Will God abandon me in my pain? | A Big Easter Question

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A big Easter question, will God abandon me in my pain?

The book turned movie The Shack has raised this  Easter question again in many Christian circles: “Why did God look away when Christ died on the cross? And does this mean that God will abandon me in my pain too?”

While the artsy answer in the movie has many crying heresy, this scriptural analysis of where we get that piece of theology may help bring clarity to this question.

The Easter Narrative

The Easter story is one that Christians and non-Christians alike know well. Christ was crucified on a cross and rose again three days later. While we know the story well, we often miss what is actually in scripture and what is common doctrine. In our songs and liturgy, our story times, and common theology we have taught that at the moment of Christ’s death God turned His face away. That all of heaven looked away. We build theology and explanations around why a loving God would abandon His Son and look away. But what if none of these contrived explanations were necessary? What if God doesn’t need us to defend His actions?

(I love the song below despite the “all of heaven looked away” lyric)

The Gospel Accounts

None of the gospel accounts of Christ’s death have a verse that says God turned His back or that heaven looked away. What is in the gospel accounts is Christ calling out, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34).  The Roman’s hearing Him mocked saying He was crying for Elijah to save Him. The modern audience reading His words build theologies around why God would forsake Him.

But what if the correct response is to recall the passage of Psalms He was referencing? Throughout scripture it is common for Jesus to reference back to an old testament passage by saying “it is written” or “you have heard it said”. He does it directly with Isaiah 61 in the temple, declaring Himself as a fulfillment of that prophesy. And He does it on the cross, referencing Psalm 22 and declaring Himself a fulfillment of that prophecy and in Psalm 22:24 declaring that God has NOT forsaken Him, and by extension God has not forsaken us.

We look to Psalm 22 as prophecies of Christ’s death that He fulfilled, “…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” (verses 16-18). What if this Psalm actually has even more to tell us about the crucifixion?

Psalm 22

What would this shift in understanding do for your view of who God is this Easter? Read Psalm 22 while keeping the crucifixion in mind.

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 the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord. All the families of the nations will bow down before You, for kingship belongs to the Lord; He rules over the nations.

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. 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.” (HCSB)

Psalm 22 begins with “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” but it ends with praise and the declaration in verse 24 that, “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.

He’s Never Looked Away

When the Easter songs play this Sunday with lyrics like “the Father turned His face away” remember that the Father has never turned His face away. Not from Christ and not from you. Even on the cross bearing the sins of the world, the Father did not look away from Christ. Even when we sit in our shame and guilt of sin the Father does not look away from us. He’s there, weeping, hearing our cries, and offering salvation and resurrection.

God is always better than we think He is. The Easter narrative is not just that Christ died and rose again, making a way for us to salvation and relationship with God. But that even in our sin, God does not abandon us. Even in our suffering He does not look away.

Additional Resources:
An excellent sermon on this topic
Further reading on this topic

Scripture quotations marked HCSB are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Holman CSB®, and HCSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.

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