Did Jesus Doubt God While Suffering on the Cross?
Eric Snow, sermonette, 12-29-07, UCG—Ann Arbor, MI
Some here like me, we’re back from Winter Family Weekend in Louisville. Not just about sports nowadays: Many seminars available, on the Sabbath before services, like Larry Salyer’s brilliant presentation on marriage as a God-plane relationship. Mr. Rhodes’ & Mr. McNeely’s World News and Prophecy seminars held on Sunday. ABC sampler seminars held by Dave Johnson on the Letter to the Ephesians, Ralph Levy’s on the Proverbs, and Clyde Kilough’s on the last words of Jesus. Mr. Kilough’s powerful presentation helped inspire my choice of a message today: When Jesus suffered on the cross, did He doubt the Father’s love for Him? Just how did He feel forsaken or abandoned? For Jesus’ heart-rendering cry shouldn’t trouble our faith in Him as our victorious Savior.
S.P.S. When Jesus said that the Father had forsaken Him, it was a cry of distress and agony, not distrust or doubt.
This indeed is a difficult Scripture: While on the cross, did Jesus ever doubt the Father’s love for Him? If Jesus’ doubted God’s love, so should we when we’re far less righteous than He was?
More than one explanation.
Notice that Jesus was citing David’s opening cry in this Psalm. David’s life was a type or foreshadowing of Jesus’ life. Much like a sacrificed lamb in the Temple represented Jesus’ sacrifice in advance. Therefore, by citing this statement, Jesus was fulfilling prophecy. However, we shouldn’t think all that David did, said, or felt was what Jesus did, said, or felt. David’s doubt shouldn’t be read into Jesus’ own experiences, just as a real sheep’s death hardly captures all physical realities surrounding Jesus’ death. sheep not crucified
Notice Ps. 22:8 was quoted mockingly against Jesus in Matt. 27:43. The Jewish leadership had to have known Ps. 22 was a Messianic prophecy, so they quoted it against Jesus while He was on the cross. After all, they had expected the Messiah to be a Conqueror who would deliver them from Roman occupation, not a Mournful Messiah who came to redeem them from their sins. Deeply ironically, they fulfilled prophecy also, by insulting Jesus when using these words!
Let’s examine this word “forsaken” more closely. We don’t commonly use this word. It’s translated from the Greek word “enkataleipo,” which means (Vine’s) “to forsake, abandon, leave in straits, or helpless.” In English, the word “forsake” has two basic definitions (“Merriam-Webster”): “To renounce (as something once cherished) without intent to recover or resume . . . to quit or leave entirely: withdraw from.” 2nd most applicable here: Father’s withdrawal not permanent.
One way to explain Jesus’ experience was that He had to experience what we do spiritually as well: The feeling or sense during a trial or test that we are cut off from God, that we are separated from God, that God won’t intervene to save us from a problem. That is, that He was “left helpless” or felt “deserted.” It wasn’t a question of Christ’s loyalty to or faith in God wavered, but His feeling of anguish and agony as the Father withdrew from Him, left Him. He wasn’t going to do a miracle to benefit Himself. He refused to save Himself from the terrible pain He was suffering from. So when we go through terrible trials, we shouldn’t think God doesn’t know what it is like from His own personal experience.
There’s also another way to look at Jesus’ mournful cry, however. As part of the process of the atonement, all of mankind’s sins had to be transferred onto Jesus personally. But the Father can’t be in the presence of sin, but He has to separate Himself from it. So for at least a brief moment, while the world’s sins were loaded onto Jesus, the Father turned His back on His Son while He bore them as our sacrifice for sin. As John Ross Shroeder wrote (Good News, Jan.-Feb. 2008, p. 29): “Because of what Jesus Christ represented for those few brief moments—the sins of mankind—our Heavenly Father had to justify judge this sin, giving Jesus over to its awful penalty, death.” The actual experience of being separated from the Father was very painful to Jesus, despite He had known about it long in advance.
Shows Jesus didn’t doubt the Father’s love, so then we shouldn’t either.
Conclusion: Jesus never lost faith in the Father even suffering such deep physical and psychological pain while on the cross. His mournful cry about God’s forsaking Him was driven by distress, not doubt or distrust. So during our own tests and trials in this life, we shouldn’t doubt God either.