Jesus made seven statements while hanging on the cross. We marvel as He says, “Father forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing,” and we are overwhelmed with His final words, “it is finished.” Yet for me, the most difficult and painful words spoken are when He says, “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” Several translations translate it as, my God, my God, why have you abandoned me. Of all the recorded words of Jesus, I see no words more painful than these. Forsaken. Abandoned. Both have a common definition, deserted and helpless. In Jesus’ final moments on this earth, as he surveyed the heaven and earth, he felt one of life’s most challenging feelings, abandonment. A week earlier He had paraded into Jerusalem to the cheers of thousands, disciples had committed to loyalty, but as he hangs on a tree, disciples have deserted, the cheers have turned to jeers, and His earthly body is reeling in pain. He is alone. Alone on a cross. Alone with the pain. Alone.
There is nothing quite like feeling abandoned, deserted, and helpless. Imagine the emotions of Joseph, as he is sold by his brothers to gypsies. The unbelief, the hurt. Pain in the heart is like no other. There is absolutely no hurt like being abandoned by family. Incredibly, he not only survives, but thrives. No bitterness. No anger. No self-pity. His life is a roller coaster of betrayal, but through it all, he keeps his spirit right and rises to power before men and God. In the end, his spirit shines bright as he is reunited with his brothers who had abandoned him. When many would get even, Joseph gave grace, saying, “what you meant for harm, God has meant for good.”
The Bible makes it clear that not every time we are forsaken will it turn out well. John the Baptist, related to Jesus, and his forerunner, finds himself in prison, days away from his head being severed and served to Herod’s wife. As he is waiting, he sends word to Jesus and asks, “are You the Coming One, or are we to look for someone else?” Does anyone else besides me sense that John is feeling doubt, feeling abandoned? Hey Jesus, we grew up together. I announced your arrival. I baptized you. Now, I’m in jail, my sentence has been pronounced, are you not going to help? The last words John hears from Jesus are “tell him what you have heard and seen – the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them” (Matthew 11:4-5 ESV). John, you’re on your own, miracles are happening and I’m telling everyone how amazing you are but there will be no deliverance. The story screams of the crushing reality that there are those who will see their life play out in disappointment and the feeling that God has abandoned you. Up for more?
May I remind you of Paul, the great apostle. The writer of thirteen books, fourteen if you are inclined to believe he wrote Hebrews. He is a three-time traveler of missionary journeys. The superstar of the New Testament, but do you get the sense there have been moments when he questioned, where are you God, or this is my reward for preaching the gospel? In 2 Corinthians 11, the Corinthian church gets a litany of all Paul has gone through for the sake of the gospel. For five verses he lays out his feelings of being abandoned and betrayed by men and God. His list includes imprisonments, countless beatings, five times taking 39 lashes, beatings by rods, stoning’s, three shipwrecks, eight times in incredible danger, hunger, thirst, starvation, and nearly freezing to death. Beyond this, Paul will spend five years in jail. In 2 Timothy 4 we get a taste of what prison life has been like. Writing to Timothy, he makes him aware that, not only has he been alone in prison, but those who were brothers, so called friends, had abandoned him also. You can hear the pain as he tells Timothy, Demas deserted me, Alexander has done me much harm, and that no one came to stand with him at his trial, I was alone. How does it end? Not the way we would want. No riding off into the sunset as a hero or spending his final years in Cabo on a beach. While no definitive history is written, it is likely, that since he was a Roman citizen, he did not die by crucifix, but was beheaded.
The lives of Joseph, John the Baptist, and Paul, along with many others, are filled with difficulty, hurt, and betrayal. Their lives make us aware that even when we are serving God, disappointment comes, and life can feel seemingly unfair. There will be hurt, brokenness may run deep, and it’s entirely possible to feel as though God has forsaken you. While this may not leave you encouraged, know that if you are struggling and questioning where God is, you are not alone. Feelings of abandonment, betrayal, and feeling alone are often a part of a follower of Christ lives. In fact, it is wholly possible that if you are dealing with any of these feelings, you are not out of the will of God, but right in the middle of His will and purpose.
The writer of Hebrews gives us this to lean in to, that even when we feel abandoned and alone, “that He himself said, I will never leave you nor forsake you.” In this life we may be abandoned. Family may hurt or betray you, friends may abandon you, there will be hurt, but God has not forgotten you and an eternal destiny where there is no sickness, sorrow, abandonment, hurt, or pain awaits beyond the grave.