“Why Have You Forsaken Me?”
“We feel like the Holy Spirit is calling you elsewhere.” Each word pierced me like a dagger to my soul. After pouring hours, sweat, tears, and passion into a church I loved, the leadership decided I was not enough. I was not enough. Those four words penetrated my mind and colluded to form a lie that began to shade how I viewed all other circumstances. The feeling of rejection paralyzed me, preventing me from moving forward in ministry. Sitting comfortably on a back row of a worship center, unnoticed and safe in my own self-pity, seemed a more enticing option than working through my pain. On my first Sunday attending a different church, the associate pastor introduced himself and asked me a key question: “Are you surviving or thriving this morning?” With more honesty than expected, I blurted, “I’m surviving, but I hope to thrive again someday.” Cotney Whitining.
Rejection is part of the business of this world. It comes in an endless variety of forms not getting the job, a parent whose approval always seems to be just out of reach, a parent who decided not to be your parent after all, a spouse who comes home one day to say he no longer loves you or that he loves someone else, a friend that suddenly blindsides you with betrayal, a child who turns her back on your love.
There is no doubt that rejection causes an acute kind of suffering. It cuts lingering wounds that can splinter in many directions. It lodges itself deep into the memory, altering the way we see ourselves, others, situations, even God.
The word rejection comes from a Latin word that means to be thrown back. When we experience rejection, the feeling not only stops us in our present pursuits, but it sometimes causes us to retreat from progressing because we fear future failure. In psychology, this phenomenon is called learned helplessness. We are most vulnerable at the point of rejection. We experience disapproval or repudiation, and that experience becomes a catalyst for self-defeat.
Because we live in a fallen world, rejection is a certainty, but Jesus gives us the ultimate example of how to thrive through rejection. If we look to the life of Jesus, we will notice that even the Son of God was not immune to the sting of rejection. From the onset of his ministry, Jesus encountered opposition and disbelief (Luke 4:16–29). People questioned his authority and authenticity (Mark 6:3; John 5:43; 6:64–67). He even told his disciples to expect rejection by the world (John 15:18).
In Luke 9:51–56, we see Jesus respond to rejection. As he journeyed to Jerusalem where he would face the ultimate rejection, he sends messengers to a Samaritan village to prepare for his visit. Rather than welcome Jesus, however, the people of the town rebuff his arrival. The disciples respond in anger and ask Jesus if they should call down fire from heaven to judge the town. Jesus rebukes this suggestion. Instead of vengeance, he continues forward in his mission and journeys to another village. With each rejection Jesus faced, we see him respond with movement toward his goal. Even when thwarted, Jesus remained steadfast. When asked permission to seek justice, Jesus rebukes his disciples.
Jesus faced rejection from his Father. The night of his arrest, Jesus was “very sorrowful, even to death” (Matthew 26:38). He was in such anguish that he started to sweat blood (Luke 22:44). I think it was more than thoughts of the approaching physical pain that put Jesus in this state. I think it was the knowledge that he would soon be separated from and abandoned by his Father. As he hung on the cross dying, Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). It’s interesting that he didn’t ask, “Why I am I in such pain?” or “Why do I have to endure this?” He asked, “Why have you forsaken me?”
Sometimes, in our thoughts of Christ’s death and what it did for us, we overlook what it did to him. His Father, with whom he was in a constant communion of love from before time began, was suddenly forced to withdraw that love and turn his back because of our sin that covered Jesus as he died. Do you think Jesus had ever needed or desired his Father’s love more than in that moment?Rejection is a significant source of pain for many of us. It truly is a sweet comfort knowing that Jesus understands our pain in the most real way, that he shares the burden. But when we look at his life on earth and all he endured for our sake, we see that it’s actually us who can identify with him, not the other way around. He first experienced everything that we now experience in order to redeem it all, to cover it all in grace.
Rejection is a significant source of pain for many of us. It truly is a sweet comfort knowing that Jesus understands our pain in the most real way, that he shares the burden. But when we look at his life on earth and all he endured for our sake, we see that it’s actually us who can identify with him, not the other way around. He first experienced everything that we now experience in order to redeem it all, to cover it all in grace.
What surpasses comfort is the knowledge that the gospel stands as the unfaltering, unchangeable answer to rejection. In fact, rejection created the need for the gospel in the first place. Sin entered the world because two people rejected God and his command. Then, in turn, they faced God’s eternal rejection. We also were placed under a curse of separation from his favor and bound to his wrath.
But Jesus redeemed us from that curse by taking it upon himself. To redeem is to buy back, to accept, to choose. That is the opposite of rejection. By the power of the gospel, we have received the “Spirit of adoption” (Romans 8:15). That’s permanent, binding acceptance. We know that, now, nothing can separate us from the Father’s love (Romans 8:38-39). Man’s rejection is made so small in light of the truth that, through the gospel, we have God’s eternal love and acceptance, unconditionally.
What can man’s rejection do to us if Almighty God is ultimately for us?