vindicated. The Lord has heard my cry. Because death is not the end. ‘Future generations will be told about the Lord. They will proclaim his righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn: He has done it!’ ” (vv. 30–31).
Al Hsu is senior editor for IVP books at InterVarsity Press.
We teach that God did forsake Jesus at this point because he took on the sins of the world. Do you think it’s possible Jesus was never separated from God? Or is that not what this author is even saying?
In my opinion, Al Hsu has this backward. Psalm 22 is a prophetic look forward to what will happen at a later time, not the other way around. Who is quoting whom? I say that the Psalmist is quoting Jesus, not that Jesus is quoting the psalmist. I get the point he is making, and it sounds logical, but I can tell from his little article that he is acting, not from a correct interpretation of the scripture, but from his own uncomfortableness with the scripture. In other words, he finds the fact that God would be rejected and crucified horrible to accept. He also finds it horrible to accept that God would forsake his Son Jesus. So, what does he do? He finds a way to soften the impact. I believe that this is an error and a mistake both.
It is an error in that Mr. Hsu is simply wrong. Psalm 22 is looking forward. Jesus is not looking backward.
It is a mistake, because it is at least in a small way minimizing the horror of Jesus death, and therefore the horror of sin.
Let me support my argument with the facts of the case. Psalm 22 describes the crucifixion (pierced hands and feet). Is this Jesus looking back at Psalms, or is this Psalm 22 telling us what will happen? Psalm 22 tells us that his clothes will be divided and gambled over. Is this Jesus looking back at Psalm 22 or is it Psalm 22 anticipating what will actually happen? Both of these questions are answered by common sense.
Therefore, I conclude that the statement, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” is, similarly, looking forward to something which will actually happen in the future.
Remember that the skies became dark, and that the Lord laid on Jesus the sins of us all (Psalm 53:6). Also, he was numbered with the transgressors and he bore the sin of many (Psalm 53:12). Is this horrible? Is it shocking? Yes, it is. On the cross, all of our sin fell on Jesus for a time and God forsook him at that point. This is not a mere metaphor. Jesus does not simple “seem” (to quote Mr. Hsu) forsaken. He is forsaken. Sin is horrible and the results of that sin are horrifying.
I do agree with Mr. Hsu that Jesus’ death was not the end of the story, and that his suffering would lead to his ultimate vindication and glorification. That is true, but the reason all this is true is because Jesus “humbled himself unto death” (Phil 2:8), was despised and rejected by us, and forsaken by his own father because of our sins. Only then was Jesus “exalted to the highest place.” (Phil 2:9).
So, I do not agree with this thesis.