“MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAST THOU FORSAKEN ME?” Questioning with Jesus Who Questions with Us

By Matthew Lee Anderson – Excerpted from the 8th Chapter of “340 Questions Jesus Asked”

This chapter has been adapted from Called into Questions: Cultivating the Love of Learning within the Christian Life, by Matthew Lee Anderson. © 2023. Used by permission of Moody Publishers. All rights reserved. For more, visit matthewleeanderson.com

Jesus asks hundreds of questions in the Bible. He asks them of all sorts of audiences and in all manner of ways. He puts questions to his disciples, to the crowds, to the soldiers who come to seize him, to lawyers and to Pharisees and Sadducees. He asks rhetorical questions and real questions, questions that are aimed to draw his audience in and questions that are aimed to drive them away.

Yet of all the questions he asks, he directs exactly one question toward God.

As he hangs upon the cross, Christ pierces the hushed silence with a cry so poignant that Matthew records it in its original Aramaic: “Eli, Eli, lema sabachtani?” “My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?” Jesus petitions God often in the Gospels. Only one chapter prior, he asks that the cup of suffering might be taken from him (Matthew 26:39). But while requests and questions have much in common, they are not the same. Only once does Jesus turn to God directly with a question on his lips (Matthew 27:46).

The Cross of Jesus Christ is the fulcrum of our faith; it is the crux of history and the center of the cosmos. God became man in order that He might redeem us from our sins. And at the apex of His redemptive work, in the hour of his agony and suffering, Christ—asks a question. And not just any question, either: Jesus asks God where are you, which is the very question God had put to humanity after we had sinned in Genesis 3.

In his question, Jesus gives voice to humanity’s deepest and most difficult longings. Will God remain absent from us, will he leave us alone in the misery and pain of this world, will he abandon us to the infinite darkness of despair? G.K. Chesterton once wrote that Christ’s question on the Cross makes Christianity “the one religion in which God seemed himself for an instant to be an atheist.”

Christ’s question on the cross is a part of humanity’s redemption. Through it, Christ sanctifies our lament and our sorrow and frees us from the intolerable burden of carrying the uncertainty, sin, and doubt of the world by ourselves. Through Christ’s question, we are freed to question God—and we are also free from the demands of questioning God, for Christ goes ahead of us and asks God where He is on our behalf. Christ’s question does not end questioning, but liberates it. We may still ask where God is, and sometimes we must. But we need not fear that we will meet silence. For Christ has already questioned God on our behalf and the Word of God does not return void.

QUESTIONING (WITH) GOD

In its most basic and elemental form, questioning is much more than a rhetorical posture or a strategy for communicating effectively: questioning expresses our need, our poverty. When we ask a question, we place ourselves in a position of those who do not know and do not have an answer. Questioning reveals our ignorance and perplexity—but in doing so, it also reveals our humanity. In questioning God, we practice becoming “poor in spirit,” which Jesus commends as “blessed” in the Sermon on the Mount. As creatures, we depend on God not only for our sustenance and life, but our understanding. Questions express our deep need for God to reveal Himself to us. Few acts are more fundamentally human than questioning God.

Yet like the rest of our humanity, our questioning has been corrupted and deformed by sin, which animates us to ask questions we ought not and leave unasked questions we should ask. Adam and Eve’s failure to resist the Serpent in Genesis involved failing to question the assumptions embedded in the question they were given: “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the Garden?’” (Genesis 3:1).2

Their failure to question well means we now are in danger of questioning badly. When the angel tells Zechariah that his (barren) wife will give birth to John the Baptist, he responds with a note of skepticism: “How shall I know this,” he says, “for I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years?” Of all the questions he could ask at that moment, registering his uncertainty about the angel’s reliability was the wrong one—and so, he is silenced until his son is born (Luke 1:8–23).3 There are so many ways of questioning badly, and so few, it often seems, of questioning well.

It is possible for our questions to become acts of rebellion against God, as it is possible to become exhausted by the exhausting vanity of our endless search for understanding. With “much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow,” the author of Ecclesiastes tells us. God has set eternity in our hearts, and the desire to search it out on our own will invariably lead to frustration: “No one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” Questioning can be a heavy cross that we are not strong enough to carry on our own.

Or we can avoid questioning God altogether, by blithely turning off our hearts and minds to the suffering we see around us and retreating into a fantasyland of amusement and entertainment. Most of us carry in our pockets the most powerful portal to endless distractions ever created: our smartphones are always waiting for us to give our time and attention to it. The cares of this world can bind us so strongly that we never lift our gaze in wonder at it and open ourselves to the deep possibilities of questioning (with) God. The tendency to avoid God is understandable: putting our questions to Him can be a dangerous thing, as we will invariably find that He will also question us. “Guard your steps,” we are told in Ecclesiastes, “when you go to the house of God. To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know they are being evil.”

Christ’s question to God on our behalf sets us free from these deformed ways of questioning. We need not fear to ask where God is in the midst of our most acute suffering, because God has already asked it for us—and has shown us He is with us by suffering for us in Christ. We need not anxiously distract ourselves from God, because He has revealed Himself to be good. We need not mistrust the reliability of His Word, for God vindicated it by rising again on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. We may question, and we must question, because God became man and asked Himself the deepest and most important question of all.

Christ’s cry on the cross is a very strange sort of lament. While an expression of sorrow, it is at the same time a cry of triumph. In quoting the opening of Psalm 22 by crying aloud to God, “Why have you forsaken me?” Christ invites us to pray the whole psalm with Him. What begins with a cry of dereliction ends with the affirmation of God’s faithfulness: “For he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and he has not hidden his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him.” The freedom to ask God why He has forsaken us is the answer to our question. He has not hidden His face from us, but hears us as we cry. The suffering of the Man Jesus is made known in His prayer, and so reveals to us the presence of God. Psalm 22 closes with the cry that future generations shall proclaim that the Lord “has done it,” that He has rescued His beloved from their adversaries. When we look backward from Christ’s resurrection to His life, we discover that all God’s promises are yes and amen to the glory of God—even when they look like the strange glory of the cross.

Christ’s question on the Cross, with His death and resurrection, is the form God’s faithfulness to humanity takes in a world of sin. God has made a covenant with humanity and will not depart from it. From this standpoint, Christ’s question is almost a performative contradiction: Where is God? With Christ, on the cross. Christ’s lament that God is absent becomes a strange sign of God’s presence. The same man who cries “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” invites the thief into paradise for believing in Him. Christ’s death discloses the lengths to which God goes to keep faith with creation. And His resurrection vindicates that faith, revealing the depths to which God affirms creation.

At the same time, Christ’s question on the Cross is the form humanity’s faithfulness to God takes in a world marked by sin. As the one who ascends the holy hill on our behalf, Christ is the man who has “clean hands and a pure heart.” He fulfills the terms of the covenant on behalf of humanity, innocently undertaking God’s judgment for trespassing His commands. As the Man of God, Christ manifests humanity’s faithfulness to God. His death is the form our life takes through the power of His resurrection, which we are given in the Holy Spirit. And He does this by asking a question and, in doing so, permitting and empowering us to question Him as well.

This is why, even as we learn to question with Jesus, we need not be anxious about questioning well or questioning perfectly. The “right question” to ask is—the question we have to ask, the question we feel impelled by love to ask. We can embrace God’s justice on the cross and feel free to “inquire badly,” to modify Martin Luther’s famous dictum “sin boldly.” We can count on God’s grace to remedy the unintentional imperfections of our questions. This is no license to be heedless in our questioning and trample each other as though nothing we do matters. Conscientiousness is the freedom of a clean and easy conscience, which empowers us to ask the questions we have—instead of the questions we anxiously perfect as Good Questions.

Questions are a form of poverty. But as Paul writes to the Corinthians, the “grace of our Lord Jesus Christ” means that “though he was rich, yet for [our] sake He became poor, so that [we] by His poverty might become rich.” His poverty on the cross frees us to enjoy the riches of His abundance, which means we need no longer fear the poverty of our ignorance but can question freely. This is, after all, what it means to have faith ‘like a child.’ No one is less self-conscious about their ignorance than a child, and no one learns as quickly about the world either. Children are both familiar with their ignorance and eager to overcome it; they are shameless in asking questions because they have not yet learned to fear the unknown.

So we can be when we learn to question with Jesus. For there is no unknown left—even death—that God has not explored already on our behalf, and the only answers He leads us into will be those for our good.

Click HERE to download your “340 Questions Jesus Asked” free eBook today.

Matthew Lee Anderson

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Matthew Lee Anderson, D.Phil. is an Assistant Professor of Ethics and Theology in the Baylor University Honors Program and the author of Called into Questions: Reclaiming the Love of Learning in the Christian Faith. You can read more at matthewleeanderson.com.

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