The Fourth Prayer of the Cross: The Forsakenness Prayer

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August 6, 2018

Mark 15:34

33 At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34 And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).

CONSIDER THIS

The feeling of being forsaken by God is a different thing from the reality of being forsaken by God. The former is a real experience. The latter is simply not real.

Did the Father, in an act of wrath, turn his face away from his Son as he suffered death on the Cross? The idea has become something of a theological dogma in modern times. Though this text says nothing of the sort, nor can any other support of this claim be found elsewhere in Scripture without significant interpretive gymnastics, the idea continues to make its way into our songs and sermons. If someone can support the argument I would be glad to hear it.

The God in whom we believe, whom we call, “Our Father” forsakes neither his Creation nor his Creatures, and especially not his image bearers, and certainly not his son. Consider this word from the Psalmist.

Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you. Psalm 139:7-12

Or how about this word from Paul:

38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39

Still, Jesus prays this fourth prayer of the Cross, the Forsakenness Prayer, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?”

We have a hard time accepting this prayer. We don’t want to let it stand. We need to put a theological framework of sin and wrath around it. Many suggest Jesus, in citing the first verse of Psalm 22, means to signal the whole of the Psalm, which is far more hopeful in its overall outlook.

Why can’t we let it stand? Why can’t we accept the reality that Jesus really did experience the feeling of being forsaken by God? Jesus took on the fullness of the human experience, which includes the experience of feeling forsaken by God.

So many people live in abject poverty, facing intractable suffering and grave injustices and incurable diseases and enduring unimaginable losses. They feel forsaken by God. To enter into their lives is to share in the felt experience of their forsakenness. In fact, in so many cases, only in our going to them might they experience God’s real presence.

In the years following Teresa of Calcutta’s death, against her wishes, her secret journals came into public view. They reveal over the last fifty years of her life she experienced an almost unbroken sense of being forsaken by God. It began almost precisely at the point which she shifted her work to serve among the poorest of the poor in Calcutta. Characteristic of these writings is the following excerpt which comes from a letter she wrote to a spiritual advisor and confidant:

“[But] as for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great, that I look and do not see,–Listen and do not hear–the tongue moves [in prayer] but does not speak … I want you to pray for me–that I let Him have [a] free hand.” (article here)

Forsakenness is a real experience and it can be occasioned by very real conditions. To be forsaken by God; however, is not possible. Perhaps this is why Jesus elevates to the level of eternal judgment the care of those who face the conditions and feelings of forsakenness. (see Matthew 25: For I was hungry and you fed me. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. . .)

It makes sense doesn’t it? The more we enter into the experience of those who feel forsaken, the more we will share their experience, even with our faith in tow. This is what God does because this is what love does.

So what of this Forsakenness Prayer.

“Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? 

What might it mean to enter into the experience of those in the world today who are themselves praying these words, whether with their lips or their lives? We feel sympathy for those experiencing forsakenness, and it might evoke our pity, but little else. Could we open ourselves to empathy; even Divine empathy? What if this prayer is itself a small way of entering in?

Here’s a challenge. Go into your prayer room, close the door, and prepare to enter into the Forsakenness Prayer. Invite the Holy Spirit to  stir in you the remembrance of someone who is facing the experience of feeling forsaken by God. Perhaps you know this person. Perhaps the person is nameless and even faceless to you. It needs to be a person, though, and not a group. Hold that person in your mind and heart, and speak to God, not so much on their behalf but as it might be if you were actually them. Though you may want to pray for them in a lot of different ways, for the sake of this challenge, limit yourself to praying these words “as them.”

“Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? 

It will take saying it a number of times before you are praying. I will admit, thoughnthis is an edgy way of praying, it is a deeply intercessory way of prayer.

THE PRAYER

Almighty Ascended Lord Jesus Christ, you are high and exalted yet nearer than our breath.  Thank you for being with us, really with us. Give me the courage and the grace to learn to be with others, in ways that I may not be comfortable with, in ways like you are with them. Right here, Jesus. Right now, Jesus. Amen.

THE QUESTIONS

  1. How have you related to this Forsakenness Prayer in the past? Any experience with it?
  2. Have you ever experienced a sense of being forsaken by God? What was that like? How did you get through it?
  3. Will you take this challenge issued to enter into the Forsakenness Prayer, in the place of someone who is going through this dark place? If not, why not?

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J.D. Walt, is a Bond Slave of the Lord Jesus Christ. jd.walt@seedbed.com.

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1 COMMENT

  1. “The more we enter into the experience of those who feel forsaken, the more we will share their experience, even with our faith in tow. This is what God does because this is what love does.”

    You are absolutely right. In my time of “forsakenness”–when everything I thought I was doing right was no longer “working” or helping–an unexpected friend entered my life–a pastor who was the “wrong everything”. It was his faith that kept me afloat and pushed me into seeking out a better, more personal understanding of who God is and who I am.

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