How did We get Here?
Years ago, maybe 200 or so, Christians began to walk away from scriptural depth in favor of emotional interpretation. Critical and logical thinking were severed from the average Christian’s approach to Holy Writ. While I have waxed on about shallow emotionalism in the past, this is not what I am writing about today. Furthermore, I am not going to be writing about logic and critical thought as they relate to evangelism.
Instead, I am going to be speaking about a topic we often read and hear about, but rarely see handled well in broader Christian culture. In Matthew 27 Jesus cried out “Eli Eli Lama sabachthani!” Meaning “My God my God why have you forsaken me…?”
What was Jesus saying here? More importantly, what did it mean and what were the implications?
A Common Misconception
The understanding I hear most often about this phrase is emotionally powerful. It goes something like this:
“When Jesus was on the cross crying out ‘my God why have you forsaken me’ He was sad. You see the Father could not bear to see the Son in such suffering and pain. So, the Father had to turn away from what He was seeing, and Jesus could feel that.”
This seems so right when we compare it to what we consider healthy father and son relationships in the world. What human father, in his right mind, would not turn away from the excruciating imagery of his son being crucified? But, is this what was taking place in that moment?
The Wreckage of Christianity: When Intellect is Severed from Teaching
Perhaps the greatest damage done with this common misconception is that it has resulted in emotional appeals to sinners. When we deal with God in such a way, we have severed intellect from emotion. Instead of appealing to both the rational and emotional side of the being we err in favor of the emotion.
The well-intentioned person presenting Christ on the cross and the Father in heaven, in such a way, is hoping to manipulate the hearer. While God is sympathetic towards us in some respects, He is not in need of our sympathy. Additionally, when the God-head is presented in such a way, it effectively lowers God to the same station as man. It paints God in a light where He appears weak and as moved by emotion as His creatures seem to be. His impassibility is effectively severed from His Being.
However, this is not what we are taught. In Hebrews 4 we are reminded that Jesus, sympathizes with us. Conversely, we are never taught that we are to show sympathy to God. Moreover, there is no reason for us to do so.
Thus, it is vitally important for us to teach this passage properly. If we fail to do so we show disdain for the God-head and make a wreck of the faith. Instead of teaching disciples what the transcendent God has revealed of Himself, we teach them to view God through the lens of human frailty. Instead of God condescending to us, we condescend to Him.
What was Truly Taking Place in That Moment?
In that moment, where Jesus is quoting from Psalm 22, there is something truly profound happening, but it isn’t rooted in the emotional anguish of God. Instead, it is rooted in the covenant keeping God who promised the Lamb that was slain before the foundation of the earth.
In the Protoevangelium of Genesis 3 God promises to send a redeemer through the seed of the woman. Then throughout all of the Old Testament, He reminds us of that promise in varied ways. Nowhere in the Old Testament is this more evident than in Isaiah 53, where we are taught that it pleased God to crush Him.
What could this mean, especially in light of the Matthew 27 passage and the way that verse is understood today? Are we to understand that God was in mourning over the sons suffering and pain? Not hardly. Especially when we know it is God that is doing the crushing in that moment.
So, if we take a look at 2 Corinthians 5:21 we see an explanation of the reality of the cross. God the Father made God the Son to become sin for us. In a deeply profound way, God the Son was made to become the very thing that the God-head hates. Sin. God hates sin, we all know that. According to Habakkuk 1, He cannot even look upon sin. It cannot dwell in His presence.
We must wrap our minds around this from a doctrinal perspective. The Father made the Son become the very thing that severed the favorable relationship between Him and our first parents. This is not some light, passé occurrence. It is profoundly important to our understanding of what God did for the sake of His own glory.
A Severed God-head?
No, that is not what I am saying.
The triune nature of God is pre-existent. God always was and always will be triune. While the word Trinity does not appear anywhere in either the old or new testament, the Trinity is still there. In Genesis, the record of the beginning of creation, the God-head says, “Let US make man in OUR image.” Moses was thoroughly a Hebrew, yet, there he is recording a trinitarian conversation about the creation of man.
Unlike so many today who believe that man was created to fellowship with God, we need to recognize the perfect communion of the God-head. Father, Son and Holy Spirit had perfect fellowship untainted by need or lack. God did not create man to fill in the missing puzzle piece in His relationship.
If anything, the creation of man eventually led to the one thing that should be unimaginable to believers. What is that one thing? A severing of the FAVORABLE relationship in the God-head. In the garden as Christ is languishing in prayer, conversing with the Father and the Spirit, He is pleading that the cup of the Father’s wrath be allowed to pass from Him.
Finally, while on the cross, in that moment of utter and brutal human transparency, Jesus shouted out in pain and suffering as the eternal perfect favorable communion of the Trinity was severed. Dwell on that if you can. For the first, and only time, God the Father in His wrath and hatred for sin, turns His back on God the Son and the comforting presence of the Holy Spirit flees from the Christ.
A Brief Explanation
The Son is left utterly alone, shunned for being and bearing the very thing that God hates. Bearing not only the severed favorable communion but the wrath of hell. Utterly alone! This does not mean that the communion of the God-head was destroyed or ruined. Nor is it meant to communicate that the nature of the God-head was changed. The Trinity was perfectly intake if you will. But Christ, had to bear our hell. The brunt of that hell is the outpouring of the wrath of the Father on sinners.
In no way was the Father ever displeased with the Son. Yet, the perfect unmitigated wrath of the Father was being poured out on Christ in those moments. Without this reality we have no penal substitutionary atonement. We have not propitiation. Christ had to experience all that the unrepentant experience or it would not be a sufficient sacrifice for sin and sinners.
Severed for Us so We Will Not be Severed from Him
The staggering reality, and this will be brief, is that in the Great Exchange, it is more than sin and righteousness being exchanged. While on the cross Christ also endured the suffering of a severed favorable relationship on our behalf.
I would posit, that as unimaginably horrid it would have been for Him to endure our hell, it would have been exponentially more horrific for Him to experience the severed favorable relationship. In an essay I wrote several months back I covered the topic of the relationship over religion motif. In that piece I explored what I think of as error in modern thought. That errant thinking compels the world to seek relationship more than religious practice. In my feeble ramblings I posited that all people have a relationship with God. Either favorable or unfavorable.
The unregenerate sinner hates God and takes pleasure in the unfavorable nature of that relationship. However, they still live under the mercy of God. They experience His beneficence. Christ, however, suffered the full weight of God’s wrath for sins that He did not commit while utterly severed from the favorable communion He had always known. Instead, He did what we cannot imagine. He remained in communion with the Father and the Spirit but knew the wrath without the mercy.
This should drive us to our knees in worshipful tears…
Soli Deo Gloria!