Not one of the gospels says God "turned his back" on Jesus. Not one. This is an idea that got passed around and most Christians just accept. In fact, there is no commentary of the gospel writers on what exactly Jesus meant when he spoke the question, a quote from Psalm 22. The only context that can even inform us here comes from this Psalm. David expresses a feeling of God forsaking him. But has he been forsaken? NO! That is the point. David reaffirms God is faithful and does not forsake him in verse 24: "For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help." If we hold this a Messianic Psalm then is all of it applicable? If so, then it matters that it states "he has not hidden his face from him."
The straightforward answer is we can't be certain exactly what Jesus meant when he used this phrase. The Bible never tells us anymore than that he said it. Did God "turn his back"? I hesitate to put an action on God that is NEVER stated in Scripture. The more complex answer is we can look to Psalm 22 for context. And in that context we can see that David felt abandoned. And we can also see that he was not abandoned. He asks the question, but the answer is not affirmative. We can say that Jesus felt abandoned. Was he abandoned? The Psalm reaffirms God's faithfulness and not hiding his face. Only Jesus can tell us exactly what he meant someday when we see him face to face.
There is nothing in the Bible to support that God abandoned Jesus on the cross. No author ever makes that assumption or says that. In our desire to figure out what Jesus meant we have made up this idea about God turning his back on Jesus. This is only speculation, and I would assert unsupportable speculation. Even worse, it hints at the fact that God abandons you, too.
The reason people usually give for God "turning his back" is he can't look on sin. This idea is also false. It gets pulled from one verse in Scripture from a book most Christians hardly ever read and probably haven't a clue what it's about: Habakkuk. Habakkuk 1:13a says, "You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong". Seems straightforward. Or is it? If God can't see evil or wrong, he's doing a pretty terrible job of being himself. God looked at sinful earth before the flood (Gen. 6:11-12). God looked at the sin when the tower of Babel was built (Gen. 11:5). He looked on David's sin with Bathsheba (2 Sam. 12:9). And on and on and on. God looks at sin all over the Bible.
Just as we have to look at the context of Psalm 22 to understand the point of the Psalm, we have to look at the context of the verse in Habakkuk to understand it. It can't mean God never looks on evil/sin because he does. Some people then say, "Well, of course, God doesn't really have eyes, so he can't look at sin. What this verse really means is he can't be in the presence of sin." But is this supported by Scripture? God was in the presence of sinful Adam and Eve (Gen. 3). Adam and Eve hid from God's presence, but God called out to them. In Job, Satan comes into God's presence (Job 1). Jesus was fully God and he came into contact with sin constantly. This idea doesn't hold weight either.
So what does Habakkuk mean when he says God's pure eyes can't see evil or look at wrong? In Habakkuk 1, Habakkuk is questioning why God is putting up with all the sin and evil he sees around him. The nation of Israel had become full of violence and strife and injustice (1:1-4). So God answers he is going to send the Chaldeans to punish Israel (1:5-11). Habakkuk takes issue with this. The Chaldeans are horribly violent people. How can God punish Israel with those who are so evil? This is the context of Habakkuk 1:13a.
"A"? You see, there is a whole second part of this verse that doesn't get quoted often in this discussion. As always, it provides our answer. Here is the whole verse: "You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong, why do you idly look at traitors and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?" Here is Habakkuk's question of how God can use the sinful Chaldeans to punish sinful Israel. The second part of the verse adds clarity to the first part. How does Habakkuk claim God is looking on sin/evil/wrong? Idly. He remains silent. In other words, Habakkuk is asking how God can look at this sin and be okay with it. Habakkuk knows God cannot look at sin in a positive light, so how can he be okay with the Chaldeans' sin? Habakkuk acknowledges in the second part that God is looking at sin!
The NASB translates this verse in a way that provides wonderful clarity: "Your eyes are too pure to approve evil, and You can not look on wickedness with favor. Why do You look with favor on those who deal treacherously? Why are You silent when the wicked swallow up those more righteous than they?" God cannot approve evil and he cannot look at wickedness with favor. God looks on sin and evil. He sees it. He punishes it. God doesn't hide himself from sin because it's just so awful it might stain him. He looks it full in the face and confronts it with his judgment.
Jesus took all the punishment of sin for us. He took the anger and wrath. Did he feel abandoned by God? Did he feel forsaken? Yes. Was he forsaken? Psalm 22 says no. Psalm 22 says God hears the afflicted, that God listens to his cry.
My friend, there will be days you feel abandoned and forsaken. In the midst of your pain, know that Jesus understands. Jesus knows what it is like to feel abandoned and forsaken. You have your savior's understanding. But will God turn his back on you? No! God did not abandon Jesus and he will not abandon you.