Home History of Hymns: “Why has God Forsaken Me?”

History of Hymns: “Why has God Forsaken Me?”

"Why has God Forsaken Me?"
William L. Wallace
The Faith We Sing, No. 2110

William L. Wallace

“Why has God forsaken me?”
Cried our Savior from the cross
As he shared the loneliness
Of our deepest grief and loss.*

The Rev. William L. Wallace (b. 1933), pastor, author, sculptor, artist, designer and speaker on the contextualization of liturgy, is a retired Methodist minister and native of New Zealand. Though he has spent all his working life in parish ministry, he has always sought to reach beyond the boundaries of the parish and of his own denomination into ecumenical and inter-faith activities.

Some have described Mr. Wallace as a prophet and a mystic and, despite his reluctance to accept such designations, his hymns contain undoubtedly prophetic and mystical elements. In recent years one of his main concerns has been an attempt to bridge the gap between the world of traditional Christianity and the scientific view of human beings and the universe.

Mr. Wallace has a particular interest in Asian liturgy and music. A number of his hymns can be found in the Christian Conference of Asia Hymnal of 1990, Sound the Bamboo, including “Why has God forsaken me?,” paired with the Japanese tune SHIMPI by Taihei Sato. This hymn, written in 1979, is based on Psalm 22:1; Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34; John 11:35 and Luke 23:46.

The first two lines of each stanza are examples of Christ facing challenges. Stanza one begins with Christ asking the question “Why has God forsaken me?” as he hangs on the Cross. Stanza two remembers Jesus at the tomb of his friend, Lazarus. Stanza three returns to Christ, who as his life expired, places himself within God’s care. The closing stanza speaks of the mystery that “shrouds our life and death.”

The responses in the last two lines of each stanza moves to the “here and now” with lessons on how we can face both grief and death. Stanza one concludes that Jesus can identify with “loneliness of our deepest grief and loss.” Stanza two asks God to grant us “tears which will heal all our pain and unbelief.” Stanza three asks of Christ that at our dying, we may “trust the love which conquers fear.” The final stanza identifies the “mystery [that] shrouds our life and death” as “Love, God’s great love which Christ displayed.”

Having recently lost a loved one, these words speak to me by revealing that even our Savior suffered as his Father grieved for him. Yet in stanza two, Mr. Wallace tells us that God will heal us through the tears we shed. We need not be afraid of death, Mr. Wallace goes on to write, if we trust in the love of God the Father and his own Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

In Mr. Wallace’s collection The Mystery Telling: Hymns and Songs for the New Millennium (2001) we find another Holy Week text that vividly invites the singer into the passion story with these words:

“‘I wash my hands’; my inner Pilate said.
‘Another death is no concern of mine;
the fate of humans or indeed of Earth
should not disturb me as I sleep or dine.’”

The prophetic quality of Mr. Wallace’s work is evident. In the preface to the collection, Mr. Wallace states, “if you are merely looking for hymns which cry ‘peace, peace’ when there is no peace, this book may not be for you.” Similarly, if you are merely looking for an Easter without experiencing the pain of Christ’s suffering during this Holy Week, then “Why has God forsaken me?” is not a hymn for you.

Ms. Hise studies hymnology with Dr. Michael Hawn at Perkins School of Theology, SMU.

*© 1981 William L. Wallace. Used by permission.

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