How could Jesus say God had forsaken him?

"Get and read God's book." -- Isaiah 34:16, The Message

10, Answers to a Jehovah's Witness questions

What are the implications of Jesus being called the Father's helper?

Excerpts from email exchange with a Jehovah's Witness

Watchtower Society interchange: Recently a member of the Jehovah's Witnesses and I exchanged a lot of email messages about beliefs and doctrines. Here are the questions he asked and the responses I gave. In essence, this is a blog of our conversations. There will be some overlapping of material since the email conversation occasionally circled back to the same themes.

One of the sad things about our email exchanges is that my Jehovah's Witness friend rarely replied to my responses to his questions or asked me follow-up questions. So we had very few real "conversations" in which we discussed anything in-depth.

Jehovah's Witness question: Look at Mark 15:34 and Matthew 27:46. If you say Jesus was God, aren't you making it sound like Jesus was asking himself why he had forsaken himself?
My answer:    Do you really want to know what Jesus was saying in those Scripture passages?

First of all, it must be noted that Jesus is here quoting words from Psalm 22. I realize you have brought up these words of Jesus from the cross to say that they show a separation between the Father and the Son. That's a mistaken interpretation. With his cry, Jesus was not expressing a belief that God had forsaken him. What Jesus was doing in calling out the opening words of a psalm was to call attention to what that psalm said about the Messiah!

So, what was Jesus saying by quoting that Old Testament Scripture? Well, in the scrolls used in the synagogues during Jesus' day, individual Psalms were not numbered. So, when Jews wanted to refer to a particular psalm, they quoted its opening lines -- much like we would do today when we use song titles. Indeed, speakers today use this technique of quoting a phrase or two from a song or poem in order to make their listeners think about the whole song or poem. Preachers often quote a short phrase from a song, knowing that just a few words will make their audience remember the whole song. I'm guessing that speakers in Jehovah's Witnesses congregations may well do the same thing.

As Jesus was dying on Calvary, He wanted those watching Him die to think about all of the things that Psalm 22 says. Read Psalm 22. You'll see that it speaks of the Messiah. That Jesus knew God had not actually forsaken Him is clear from that very psalm to which he made reference. For instance, verse 24 says: "He (meaning God) has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; nor has He hidden His face from Him; But when He cried to Him, He heard."

That day on Calvary, Jesus was declaring to his accusers that they were seeing the fulfillment of Psalm 22 -- which even in His day was commonly understood to be about the coming Messiah, the Suffering Servant spoken about in Isaiah. The psalmist himself understood that the "forsaking" of God was not abandonment, but a lifting of His Sovereign protection according to His divine plan so that the threats of Jesus' enemies could be carried out in fulfillment of prophecy.

In fact, there were several times when Jesus' enemies sought to kill him (John 5:16 and 8:59, for example). They were not able to because, as Jesus said, His "hour" had not yet come (John 12:23-28). Even as Jesus' crucifixion approached, He declared to Pilate, "You would have no power over Me if it were not given to you from above" (John 19:11). That Scripture makes it clear that the Son knew clearly that the Father would not abandon Him on Calvary.

Therefore, don't look at Jesus' cry reported in Matthew 27 and Mark 15 as something that disproves the divinity of Christ. If you're going to look for proof that Jesus of Nazareth was not God, you'll have to look elsewhere in Scripture. What we have here are words that called into the minds of Jesus' listeners a Psalm which proclaims the coming of a divine Messiah. It is a Psalm that says, among other things, "All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord." Meditation on this "saying from the cross"
Jehovah's Witness question: What does this scripture mean when it said we have a helper with the Father, and it gives us the name of that helper, Jesus Christ? (1 John 2:1) "We have a helper with the Father, Jesus Christ, a righteous one."
My answer:   You picked a Scripture that clearly illustrates the truth that, while there is only one God (Yahweh), He exists and manifests Himself in three persons, each of which is fully God. Remember that the verse does NOT say Jesus is God's helper. Doesn't it say that Jesus is the Father's helper? Thus, this passage shows the wonderful interaction between two persons of the Trinity on our behalf!

John is the only New Testament writer to use the particular Greek word — parakletos — that is here translated as helper or advocate. John uses that Greek word four times in His gospel in addition to what he says in this letter written to the churches in the area of Ephesus.

That word carries the meaning of "being called to one's aid." Because of the challenges of trying to translate all the nuances of the Greek word, many people use Paraclete, which is an English version of the Greek word.

This advocate or Paraclete of whom John speaks must be a person rather than an "influence" or "force" since that particular title is used for someone's legal defender before a judge. Did someone's "influence" or an impersonal force ever serve as a legal defender? Clearly not. What is fascinating about this is that John uses a word that can be translated as "lawyer" to describe the Holy Spirit as well as Jesus.

The Scriptures in which John uses this word strengthen the case for the Holy Spirit being a person rather than the "it" of "God's influence." How can an "influence" or force act as the lawyer for someone? If we have to go to court, do we want somebody's influence to show up? Don't we expect a real person there to defend us?

1 John 2:1 is a great affirmation of the understanding of God as triune: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (one God, eternally existing in three persons). This Scripture is clear: God the Father and God the Son are two distinctly different persons. This is not a logical contradiction because personhood and essence are two different things (a point on which a lot of people get hung up).

Essence is a "what" and personhood is a "who." 1 John 2:1 illustrates this clearly by calling Jesus "righteous." That is significant because just a few verses before (in 1 John 1:9) that same identical word -- righteous -- is applied to God. Do you see what John is saying? 1 John 1:9 says God is righteous. 1 John 2:1 says Jesus is the righteous one. This is just one more indication that Jesus and Yahweh are of the same essence!

1 John 2:1 shows Jesus' role in the Trinity as our Advocate before God the Father. Jesus Christ is the only one who can fulfill that role. That's because He, as God Incarnate, is the only sinless one who died a sacrificial death and was then resurrected. As the perpetual mediator between God and human beings, God the Son is perpetually distinguished from God the Father. However, both Father and Son are God.

Why is God the Son our Advocate? Is it because God the Father is reluctant to save us? Is the desire that we be saved from our sin a desire only of the Son? No, it is not. Jesus' advocacy for us manifests the intense longing by the triune Yahweh (without distinction of Person) for our salvation.
Jehovah's Witness question: If Jesus was God incarnate, wouldn't that mean that there would not be a father for Jesus to go to if Jesus was already there in the flesh existing as the Father?
My answer:    Aren't you misunderstanding what I'm saying? God is one and yet He is also three separate persons. The Father is not the Son. The Son is not the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not the Father. The Father is not the Holy Spirit. Yet, all three are of the same essence. There is a unity and yet a separateness. Jesus did not exist "in the flesh as the Father." The Son existed in the flesh as Jesus.

Think of H20, the chemical designation for that compound whose molecules contain two atoms of hydrogen for every atom of oxygen. In its liquid form, H20 is called "water." However, H20 can also exist as steam or vapor. It can even exist in solid form as ice or snow. Which of those three forms is really H20. Well, they all are. Is steam the same as ice? No, but it is exactly of the same essence, isn't it? Is liquid water the real H20? Well, it is H20, but H20 exists in two other forms as well.

Now, this metaphor is not perfect. Like any metaphor, it can be "pushed" too far, but it still is one illustration of what Scripture says about God.
Jehovah's Witness question: You used the word "saved" to describe yourself. Do you know that, as it is today, none of us are saved according to the scriptures?
My answer:   Shouldn't you say, "according to what the Jehovah's Witnesses have taught me, none of us are saved"? How can you substantiate that assertion about what scripture says or doesn't say in the light of passages like Exodus 14:301, Exodus 18:42, Exodus 18:83, Deuteronomy 33:294, 1 Samuel 14:235, 2 Samuel 22:46, 2 Chronicles 32:227, Psalm 18:38, Psalm 22:59, Psalm 34:610, Psalm 106:8, 1011, Psalm 107:13, 1912, Psalm 116:613, Isaiah 25:914, Isaiah 43:1215, Jeremiah 4:1416, Luke 7:5017, John 10:918, Acts 2:21, 4719, Acts 15:1120, Acts 16:17, 3021, Romans 8:2422, Romans 10:1023, 1 Corinthians 1:1824, 2 Corinthians 2:1525, Ephesians 2:526, 2 Timothy 1:927, Titus 3:528, and Hebrews 10:3929? Clearly, Yahweh is a saving God who saves now.

To be sure, our final redemption, that "glorious hope" as Scripture calls it, is in the future. However, the Corinthian letters do speak of "being saved," so isn't there a sense in which that future event is seeing fulfillment in the present? Aren't the Jehovah's Witnesses actually contradicting scripture by saying, "None of us are saved."

Look up all of those scripture passages I've listed. In his letter to Titus, doesn't Paul twice say, "He saved us"? Was Paul wrong there? Doesn't 2 Timothy 1:9 say, "He has saved us"? Should that passage be eliminated from scripture? Doesn't Romans 8:24 say, "In this hope we were saved"? In teaching you that no one is currently saved, haven't the Jehovah's Witnesses ignored the fact that there is a present aspect as well as a future component to being saved?

    -- Howard Culbertson,

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