Did Jesus feel abandoned?
Q: What does the Catholic Church teach about being saved? Do we also have to do good works to get to heaven? (Charleston, SC)
A: All right, here’s a 400-year-old query! We’ve been working to give a fuller answer to this question since the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century.
The best summary the Church can provide is that salvation is given by grace, and God gives His grace through the covenant he made with us through His Son, Jesus Christ.
As we live by faith and do good works in His covenant, God freely pours His grace into our hearts. And so, faith alone cannot save us and good works alone cannot save us. We need to have both of them in His covenant and empowered by His grace. This is what saves a person from sin and darkness in this life and from hell in the life to come.
Q: While on the Cross, Jesus said, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me.” Did Jesus really feel abandoned by his Father on the cross? (Myrtle Beach, SC)
A: This is an important question since it deals with our Lord’s identity as True God and True man. A few initial thoughts might help.
We only have seven sayings from Jesus on the cross. These are traditionally called the “Seven Last Words.” Six of the sayings are found in one of the Gospels. The saying that you are asking about, however, is the only one that appears in two Gospels: Matthew and Mark. Incidentally, they are the two Gospels believed to be the oldest of the four. In both, the acclamation is given in a Semitic language and then translated into Greek. This indicates the importance of this event in the early Church, since the original language was often kept in key events, which is why we still say “Amen,” “Alleluia,” and “Hosanna,” all of which are Semitic words.
The exact saying, “My God, My God, why have you abandoned me?” is from Psalm 22. The Lord is quoting it as a sign of its fulfillment. It’s worth nothing that the psalm ends in triumph. For this reason, Psalm 22 has been regarded as one of the key psalms of the Paschal Mystery — that is, of the Lord’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection — since it reflects both His suffering and His glory.
Now, to the heart of your question: Did the Lord actually feel abandoned by God the Father? As a short answer: Yes, he did. Jesus is one Divine Person who possesses both a human nature and a divine nature that coexist without confusion.
The Lord’s human nature has a body and soul. As his body was truly tortured and suffered in his Passion, so his human soul suffered all the emotional consequences of the Passion as well. This includes emotionally feeling the full weight of sin and the abandonment and despair that comes with it. And so, yes, the Lord truly felt abandoned by God the Father.
In his Passion of body and soul, the Lord took upon himself our sin and its consequences. As the Prophet Isaiah says, “By his stripes, we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).