Why has God forsaken me? (StF 291)

Authors & translators:
Wallace, William L.
Composers & arrangers:
Sato, Taihei
Festivals and Seasons:
Holy Week
Country or culture:
Singing the Faith: 291 (CD12 #17)
STF Number:

Ideas for use

Though most obviously suitable for use in a Good Friday service, this hymn was originally written as a resource for funerals and may be considered helpful for such an occasion.

To many Western ears, the style of the Japanese tune with which Bill Wallace’s words are paired will feel unfamiliar. The upward leap between bars 5 and 6, in particular, may be unexpected. It will be helpful to familiarise a congregation with the melody before singing, perhaps by teaching it prior to worship or by playing it over a few times before singing.

“Shimpi” is a tune that lends itself to instrumental accompaniment – for example a solo flute or other wind instrument.

More information

Originally written in 1979 for a funeral resource pack prepared by the New Zealand Methodist Church, this hymn was published in Wallace’s first collection of hymns, Something to Sing About (1981). The music, by the Japanese composer Taihei Sato, was written when author and composer were attending a conference of the Asian Consultation on Liturgy and Music.

Though on one level the words are very much about Jesus’ experience of crucifixion, and allude to the Gospel accounts of his death, nevertheless Bill Wallace interweaves the Passion story with our own human experience of grief, loss and dying. In both verses 1 and 2, he moves from Christ’s experience to our own.

(In the other hymn by Bill Wallace included in Singing the Faith – Through the rivers of our tears, StF 739 – he moves, as it were, in the opposite direction, from our experience of “depression, shock, and fear” at the death of a child, to the example of Jesus: “God you who us in the Cross / you are sharing all our pain…” (v.5).)

Characteristically, Bill doesn’t try to explain Christ’s death in theological terms; rather, he guides us towards the event’s mystery – “the mystery’s heart of love, / God’s great love which Christ displayed” (v.3).

As one commentator has put it: “Bill’s hymns always seek to be inclusive in the widest sense, focusing on the mystery and the experience rather than on dogma. In Bill’s understanding we are not liberated (saved) by adherence to definitions but by allowing ourselves to let go and fall into the depths of the mystery… in the heart of God.”

The hymn draws on a number of biblical passages: Psalm 22:1; Matthew 27:46; and Luke 23:46. Arguably, the second half of verse 1 may also allude to Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus, John 11: 1-36.

Bill Wallace

William Livingstone (Bill) Wallace is a retired Methodist minister from Aotearoa/New Zealand, who has spent most of his working life in parish ministry. As well as a writer of hymns, he is a sculptor, artist, designer and speaker on the contextualization of liturgy. (Like Shirley Erena Murray, he contributed to the ground-breaking Asian hymnal Sound the Bamboo (2000).) He has always sought to reach beyond the boundaries of the parish and of his own denomination into ecumenical and interfaith activities. One of his focuses of interest in recent years has been to bridge the gap between traditional Christianity and the scientific world view.

As a young man he began to develop a feeling for liturgy and art, and was disconcerted by the emphasis on expressing God’s word primarily through sermons. “In parish life he found that writing hymns was a more acceptable way of presenting radical thoughts than sermons. They allowed these thoughts to slide into the mind on the back of music.”

Bill’s work has been influenced in later years by Christian mystics such as Hildegard of Bingen and Mester Eckhart. Amongst the many roles he has held, he was the inaugural chair of the New Zealand branch of the interfaith World Conference on Religion and Peace, and chaired Contemporary Hymns N.Z. Ltd. (founded 1966).

He is author of seven published collections of hymns, including The Mystery Telling: Hymns and Songs for the New Millennium (2001: Selah)

(Notes draw on Natalie Hise’s commentary on Why has God forsaken me?; www.methodist.org.nz.; progressivechristianity.org; and the Dictionary of Hymnology.)

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