And at the ninth hour1, Jesus shouted in a loud voice, “Eloi, eloi lama sabachthani.” Which means: “My God, My God why have You forsaken me.”
-Matthew 27:46, Jesus the Christ on the cross
This is perhaps the most perplexing of all the passages in the Bible. Mostly because it was spoken by the Savior Himself. Odd words for a man purported to be the true and living Son of God and God in the flesh. Talk about mysterious.
But if you look at the context of these words, it becomes a little clearer why they were spoken. In fact, this is a direct quote from the Old Testament in Psalm 22:1-2:
My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me? Why are You so far from helping Me, and from the words of My groaning? O My God, I cry in the daytime, but You do not hear; And in the night season, and am not silent.
From the author, we get a sense of his (or her) devotion to God and the situation she (or he) is in. It’s dire and they feel as though God has abandoned them in their time of need.
Ultimately, the author finishes the psalm after much lamenting about their current state of affairs and how so many have surrounded themselves in opposition to them with:
But be not thou far from me, O Lord: O my strength, haste thee to help me. Deliver my soul from the sword; my darling from the power of the dog. Save me from the lion’s mouth: for Thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns. I will declare Thy name unto my brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise Thee. Ye that fear the Lord, praise Him; all ye the seed of Jacob, glorify Him; and fear Him, all ye the seed of Israel. For He hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither hath He hid his face from him; but when he cried unto Him, He heard.
In this, the author reaffirms his belief in God’s ability to carry out His will, though his faith may seemed to have been in question previously. Even that is evidently not the truth from his first lines: “My God, My God why have You forsaken me?” As anyone can plainly see, s/he is in fact, speaking directly to God which in and of itself makes clear that the author still believes in God’s existence.
And when we apply this to Christ on the cross, we catch a glimpse of what Jesus was conveying as he hung from the device that slowly killed him.
In fact, Jesus never questioned the existence of God. To the contrary, he affirmed his faith in His Father while questioning His methods of bringing Christ to salvation and consequently, the rest of mankind. It was a fleeting moment and a recitation of a verse which Jesus knew all too well from His own studies of scripture as well as His own experience.
Think about it: Christ was sent as a messenger of God as Son of Man and of God, in the flesh to tell of God’s ever-redeeming love, grace and mercy. He was criticized and ostracized by the very people he sought to save, took into his arms the ones nobody else thought deserved salvation because of their professions or previous deeds, was betrayed by one of those very disciples, beaten and sentenced to execution by crucifixion in lieu of a known murderer who was freed in His stead, and left to die on a cross like all the common criminals of that time. And after hours and hours of being nailed to that cross, had all but given up hope that the God He believed in was so merciful.
This is a place, whether religious or not, that I’m sure 99% of all human beings can identify with. And yes, our situation is likely not as dire as Christ’s on the cross in His last hours. Very seldom is anybody’s. Even still, there are those out there who have been in Christ’s shoes (not literally but in a figurative sense) in which their death of the flesh was imminent and unavoidable.
And so, we can all, not matter how small our issues may be, relate to this very passage of Christ as a human being. He was, after all, God but still born in the flesh as a human being exactly like us. No different in the flesh.
And yet, Christ, in some of His final words says:
Father, into Your hands I commend My spirit.
And His final words echo that of the final passage of Psalm 22(verse 312):
It is finished.
You see, Christ never doubted God’s existence, much like the author of Psalm 22. And while questioning His methods isn’t exactly practiced or encouraged within the Christian community, it’s through questioning that we gain a greater understanding of ourselves and of God3.
More importantly for us as human beings, it’s essntial to understand that God understands our pain and our suffering. And through it all, we are redeemed. He has never left us. He never will. Although we wish He would take a more active role in our lives and give us everything we wish and pray for, He also knows when grace and mercy are more appropriate. He was made to suffer greatly for our sins despite our deserving the appropriate punishment that comes along with sinning.
And through Christ’s words “Eloi, eloi lama sabachthani” we see the understanding God has for us and our suffering. Christ shared His humanity with the author of Psalm 22. God shared our humanity through Christ. We share our humanity with God through Jesus.
The lesson I have come to learn from this is that we can see Christ as more than an unfeeling God. It’s through our common humanity that we can discover a lot about our connection to others, to God and to ourselves. We discover the Christ and God in us and the us in God and Christ. We are revealed to be inextricably bound (in the immortal words of Martin Luther King, Jr.) to our fellow man. And through Christ’s pain and suffering as both a human being and as God, we are also inextricably bound to God as He is to us.
“Eloi, eloi lama sabachthani” was the ultimate act of compassion4, the ultimate observance of humanity and in one sentence, personified the ultimate grace, mercy and understanding of God.
The greatest compliment anyone can give me is not to call me a “Christian” but to tell me, “I see the Christ in you.”
1. The three o’clock hour is generally accepted to mean 3:00 in the afternoon. This is also generally marked as the hour of mercy.
2. Psalm 22:31 – They shall come, and shall declare his righteousness unto a people that shall be born, that He hath done this.
3. John 8:32 – You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free. (spoken by Jesus)
4. John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that whosoever shall believe in Him shall have life everlasting.”