Tuesday, April 10, 2012

was Jesus forsaken by God?

Ever heard this teaching/sermon?

  • ‎"God cant look at you because you're sinful. He can only look at Jesus, or look at you through Jesus."
  • "On the cross, Jesus was temporarily but literally forsaken/abandoned by God the Father, because he was carrying the weight of our guilt and sin, and God is too holy to be look at sin"

Me, too.

That will preach!

Too bad it's not in the Book.

Excellent new article in Christianity Today below.,  The illustration about the president (that I have put in bold)  is hugely helpful. 

Christians usually respond that God had to turn his back on Jesus because Jesus took on the sin of the whole world, and God can't look upon sin, so he turned away. We hear this in sermons and worship songs. "The Father turns his face away." "God can't stand sin, so he turned his back on Jesus."

On one level this provides a tidy theological answer. But at a more visceral, emotional level, it's still unsatisfying. In our own families, when a child has erred, we might get mad at them. But would we forsake them? Abandon them? Kill them? There was a case last year of parents with a very strict form of discipline. They thought their daughter was "rebellious," so they starved her and beat her. They locked their daughter out of the house in the middle of winter. She froze to death. We call that child abuse.

Is that what God did to Jesus? Left him on the cross to die?

This also raises the theological problem of the broken Trinity. Christians are Trinitarian; we believe that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, eternally united in purpose and divine love. But does the Father break fellowship with the Son on the cross? Are they pitted against each other?

Cross-Cultural Perspectives

We in the West live in a predominantly guilt-based culture; we tend to think in terms of guilt and punishment. When someone is guilty, they must be punished. So if Jesus took on our guilt and sin, the punishment is death. God's justice must be satisfied, so Jesus must be executed. It's disturbing, but that's how we understand the story.

But much of the world, including the ancient biblical world, thinks less in terms of guilt and more in terms of shame and honor. A few years ago I read the book The Bookseller of Kabul, about life in Afghanistan. And some of the most disturbing parts were the descriptions of honor killings. A woman somehow brings shame to a family, and she is killed to take away the shame and to restore honor. It doesn't matter if she committed adultery or was raped. It doesn't matter if she was the perpetrator or the victim. If she has been made impure, the impurity must be removed to restore family honor. And in many cases, a father will kill his daughter. Or a woman's brothers will kill her. It will be described as an accident, but everybody knows what happened.

So modern objections to Christianity say that this is the essence of Christian teaching on the Cross. God's son has been made impure, tainted by the sin of the world. So God restores his honor by killing his son. This puts us Christians in a bind. If we defend this theology of the Cross, then it seems like our Christianity does the same thing as honor killings in Afghanistan. And we lose our basis for saying that those honor killings are wrong, because our God does the same thing. Does he?...
...I find it interesting that Matthew and Mark tell us that some of the hearers misheard Jesus.  That opens up the possibility that the same has been true for others, and for us. Have we misunderstood this cry from the cross? The crucifixion narratives do not explicitly tell us what Jesus' cry meant. Both Matthew and Mark record the cry, but neither unpacks the meaning. They just let it stand. Neither actually says that God turned his face away, turned his back on Jesus, or abandoned him. That's an assumption that we bring to the text. It doesn't come from the passage itself

.Here's the key biblical insight that changed everything for me in how I read this passage. It's a simple historical fact about how Israelites cited their Scriptures. They didn't identify passages by chapter numbers or verse numbers. Verse numbers weren't invented yet. Their Scriptures did not have little numbers in the text. So how they referenced a passage was to quote it, especially the first line. So the book of Genesis, in Hebrew, is not called Genesis. It's called, "In the beginning." Exodus is "Names." We similarly evoke a larger body of work with just a line of allusion: "A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away." or "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."
That's why Jesus often says, "It is written" or "You have heard it said." He doesn't say, "Deuteronomy 8:3 says this." No, he says, "It is written, 'Man does not live by bread alone.' " That's just the way they did it.

So when Jesus says, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" he's saying, "Psalm 22." He expected his hearers to catch the literary allusion. And his hearers should have thought of the whole thing, not just the first verse:  "I am … scorned by everyone, despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads. … I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax. … My mouth is dried up … my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death. … All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment."

Is Jesus saying "I have been forsaken by God"? No. He's declaring, "Psalm 22! Pay attention! This psalm, this messianic psalm, applies to me! Do you see it? Do you see the uncanny way that my death is fulfilling this psalm?"
Jesus has done this before. At the beginning of his ministry, in Luke 4, he read the scroll of Isaiah in the synagogue, saying, "The spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." Then to make things completely clear, he said, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."
That's what Jesus is saying on the cross. When he says, "My God, my God," he's saying, "Psalm 22. Today Psalm 22 is fulfilled in your hearing. I am the embodiment of this psalm. I am its fulfillment."\

A Psalm of Lament and Vindication

Psalm 22 is one of many psalms that fit a particular lyrical pattern. We call them the psalms of lament. They usually begin with a complaint to God, rehearsing the wrongs and injustices that have been experienced by the psalmist. Psalm 5: "Listen to my words, Lord. Consider my lament." Psalm 10: "Why, Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?" Psalm 13:  "How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?" Psalm 74: "O God, why have you rejected us forever?"

This is a common pattern in the Psalms. This opening lament usually goes on for a stanza or two. But then the psalm pivots. The psalmist remembers the works of God, and the psalm concludes on a note of hope. Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann says that these psalms were Israel's way of ordering their grief and making sense of their sorrow. Today, we'd call it "processing." They would recount their troubles, but by the end of the psalm, they declared their confidence in God.
That's what's happening in Psalm 22. It starts out with the psalmist feeling forsaken and abandoned. "Why have you forsaken me? … I cry out by day, but you do not answer." But he's not literally forsaken, any more than the other psalms mean that God was literally forgetting the psalmist forever. It's expressing how the psalmist felt at the time.

But that's not the end of the story. Like the other psalms of lament, there's a pivot point. Several, in fact. Verse 9: "Yet you brought me out of the womb … from my mother's womb you have been my God." Verse 19: "But you, Lord, do not be far from me. You are my strength; come quickly to help me." The psalm is not a psalm of forsakenness. It starts out that way, but it shifts to confidence in God's deliverance. Verse 22: "I will declare your name to my people; in the assembly I will praise you." And here's the key verse, verse 24: "For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help."

Here is a direct refutation of the notion that the Father turned his face away from the Son. But the refutation is not as important as the pivot. Jesus is declaring: Right now, you are witnessing Psalm 22. I seem forsaken right now, but my death is not the end of the story. God has not despised my suffering. I will be vindicated. The Lord has heard my cry. Because death is not the end. Verse 30–31: "Future generations will be told about the Lord. They will proclaim his righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn: He has done it!"

Jesus is not saying that God has forsaken him. He's declaring the opposite. He's saying that God is with him, even in this time of seeming abandonment, and that God will vindicate him by raising him from the dead.
The closest modern analogy I can come up with might be something like this. Imagine that later on this election year, this summer, the President is on the campaign trail. And despite his security, an assassin gets in and shoots him. As the President falls to the ground, he says, "I still have a dream." And then he dies.
Now imagine everybody saying, "Hmmm, his last words were 'I still have a dream.' I wonder what that means. What was his dream? Was he napping on the campaign bus? What was it about?" No, we'd all recognize that he was making an allusion to Martin Luther King Jr.'s speech. He'd be saying that this dream is still alive, that it did not stop with MLK's death, and it would not stop with his.
It's the same way with "My God, my God" on the cross. It's a biblical allusion, and the point of Psalm 22 is not about being forsaken. After all, David wrote Psalm 22. Was David saying that God had forsaken him forever? No. The literary genre of the psalm of lament shows that David was saying that he felt like God had forsaken him
. That the odds were against him. That things looked really bad right then. But that was not the end of the story. David still had confidence that God would hear his cry. God did not abandon David. And God did not abandon Jesus. The clearest evidence of that, besides the rest of Psalm 22, is Jesus' final words on the cross, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." The Father had not forsaken him. God was still his Father. Jesus was still his Son  -Link, full article

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