The Catholic Faith Video Series: Your Tough Questions Answered [Video #3]

Question: One of the things that I find difficult to understand and somewhat disturbing, is one of the last words that Christ spoke on the cross – “My God my God why have you forsaken me?”   This sounds like despair. I understood to despair is to sin. If Christ who was without sin felt forsaken by God, how are we to feel?  Please help me to understand this.
Please watch video below for answer:
If you prefer to read, below is Deacon Robin’s Answer:

This is a great question and I’m sure a popular one especially when we hear the narrative of Jesus’ passion on the cross. But what was going on here? Was Jesus despairing in his final moments? Did Jesus feel abandoned by God? Did Jesus feel like God turned his back on him and forgot him?

Well I don’t think that’s the case here and to understand this, we need to look at the Jewish context of Jesus’ words. Think about this for a second, if you said a particular phrase such as “Our Father, who art in heaven…” or Hail Mary, full of grace..” chances are that most people who are also Catholic would be able to finish the rest of the prayer because we all have this prayer memorized.

The same would’ve been true in Jesus’ time of many of the Psalms because those were very popular prayers then. And from the cross, Jesus prays Psalm 22 and most faithful Jews of that time would be able to finish that prayer which begins with, “ My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” [1]

So Psalm 22. What is this Psalm about? Well I encourage you read it, it will only take you 5 minutes but there’s a lot here that is quite fascinating and will help us to understand what Jesus was doing.

This is a particular prayer in time of suffering and asking God for rescue from this time and trusting that God will come through.  If we dig into the psalm, I would say that there are three movements or emotions expressed in this Psalm. Like they’re not parts that follow chronologically but are more like emotions expressed.

The 1st is the fact that this Psalm acknowledges pain and suffering and the feeling of being abandoned by God and even being detested by society. And we see that right in the beginning with the words, “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?” The author of this Psalm is King David and he is expressing his desolation and the feeling being abandoned by God in his suffering.

But here’s what’s fascinating. Go to the 16th verse of this Psalm it reads:

16 Yea, dogs are round about me;
a company of evildoers encircle me;

they have pierced[a] my hands and feet
17 I can count all my bones—
they stare and gloat over me;
18 they divide my garments among them,
and for my raiment they cast lots

What’s interesting is that King David never had his hands and feet pierced but Jesus did. They never cast lots for David’s clothes, but they did for Jesus’. Clearly, King David was suffering when he composed this psalm but what David expresses metaphorically in his prayer, Jesus experiences literally when he’s crucified on the cross. [2] And what’s remarkable is that King David wrote this psalm a thousand years before Jesus was born but Jesus fulfills it when he prays it.

Then there is the 2nd movement which acknowledges God and expresses faith that God is near and present in suffering right through the pain and anguish. We read it in verse 24

24 For he has not despised or abhorred
the affliction of the afflicted;
and he has not hid his face from him,
but has heard, when he cried to him.

Jesus lives this. Jesus cries out to God and knows that God hears his cry.

And the 3rd movements comes from the 2nd movement which expresses hope. That even in suffering, with the presence of God, we can still hope that our suffering will eventually give way to joy again. The Psalm ends with the conversion of the all the nations, and of all people and families. And once again this psalm is fulfilled when the centurion is converted beginning the conversion that then spreads through the whole world but even more so, Jesus’ suffering gives way to the Resurrection.

So in this Psalm, Jesus isn’t despairing because despair is the complete abandonment all hope.[3] But Jesus, in his humanity feels fear, confusion, abandonment,  anxiety and extreme suffering and when Jesus cries to God, He does so not only on behalf of himself but on behalf of all humanity that knows suffering and pain and trauma. Jesus is crying out on behalf of all those who feel like God has abandoned them in their suffering, in their sin, and in their darkness.[4]

But through the pain, Jesus knows His Father’s presence in his suffering and this knowledge, is the foundation for hope.[5] Jesus doesn’t deny the reality of pain.

So if you’ve ever felt abandoned by God. If you’ve ever felt forsaken by God; remember that Jesus knows what that’s like. He experiences that in his human nature on the cross, but he also cries out to God with Psalm 22, which is the Psalm that tells us God doesn’t abandon his people and that he will answer your prayer and rescue you.

Thank you for listening in to this Question and Answer series.  If you have follow up questions to this answer or have other questions send them in to us.

__________________

[1] Brant Pitre, “Why have you Forsaken Me”, Catholic Productions (blog), August 7, 2020, https://catholicproductions.com/blogs/blog/why-have-you-forsaken-me.

[2] Pitre, “Why have you Forsaken Me.”

[3] Delany, Joseph. “Despair.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 4. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. 5 Feb. 2021, http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04755a.htm.

[4] Pitre, “Why have you Forsaken Me.”

[5] Pitre, “Why have you Forsaken Me.”

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