Where was God the Father when Jesus was being crucified? Where is God when you and I are being mistreated? We know that Jesus cried out on the cross the prayer of David in Psalm 22:1: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
On the cross, Jesus felt abandoned by the Father. He was carrying our sin, our evil, and our choices to reject God. Darkness covered the land and Jesus experienced separation from his Father. But did the Father actually reject Jesus?
Most conservative Christian theologians answer, “Yes. God rejected Jesus because our sins were placed on him at the cross.” That is one theory of the atonement and it may be what happened. It’s a deep mystery. There are other ways of thinking about the atonement…
Jesus’ and Abba: Together at the Cross
When Jesus quoted Psalm 22:1 on the cross, he was probably invoking the whole Psalm — most people knew it and he wanted them to reflect on it. It’s a Psalm filled with prophecy about the passion of the Christ. Probably Jesus prayed Psalm 22 while on the cross to help him through his intense suffering. Probably he prayed it for us.
Read all of Psalm 22 imagining Jesus praying it on the cross. You’ll be surprised! What an amazing, touching story it tells!
Psalm 22 describes details of Jesus’ suffering on the cross and here’s the surprise: we see Jesus relying on God like a child in pain relies on his or her mother. It seems that when Jesus was on the cross — just like when he was in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:36) — he cried out to God as his “Abba” ( Hebrew for “Papa” or “Daddy”).
This beautiful icon painting of the “Holy Trinity of Love” by Margaret Girdwood (her website is scholasticaicons.com) depicts Jesus and Abba at the cross with the Father God holding Jesus as he suffers. In fact it depicts all three members of the Trinity at the cross. The Father and the Holy Spirit are there with Jesus to comfort him. The Three-in-One are on the cross to save us!
Desolation and Consolation
I believe that at Calvary, Jesus experienced both desolation and consolation, abandonment and comfort from God. In the visible world Jesus was being tortured and at the same time in the invisible Kingdom of God he was being comforted by God and angels. On the cross he was being crucified while in his Abba arms he was being lovingly held.
Good Friday and Easter go together. Jesus and Abba are always one. God’s love is unfailing — he doesn’t reject us, but we may reject him (that’s what sin is).
Jesus trusted his Father without wavering, even as his friends abandoned him, even as he was being tortured to death, even as he bore the awful shame of our sin, even as he experienced what it’s like to reject God, even as he felt separation from his Abba. In all this, he loved and worshiped Father God. And in all this God kept loving Jesus.
Jesus is showing us perfect faith in God! In the worst suffering he finds his identity, comfort, strength, meaning, and joy in his love relationship with the Father. Jesus submitted himself completely to the Father in all things (John 6:38, 12:50).
So also in our trials we need to learn to live not in terms of our circumstances, but in terms of the Kingdom of God in our midst; we need to “walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). With the persistence of faith we can break through the darkness and pain of harsh situations (desolation) into the light of hidden springs of grace raised up by the Holy Spirit deep within our souls (consolation).
Psalm 22 Meditation with Jesus and Abba on the Cross
Join me and “watch and pray” from Psalm 22 with Jesus and Abba on the cross. Consider a painful struggle you’re facing or anticipate a trial you may come up against and “Take heart” from Jesus (John 16:33):
“Abba!” (Mark 14:36). (Hear the echo from the Garden of Gethsemane to the cross…) Abba! “You made me trust you even at my mother’s breast. From birth I was cast upon you; from my mother’s womb you have been my God. Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help” (Psalm 22:9-11).
Jesus was tortured to death by Roman soldiers. Religious leaders and common people hurled insults at him. Disciples and friends abandoned him. The Holy One took on sin and its punishment and he cried out to God:
“My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death. Dogs have encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing” (Psalm 22:15-18).
Jesus was “cast upon” and held by a cross.
Jesus prayed Scripture and relied on the Holy Spirit. He stayed in the Kingdom of God. He found comfort and strength from his Abba. Therefore he was able to forgive people — the religious leaders persecuting him, the crowds mocking him, the thief insulting him, the soldiers torturing him — and minister to them, along with his disciples and his mother, even as he was suffering so painfully on the cross.
“You who fear the Lord, praise him!… For he has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help” (Psalm 22:23-24).
Jesus was “cast upon” and held by his Abba.
Cry out to God about your cross (your painful sacrifice of love or other act of self-denial) and pray:
Abba, I’m cast upon the cross with Jesus.
Abba, I’m cast upon you with Jesus.
Abba, hold me.