A few years back I was teaching on the cry of Jesus, "My God, my God, why have You forsaken me" when my friend David Jennings from Vancouver told me about an article that he had on this passage. He emailed it to me the next day. The main point is as surprising as it is beautiful. When we stumble across simple insights like these, we are forced to notice how we bring prejudices and preconceptions into our reading of the Scriptures. In this case, we are forced to notice how we import utterly alien notions about the Father's heart, and how we have built an entire atonement theory out of those false notions. Jesus, please help us.
The following passage has been reproduced from Page 48 of Volume 41 (October 1929 – September 1930) of The Expository Times, (Founded in 1889 by James Hastings, D.D., Edited by A.W. Hastings, M.A. and Rev. E. Hastings. M.A., Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 38 George Street)
'Ezra,' of the Methodist Recorder, who never misses any good thing, had an interesting paragraph lately on the 'Untranslated Words of Jesus' in which he retells a story given by the late Dr. George H. Morrison in an address to children. Some years ago, he says, 'the Late Dr. George H. Morrison met, in Glasgow, General Agha Petros, Commander-in-Chief of the Assyrian Forces during the World War, and had an interesting conversation with him, being most interested by the news that at his home, away up in the mountains behind Nineveh, they still speak the very language that the Lord spoke. Sometimes the children of General Petros, like other bairns, are a little unwilling to get up in a morning, and, if it happens to be one of the girls, his wife will go to the bedroom, and say, "Talitha cumi," which means, "Daughter, it's time to get up." Sometimes, again, when his children come home from school they find the house door shut, and if nobody comes immediately to open it they shout for admittance, and what they shout is a word very familiar to Gospel readers – "Ephphtha." "But," says Dr. Morrison, "I think the last thing he told us was even more interesting. He said this: 'Supposing my wife and I go out some afternoon, and we leave the family at home, and then, suppose we make more calls than we intended, and we are late in getting home. Of course, in this country the children would not mind in the least, but in that country they are never quite safe, and when the darkness comes the children get anxious, and so when I come to the door, the children say, "Lama sabachthani? Father, what has kept you, where have you been, why have you left us like this?"'"'
How far is "Father, what has kept you" from the angry God of Western legalism and His rejection of His Son as he punished him for our sins? May Jesus deliver us from our prejudices about his Father, and may the Holy Spirit give us eyes to see what really happened on the cross. For there the Father, Son and Spirit met and embraced the human race at our absolute and utter worst.
For more on Jesus' cry, "My God, my God, why have You forsaken me" see my book Jesus and the Undoing of Adam, chapter 3.