“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Jesus cried these painful and perplexing words from the cross. Although an antiquated term, dereliction means: the state of having been abandoned. It has been used by theologians for centuries to describe this cry from our Savior.
When I first heard “cry of dereliction” in seminary, I was kind of offended. I’d heard the word “derelict” used in a derogatory manner about a homeless guy once, so I didn’t like it being applied to Jesus. Yet, here, our Lord, our Rescuer, our Prince of Peace, our Hero is abandoned by God. When he cries to the Father, there is no answer. Jesus is fully submissive and actively participatory in the will of God, achieving what had been determined in eternity past regarding our redemption and, yet, God gives him no answer. Nothing but silence.
A few years ago, I was abandoned in India. I was visiting some missionaries with a group. For some reason, I was late for the bus that was transporting our entire group. The bus left me. I was all alone. I had no working phone, no contact information, no addresses, nothing. At first, I tried to do some positive self-talk (this sort of thing comes naturally for former coach and athlete like me): “Sue, you got this. They’ll realize that you’re not on the bus and come back for you. Don’t freak out, just breathe.” I thought, “Maybe I could get a taxi,” but I didn’t speak the language and had no idea where the team was going. I was helpless. Time passed and no one returned for me. Fear grew inside me. My heart pounded so fiercely, it drowned out all of the busy street noise. More time passed. Even though I have a number of loving friends in India, at that moment, every face I saw looked like an enemy. I had been left behind. No one remembered me. I was so afraid.
Jesus’ cry of dereliction is terrifying.
The idea that the righteous, holy Son of God was abandoned by our loving heavenly Father is overwhelming and a bit confusing. I mean, I was late for the bus so I deserved to be left behind, but, Jesus? Abandoned?
Many of us know about the cross. We’ve heard sermons detailing the horrific crucifixion that Jesus endured. We know that in the great exchange, we receive his righteousness because he endured our penalty. But this torture goes well beyond the physical pain that his body experienced. His very soul was tortured.
These hours on the cross are mysterious. We know that nothing was damaged regarding his status and relationship in the Trinity. But, at the same time, he bore enormous sin that we can’t understand. And all of this was for our sake.
Let’s sit here for a minute.
We know that the resurrection is coming, but let’s take our minds to the cross…then inside the cold, dark tomb…for three days…waiting with Jesus. He had no heartbeat. He had no breath in him. He was dead. He was abandoned. Not even the comfort of the Spirit was present to him.
On Good Friday, we soothe our hearts with the reminder that resurrection Sunday is coming, and we should. We always need to remember that the resurrection is coming, but let’s not miss the pain that Jesus endured on Friday and every moment until the Spirit finally raised him from the dead.
When I recall Christ’s suffering, it helps me with my own suffering. Paul tells us that the Lord didn’t spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all (Romans 8). We can know that we’re not alone in our suffering, since Christ has gone before us. And, in the same breath, we know that our suffering can’t compare to his, for at least two reasons: (1) our suffering is light and momentary (2 Cor. 4:17) and (2) we are never alone in it (Deut. 31:8).
There is hope for the lonely, the bruised and the abandoned. In Christ, we are adopted, atoned for, comforted and made co-heirs with him.
Christ’s resurrection scores a victory in countless redemptive ways. One of these ways is this: he was abandoned so that we might never be. When I feel alone and afraid, I sometimes think of that suffocating moment on the streets of India. That brief, momentary, terrifying loneliness and dereliction that I experienced that day can’t be (and really shouldn’t be) compared to what Jesus experienced on the cross. But, if we are in him, we can be confident that we are never, ever truly alone.
“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” – 2 Cor. 5:21
About the Author:
Sue Harris serves the congregation at Oak Mountain Presbyterian Church (Birmingham) as the Women’s Ministry Director. She has a passion for spiritual formation as she earned her Master of Arts degree in Biblical Studies at Reformed Theological Seminary in Atlanta in 2014. She served Mission to the World for nine years challenging PCA congregations in missions as well as serving missionaries on the field through encouragement, teaching and short-term teams. Previously, she spent 12 years as a college women’s basketball coach, earning her MBA at Texas Woman’s University.