One of the things I often force myself to do during Holy Week is to watch The Passion of the Christ. This movie is a very graphic depiction of what happened to Jesus. I suspect that Mel Gibson got it mostly right. It is rough.
There is one aspect of Jesus’ crucifixion that one can never fully capture on film. It is the most important part–Jesus being forsaken by His Father. I don’t think people understand this in general. God’s Law needs to be fulfilled. God is not inclined to compromise or change any part of it. As it stands the wage of sin, (being contrary in any way to the way we were originally meant to be), is death.
Death is the “destruction” of the parts that make us. Our bodies are segregated from our souls and our bodies break down to the elemental level. Our souls, which cannot be similarly destroyed would first go to Sheol and eventually would be forsaken by God in Gehenna (Hell). This required consequence of sin, Jesus absorbs willfully himself, so that humans can have eternal life and Creation can be remade.
Jesus experiences the elements of death in a different order than we would. While still physically alive, He experiences being forsaken. I would guess that this is connected to the three-hour period of supernatural darkness. What does He feel? Hopelessness, horror, physical dysfunction, the absence of love, and I don’t know what else. Jesus knew this had to happen. It scared him. To know about it and to experience it is two different things. The Son of God, fully prepped, determined to do this thing, still is crushed.
46 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?”Matthew 27:46 (ESV)
These words are our only window into being forsaken. It is the only window I want. Jesus knows why. But in such a state of abandonment, He can’t make sense of His condition.
We may not acknowledge it, but God is with us in multiple ways all the time. God makes our body function. God oversees our minds. We may feel far from God, but we have never been forsaken. Not yet.
Jesus is forsaken so that I will never know what it is like.
What did that mean for the Trinity? I don’t understand the type of unity that makes God one and still three persons. Likewise, I can’t fathom what it means when the Father forsakes the Son. But I know it isn’t easy and I know it is a big deal, and it happened for me.
The classic picture of eternal suffering is being in fire. Those who know Jesus’ words also include a kind of perpetual form of decay (…the worm does not die). These apply to Sheol as well as Gehenna and therefore create confusion between the two. The final, distinguishing factor is forsakeness. Sheol seems to lack this. There is nothing funny about forsakeness.
All good things come from God. Hell is not the party spot for the wicked. There is no party, no friendship, no comfort, no hope. And by the grace of God there doesn’t have to be us either.
Jesus’ forsakeness, His death applies to us and satisfies the legal requirements of God’s law for us when we are connected to Christ. We become part of His body and consequently His death through baptism. Not so much what we do in a baptism, but what God does in the spiritual realms.
It is still good that we should remember, at least once a year, the tremendous cost of saving us. We should look with grateful wonder at Jesus forsaken.