The rich meaning of Jesus' cry of dereliction
In Wounds that Heal, Bringing Our Hurts to the Cross, Stephen Seamands (Professor at Asbury Theological Seminary) writes that disappointment with God is common to believers who, having experienced trauma, were left wondering, "Where was God?" "Why did God let this terrible thing happen to me?"
|Crucifixion by Emil Nolde (1912) |
In helping us understand and deal with these difficult, challenging questions, and the resultant feelings of disappointment with God, Seamands reminds us that
Jesus himself felt disappointment, even abandoned by God. After being suspended [on the cross] for six hours, he finally voiced his disappointment.... He cried out "with a loud voice, 'Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?' (Mark 15:34). In Aramaic... Jesus was reciting a familiar verse, Psalm 22:1: "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" In his bitter cry of dereliction, he made those words his own. (p. 65)
It often (and rightly) is noted that in quoting part of Psalm 22, Jesus was referencing the whole psalm in which the psalmist eventually concludes that despite the current crisis, God had not abandoned him, not forsaken him. However, we should not overlook the very real trauma that Jesus experienced on the cross, and thus his all-too-real, human experience of a sense of being abandoned by God and the resulting feelings of disappointment with God.
As Seamands reminds us, Jesus' thoughts and feelings, his desperate, painful cries of "Why, God?" must be understood from the perspective of Jesus' vicarious humanity. What Jesus suffered, he suffered on our behalf. This helps us understand our own cries of disappointment with God and then find in Jesus resolution of those feelings.
Seamands reminds us that in his cry of dereliction, Jesus not only was voicing his own feelings--as our representative, he was giving "expression to all of humanity's--all of creation's (Romans 8:22)--groaning cries of disappointment with God. On the cross our cries are both anticipated and caught up in his" (p. 65). Seamands continues:
If Jesus openly and loudly cried, "My God, my God, why?" shouldn't that give us permission to cry out? Pierre Wolff [in May I Hate God? p. 35] says, "If Jesus in all his perfection had the audacity to ask the Father, 'Why?' we can express to God all our whys, since the why of the Son of Man embraced ours. None of our whys can be excluded from his, because all or our whys are healed through his." (pp. 65-66)
Wolff goes on to note that because Jesus cried out not only as the Son of Man but also as the Son of God, we can conclude that Jesus' why was also God's why over the sin and suffering of creation. Seamands comments (quoting Wolff, p. 36):
There may be times, through the groaning of the Spirit in us (Romans 8:26-28), when our whys are actually God's too. In such cases "our revolt expresses the Father's own revolt rather than human rebellion against him. We think we are accusing him, while in reality he is sorrowfully questioning the world through us!" (p. 66)
Summing up, Seamands encourages us to understand that in exclaiming from the cross,
"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Jesus was giving expression not only to his own sorrow and disappointment, and ours, but also to God's. His cry of dereliction is therefore an invitation to boldly voice our disappointments with God At the foot of the cross our mournful cries of lament are welcome. (p. 66)
1. For a "You're Included" interview with Stephen Seamands about this book, go to https://youtu.be/BSAjaoJEutA. For a transcript of this and other interviews with Steve, go to https://www.gci.org/files/Seamands%20interviews%20160818.pdf.
2. While I find much about Seamands' book to commend (including what I've highlighted in this post, I have significant reservations concerning his teaching that demon influence ("demonization") is a possibility for believers, then offers a process for confronting the offending demons. I counsel great caution and reserve with respect to this issue. If a believer is troubled with what our forefathers called "besetting sin," one need only to go to Christ in whom we already are victorious, and in prayer with and confession, receive the forgiveness already granted and the power of the Spirit to walk in that forgiveness. Counseling may be helpful in assisting the believer in pathway, but I don't suggest going looking for demonic influence.
3. For another series of posts on the topic of Jesus' Cry of Dereliction, go to http://thesurprisinggodblog.gci.org/2012/04/my-god-my-god-why-have-your-forsaken-me.html.