"'My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? Why are You so far from my deliverance and from my words of groaning? My God, I cry by day, but You do not answer, by night, yet I have no rest. But You are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. Our fathers trusted in You; they trusted, and You rescued them. They cried to You and were set free; they trusted in You and were not disgraced. But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by men and despised by people. Everyone who sees me mocks me; they sneer and shake their heads: “He relies on the Lord ; let Him rescue him; let the Lord deliver him, since He takes pleasure in him.” You took me from the womb, making me secure while at my mother’s breast. I was given over to You at birth; You have been my God from my mother’s womb. Do not be far from me, because distress is near and there is no one to help. Many bulls surround me; strong ones of Bashan encircle me. They open their mouths against me — lions, mauling and roaring. I am poured out like water, and all my bones are disjointed; my heart is like wax, melting within me. My strength is dried up like baked clay; my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth. You put me into the dust of death. For dogs have surrounded me; a gang of evildoers has closed in on me; they pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones; people look and stare at me. They divided my garments among themselves, and they cast lots for my clothing. But You, Lord , don’t be far away. My strength, come quickly to help me. Deliver my life from the sword, my only life from the power of these dogs. Save me from the mouth of the lion! You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen. I will proclaim Your name to my brothers; I will praise You in the congregation. You who fear Yahweh, praise Him! All you descendants of Jacob, honor Him! All you descendants of Israel, revere Him! For He has not despised or detested the torment of the afflicted. He did not hide His face from him but listened when he cried to Him for help. I will give praise in the great congregation because of You; I will fulfill my vows before those who fear You. The humble will eat and be satisfied; those who seek the Lord will praise Him. May your hearts live forever! All who prosper on earth will eat and bow down; all those who go down to the dust will kneel before Him — even the one who cannot preserve his life. for kingship belongs to the Lord ; He rules over the nations. All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord . All the families of the nations will bow down before You, Their descendants will serve Him; the next generation will be told about the Lord. They will come and tell a people yet to be born about His righteousness — what He has done. '" - Psalms 22:1-31
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.