Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Did the Father abandon the Son?

This is pursuant to a bible study group which met in my home tonight, and I came out with the outlandish statement that God didn't abandon Jesus on the cross.

Matthew 27:46 is regularly seen in some protestant circles as grounding a notion of the atonement in that Jesus suffered 'Hell' on the Cross, insofar as he experienced separation from God. Now, I'm pretty sure that's going beyond Mt 27:46, and Ps 22:1. I suspect it also catches on to a somewhat populist idea that Hell is 'Separation from God'. There does seem some warrant in that idea, the language of being 'cast outside', and the 'outer darkness', etc..

Jn 8:29 and the like, seem to me to indicate the abiding presence of the Father with the Son. In fact, I go so far to affirm the Patristic notion that at the Cross Jesus dies in his human nature, and his human nature is cut off from the favour and personal fellowship of the Father. The Son, in his divine nature cannot be separated from the Father.

Truly this is a mystery. Perhaps my outlandish statement was too outlandish though. Perhaps I should carefully qualify and articulate these statements.

[Edit: I think I'm continuing to be unclear. I think I want to affirm that the punishment Jesus endures involves separation in terms of fellowship and favour of the Father, but not 'presence', because God is omnipresent, neither 'ontological' separation - the Son cannot be separated from the Father because they are one Substance. Thus, when Jesus dies on the Cross, and dies in his human nature, the Divine Son experiences, mysteriously for the Living God, Death in his Human Nature for sin. Hope this clarification helps.]

What are your thoughts on the subject?


Nick Norelli said...

My thought is that there was no separation of any kind. Paul speaks of God being IN Christ reconciling the world to himself (2Cor. 5:19); John has Jesus confident that the Father is with him in going to his death when he says: "The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each one to his home, and you will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me." (Jo. 16:32) Jesus' 'cry of dereliction' hearkens back to a psalm that ends in triumph, a psalm in which the psalmist feels abandoned but learns that God was with him the entire time. I think Jesus' cry was more a statement of his final vindication as Israel's Messiah than anything else. I've mentioned this subject a few times on my blog (here and most recently here)

Mark said...

Completely agree Seumas. Even at the cross the Father and Son are united (ie. not separate!) in will and purpose.

I found this a helpful quote from "Pierced for our transgressions":

" ... This is important in the present debate about penal substitution, because some have suggested that for the Son (subject) to propitiate his Father (object) would be to divide the Trinity. But this is simply not true. The principle of inseparable operation underlines that the Father and the Son share a unity of will and purpose. Penal substitution does not imply that the Father is coerced into an attitude of forgiveness, or that the Son is unwillingly coerced into offering himself. When we say that the son propitiates the Father, this is not to be understood as if the Son and the Father are acting against each other. They are fulfilling different roles in a plan to which both are equally committed, in pursuit of outcomes they both desire." (pp131-132)

Seumas Macdonald said...

@Nick Thanks, some helpful thoughts there. I agree entirely that Jesus means to evoke the entire psalm, but what that means I still need to think through a bit more.

@Mark I was wondering what that book had to say, so thanks for the quotation. Interestingly, just picking up a few systematic theologies last night, no one really had much to say on what it was that Jesus suffered on the cross as punishment for sins.

I need to chase this further down the rabbit hole.

Mark said...

FYI - the end of ch 3 sets a framework for talking about penal substitution and relationships within the trinity, while ch 11 refutes misconceptions about penal substitution and our understanding of God, namely the view that the trinity is divided at the cross.

mark said...


Thanks for this post - and the other ones on this issue!

I've been thinking about this for a little while. Further, I do think it's really quite important in order to protect doctrines such as impassability, immutability etc (not to mention PSA as you have in this post).

What are the decent resources you've found on this?

Seumas Macdonald said...


I'm thinking I might pick up Ovey et al today.

Most of my current reflections come from reading original sources. So, I've just read a lot of church fathers and it's reshaped the way I think. And then I pick up things like Grudem's ST and find that modern protestant systematicians are still defending the same traditional doctrines, but ones we aren't inclined to think about in everyday Christian discourse.

One book that I think is a real winner, and so good that after repeatedly borrowing from MTC, I finally purchased, is Tarmo Toom's Classical Trinitarian Theology, a clear, lucid, but increasingly detailed as you move through the book, account of Patristic Trinitarian doctrines in a textbook format.

If I strike anything else of good value, I'll let you know.

mark said...

Hi Seamus,

Thanks for the tips. I'll have a look around for them.

In fact, I might even just a foray into some patristic sources in the near future too!

Thanks mate - look forward to hearing more from you.