There’s a fun little website called Despair that sells demotivational products, a spoof on those motivational posters you see in office buildings. There’s one titled “Loneliness” that has a picture of a solitary tree in a bleak white winter landscape. The caption reads, “If you find yourself struggling with loneliness, you’re not alone. And yet you are alone. So very alone.”
We chuckle at this, but the fact is that loneliness is a real problem, even in a society as connected as ours. Even with a constant pinging of texts and notifications of updates on social media, more and more people today feel isolated from others. We may feel that we’ve built only superficial relationships online, with few (or no) close friends. We socialize over screens rather than in person. Teenagers today report greater loneliness than any generation on record. Yes, loneliness is a very real thing.
Yet no matter how lonely, how alone, how isolated you might feel, you’re never completely alone, because God is always with you. On the cross, Jesus didn’t even have that. All but one of His disciples had fled, one had betrayed Him, another had denied Him. His closest friends on earth had failed Him. And even worse, God had abandoned Him as well.
And about the ninth hour, Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?”
that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
The words of verse 10 of the hymn Jesus, in Your Dying Woes (LSB 447) give me chills: “Jesus, whelmed in fears unknown, With our evil left alone…” What a terrifying picture! Jesus literally suffered hell on that cross for you and me. What, after all, is hell? It is complete and utter separation from God. We are left alone with our sins to which we stubbornly cling. Jesus hung on that cross as the world’s worst criminal: the adulterer, the murderer, the thief, the terrorist, the abuser, the liar, the cheater—and He did it alone. His own Father had abandoned Him. Jesus suffered hell on that cross so you need never experience it.
Another hymn that speaks of this abandonment is Cross of Jesus, Cross of Sorrow (LSB 428). Verse 3 says: “O mysterious condescending! O abandonment sublime! Very God Himself is bearing all the sufferings of time!” The choice of words there intrigues me. Abandonment sublime? That sounds like an oxymoron. Most of us think of sublime as something too wonderful for words, like a “sublime dessert.” Is that what the hymn writer means? Well, in one sense, yes. Jesus’ suffering on the cross, though terrible for Him, resulted in the salvation of the entire world. That fact certainly is too wonderful for words.
But there’s another meaning of sublime. Webster gives us the following option when defining the word in question: complete, absolute, utter. Ah, now that makes more sense. God abandoned Jesus completely, absolutely, utterly.
But even in the midst of Jesus’ piercing cry, there is hope. How does He address His Father? My God. Even when God had sublimely abandoned Him, still He makes the title personal—My God. When there’s nothing left but God’s promises, faith clings to those and claims them. Whatever you are experiencing, whatever you have yet to face, claim Jesus’ promise that He will be with you to the end of the age. Call upon Him in a personal way: my Savior, my Lord, my God.
When Jesus cries out to God, He is actually quoting the first verse of Psalm 22, the most poignant prophecy in the Bible of Jesus’ suffering and death. A common practice of Jesus’ day was to quote the first verse of a psalm or other passage of Scripture, with the understanding that in doing so, one was referring to the entire passage. So read all of Psalm 22. (Seriously, read it.) You probably know the first half of it pretty well. It’s quoted in a lot of Good Friday services. But note what happens in verse 19. Suddenly there’s a shift, and David starts talking about God’s deliverance. When God delivers him, he will “tell of [God’s] name to [his] brothers” (verse 22). “All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you” (verse 27). “All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust” (verse 29, clear reference to heaven). “They shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it” (verse 31).
So as Jesus quotes the first verse of Psalm 22, He is referencing the entire thing, and look how the psalm ends! It ends with hope and promise. We are those people to whom David refers in verse 31, the “people yet unborn.” Jesus knows that His temporal suffering would mean eternal victory for countless generations. He looked past His current situation and saw eternity. He saw you.
Whatever you are facing, whatever you will face in the future, know that God has promised never to leave you or forsake you. He already abandoned Jesus instead. Look beyond your temporary suffering to eternity, where you and I will be surrounded by all the saints of all the ages, with our Lord and Savior forever, in joy and peace sublime.