“Why have You forsaken me?”–Not a Question but a Quotation

crucifixionThe following is excerpted from my book, Ordinary Prayer, from the chapter on Submission and Providence.

“…we must always allow providence to have the final word on suffering. This, after all, is the pattern that our Lord Jesus sets for us. From the cross Jesus cries out “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” His words are not a cry of abandonment; rather, in quoting the 22nd Psalm Christ draws our attention to the work of God being accomplished in Christ at that moment. This is not abandonment. This is not despair. This is God’s triumph through suffering; through this—this appalling, desperate, apex of human wickedness—God is bringing about His ultimate plan of grace spread wide to all the nations of the earth. We cannot hear Psalm 22:1 apart from Psalm 22:22-31—that praise and thanksgiving shroud the death of Christ, that the declaration of God’s faithfulness and goodness are nailed there with Jesus, that the promise of God’s mission to the world is presented in the form of God broken upon, for the sake of, that world. “For he,” the psalmist cries, speaking of God, “has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help” (22:24). The psalmist continues:

All the ends of the earth
will remember and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
will bow down before him,
for dominion belongs to the Lord,
and he rules over all the nations.

All the rich of the earth will feast and worship;
all who go down to the dust will kneel before him—
those who cannot keep themselves alive.
Posterity will serve him;
future generations will be told about the Lord.
They will proclaim his righteousness
to a people yet unborn—
for he has done it (22:27-31 NIV).

That is the meaning of Psalm 22, the meaning that Jesus attaches to his agony, and the meaning of the cross as well. Christ, in his moment of greatest apparent despair, himself drew a scriptural circle around his suffering, framing the cross in the providential plan of God as revealed in the scriptures. Providence had the final word on Christ’s suffering, on Christ’s mission, and on Christ’s life itself; may it be so with us as well.”


On this, the day of Good Friday, let us remember that Christ’s cry from the cross was not a rhetorical question but a quotation. It was not a statement that had no answer–Christ merely shouting in despair at the mystery of heaven–but a question with a real and available answer. The words, “Why have You forsaken me?” are answered by Psalm 22.The Answer, “You are on this cross to bring the world to Me.” Dear Reader, may you remember, and embrace, the providential work of Christ on your behalf this Easter season!

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