Some words make us cringe when we hear them. They can be the hurtful words of a friend or a family member spoken in a moment of frustration. They can be untrue accusations hurled by an enemy. They can be true words that are simply bitter medicine—a hard pill to swallow because of what they mean.
Perhaps the hardest phrase to swallow in scripture is what Jesus says at about the ninth hour—about 3 pm, after he has been hanging on the cross for quite some time. The words are so powerful that the Spirit chose to give them to us in two languages:
“Eli, eli, lema sabachthani?” And again, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Jesus is hanging on the cross as the time for celebrating Passover has come. Amos anticipates a time like this. “I will turn your feasts into mourning and all your songs into lamentation; I will bring sackcloth on every waist and baldness on every head; I will make it like the mourning for an only son and the end of it like a bitter day” (Amos 8:10).
Psalm 22, from which Jesus is quoting begins with a sense of desolation—exactly the feeling of the innocent man who is being executed for another man’s crime. The Psalm develops towards the view that vindication of the righteous is coming, but is not here yet. In this moment, the Father and the Son are separated by the sin that once separated me and God.
Maybe those painful words—and this excruciating moment—will help me see just how far God was willing to go to draw me back to his side.