Summary: This is a reflection on the forth word from the cross, which is a very difficult passage for exposition. These words give a deep expression of faith ("my God, my God"), universal cry for justice ("why") and, words of deep mystery ("have forsaken me").
And at the ninth hour, Jesus cried with a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?" which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Mark 15:34).
As Mark stated, about Jewish ninth hour or in our time three o'clock there was darkness over the whole land—out of darkness and despair comes a loud cry. An ear-splitting cry, a cry of anguish, which is not against God, it is a cry directed towards God. It is a plea of a suffer; it is a prayer out of anguish.
This piercing cry is one of the 'hard sayings in the Bible'—to expound these words is very hard indeed. All kinds of theological questions are raised but not answered, either in the text or in the NT writings. As happened in the Church history, if we are not careful, we can create a heterodoxy, a heresy out of these verses. These words expressed a reality that is outside of human experience.
Let us try to meditate on the fourth word from the cross: "Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?" which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
Firstly, these are words of deep expression of faith. Jesus is suffering, he is in excruciating pain. The word "excruciate" comes from Latin ex-crucial [to crucify], which means the intense pains of the crucifixion. When we are in pain often we lose faith—such times our faith fails. The double usage of "my God, my God. . ." express unshaken faith in the part of Christ: "my. . .God!" Jesus out of great anguish, looks at God and cries, as Haddon Spurgeon suggests, "even if you [God] have forsaken me, I have not forsaken you!"
Jesus' cry is a chanting of a Davidian Psalm—Psalm 22. This Psalm is not just a lament, but followed by a hymn of praise, with full of trust and dependence on God. Kidner referred it as the Psalm of the cross. When a Rabbi recite the first verse of a Psalm as a reference, he is referring to the entity of the Psalm. The entirety of the Psalm of the cross is full of confidence and trust! Just listen to few first and final verses of the Psalm:
Ps 22: 1-3 "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? 2 O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest. 3 Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel."
Ps 22: 24-28 "For he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and he has not hidden his face from him but has heard, when he cried to him. 25 From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will perform before those who fear him. 26 The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the LORD! May your hearts live forever! 27 All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you. 28 For kingship belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations."
In the depth of abandonment, Jesus holds on to the hope and trust in God.
This Psalm also a prophetic Psalm—when Jesus meditating on this Psalm, He referred to its entirety as a messianic Psalm. It has messianic connotations in 22: 6, 7-8, 12-13, 14, 15, 16, 17-18, which clearly gives the historic situation in and around the cross. It not only reference towards Messianic expectation but also directed towards the prophetic fulfillment on the crucifixion day.
Secondly, these words not only deep expression of faith but it is also a universal cry of humanity! When humanity experience suffering, sorrow, and pain, the very first word come to our lips is the interrogative adverb, "why?"
We ask these questions—"why Lord?" "why does this happening to me?" "why me?"
It is a natural cry of the suffering innocent!
Ps 37:25 "I have been young and now old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken."
Just imagine the pain Jesus is going through—unmatched, incomprehensible, unique at the will of God.
Hence it is a justice cry; it is a question comes out from a perplexed mind! "why?"
This cry comes out of mockery—Jesus was mocked at his claim to be the son of God.
Mark 15:32 " Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe." Those who were crucified with him also reviled him."
In his early part of the ministry, religious leaders of Israel asked for an extraordinary sign (Mk 8:11-12). At the trial, they inquire whether he is the Christ: "Again the high priest asked him, "Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?" (Mk 14:61). At the cross, they were taunting Him based on His claims! Times like these, "why" question is appropriate. With these words, Jesus Christ identifies Himself with us—our cries of why's in desperate situations; He shared our common experience and reality.