Over the past two posts we’ve been looking at Jesus’ fourth saying from the cross, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?, which is known as his cry of dereliction. We have looked at Habakkuk 1:13 and Psalm 22, this time out I hope to try an wrap this up, but we will see how we get on.
When I come across issues like this, things where I’m not sure my principal route is to do two things, 1) go the text(s) in question and study them to see if they do say of them what is being said, 2) I also go back to what I know, a sure foundation and go from there and see where, if any, areas of disagreement exist. In the past 2 posts I have gone to the often quoted texts, Habakkuk 1:13 and Psalm 22.
From those texts, I have suggested that in their context’s I don’t think that they support the often taught position, a position that I once taught myself, that as Jesus cried out ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ at that moment because Jesus was bearing the weight of our sin, the Father turned his face away from him and for the first time in all of eternity there was separation between the Father and the Son.
There is another reason that I have began to question this, and this is because it seems to me that at this point our teaching of the trinity becomes distorted, and in teaching that there was a separation between the Father and the Son, we are introducing more problems than answers.
The doctrine of the Trinity seeks to explain the essential nature of God, namely that God has eternally existed as three persons, Father Son and Holy Spirit, and that each person is fully God – that is that in the exact same way that the Father is God, his omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence, creative and ruling acts over creation, so too is the Son and the Holy Spirit. What this means is that to seek to understand God, just as he relates as Father, or Son or Holy Spirit is to misrepresent and distort who God is.
Jesus himself speaks of this oneness between himself and the Father in verses such as John 10:30; 17:11, 22; When Philip says to Jesus ‘Show us the Father’ Jesus replies and says “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father?’. The reason Jesus could say this was because as Paul and others tell us, Jesus is the image of God, Col 1:15 and the exact representation of his being (Heb 1:3). Also in John 1:1-2 and Philippians 2:5-8, we read of Jesus’ having the same nature as God and being God.
So when we consider the relationship between Jesus, the incarnate eternal Son of God, and God the Father, we are not just talking of a relationship between two persons that have known each other for a long time, but, and I admit that this is confusing, a relationship between two persons who are one…
So to speak of a separation between the Father and the Son, a turning away from the Son by the Father, we are really asking some deep questions in regards of the nature of God, and by that I mean, even as a result of our sin, is it right to think of a separation existing between the Father and Son even for a brief time frame. When we consider this in the light of trinitarian teaching, what we are teaching is that whilst on the cross God was separated from God… Just think about that for a moment?
I accept that this may open me up to a challenge of expressing the oneness of God over and above the threeness of the persons, but I could throw that back in the opposite way, and I fully accept that when we are talking of God and the Trinity there exists a mystery that we with mortal minds will never grasp, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.
So what does this all mean, and in particular what it did it mean when Jesus cried out ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’
Firstly let’s step back, what is happening on the cross? Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, has taken upon himself the sins of his people (Isa. 27:46), that is that when Jesus went to the cross he took upon himself the punishment for sin that should be ours, as Paul said..
in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. For we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
That is what is happening at the cross, from the perspective of God, by that I mean that is what the Father and the Son where achieving. As Jesus hangs on the cross we read that Jesus was mocked, not just those there to watch, but by those passing and even the criminals being crucified with him, with Matthew recording that..
those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.'”
All of this derision occurred before Jesus made his fourth cry, with Matthew telling us that from the sixth hour till the ninth hour darkness was covering the land, and at about the ninth hour that is when Jesus cried out the saying “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ It is clear from what follows that those gathered don’t understand this cry as some think Jesus is crying out for Elijah and perhaps that is one of the saddest part, that those chief priests, scribes and elders, missed the whole point, because as they deride Jesus for his trust in God, showing condemnation and mocking, God is bringing deliverance, not realising that God wasn’t delivering Jesus from suffering because he was delivering humanity, or at least those who would believe, from sin and judgement.
So I think Jesus’ use of Psalm 22 isn’t so much a statement that he has been abandoned by the Father, or that the Father has turned his face away from him, because he cannot look sin, but he is seeking to draw their attention to that Psalm… Because it is in Psalm 22 where the answer to the derision and mockery comes from.
By mocking Jesus in the manner that they religious leaders did, they are saying that Jesus has been forsaken by God, because God wouldn’t let this happen otherwise. In Psalm 22:24 we see the answer which is…
For he has despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and he has not hidden his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him.
The seemingly prevailing teaching is that because Jesus took upon himself our sin, God, who is too pure to look upon evil, turned his face away from Jesus, and because of that there was separation in the eternal relationship between the Father and the Son, who are God.. Now as we saw in the first post, Habakkuk 1:13 is Habakkuk’s thinking and reasoning, it isn’t a blanket statement about God and his relation to evil, for in the context of Habakkuk 1, God has been looking upon evil because he has allowed the Chaldeans to rise up as a means of judgement against Judah, it is that that Habakkuk can’t understand, so Habakkuk is in essence asking the question why God who is holy and pure would use the Chaldeans to punish his people..
Added to that, the fact that David clearly says in Psalm 22, which if we take first and foremost as a messianic psalm, that God didn’t hide his face away, we have to ask seriously whether, and most likely come to the conclusion that the Father didn’t in fact turn his face away from the Son.
That is not to say that the Father wasn’t heart broken at what was going, and that is not to minimise the sufferings of Jesus, because the sufferings Jesus faced was horrible, not just on the cross, but leading up to it, starting with at the garden of Gethsemane where Jesus prayed saying..
Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done.
Furthermore, Jesus says to his disciples in John 16:32-33
Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. I have said these things to you, that in me you will have peace…
Jesus didn’t go to the cross knowing he would be alone, he went knowing that the Father would be with him, every step of the way.. Now a majority of that time may have been as the Father brought his judgement for sin upon him, but looking at Habakkuk 1:13 and Psalm 22 and considering the very nature of God, it seems that to teach of the Father turning his face away from the Son, isn’t upheld by Scripture.
But as I said at the start of this little series, I am wrestling with this, and this at the present is where I am…
Every Blessing as you diligently search the word.