I was recently reminded of a conversation I had with one of my cross country teammates during a run in high school. He said that he didn’t believe the Bible was inerrant and went on to describe what he perceived to be a contradiction in the Bible - God had said earlier in the Bible that “I will never leave you nor forsake you” and yet Jesus said on the cross, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”
Six or so years later, I now realize the painful irony of it all.
That reference “I will never leave you nor forsake you” comes from Deuteronomy 31:6 - Moses had led the Israelites out of Egypt, where they were slaves, but everyone was wandering around and complaining that they hadn’t gotten to the land that God had promised them and kinda wishing they would die. After a while, Moses gets too old to lead and tells the people that that they should listen to Joshua, their next leader, and that God will still bring them to the land He had promised. Then Moses says, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them [your enemies], for the Lord your God goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you.”
What was this? It was Moses speaking to the people of Israel that God wouldn’t leave them or forsake them - that He was going to lead and protect them and stay true to His promise and that ultimately, they were going to be His people and He was still going to be their God. I would think this would be of awesome encouragement to the Israelites.
And Jesus was an Israelite, so what about the next reference, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”
It wasn’t that God was breaking His promise and forsaking His people. It was exactly the opposite!
The thing was that someone had to bear the judgment for all of the sins and disobedience of the people - someone had to pay for it. (Tim Keller uses the example that if your friend smashes your lamp, either they pay to replace it or you pay by suffering the loss of the lamp.) That was why God Himself came as Jesus, subjected Himself to the limitations and temptations of our world, and lived a perfect life. What did He deserve? After living in complete accordance and obedience to God’s will and desires, healing tons of people, teaching people who could’t understand Him, and being crucified, He deserved an eternity of glory, of recognition, and of adoration.
What did Jesus receive?
He didn’t receive a fair trial. He was beaten and flogged and spit on. Crucifixion was the most humiliating and painful way to die that the Romans had conceived, and the officials ridiculed and mocked Him as He died. All of his followers had abandoned him - in fact, one of them had even handed him over to be killed.
But at the end of it, Jesus asks, “why have You forsaken Me?” It wasn’t the brutality of the abuse or the abandoning of His followers or any number of things that grieved Jesus - it was that He was forsaken by God. He paid the price for man’s sins and disobedience. He was judged as if He had done all of the wrong things we’ve done. He received what we deserved. And why? So that we could receive what He deserved.
The great irony of my friend’s claim is that the second doesn’t contradict the first - Jesus being forsaken doesn’t contradict Moses saying God wouldn’t forsake His people. The second actually reinforces the first. Jesus being forsaken was the only way for God not to forsake His people.