Did God turn His face away?
What actually happened between God and Jesus on the cross? I don’t know if you’ve ever given this much thought but for a lot of my childhood I believed the suffering of the cross was the physical pain Jesus went through. When i got a little older I began to realise there were a few more layers to this cross thing. I began to understand that the physical pain was only part of it, but what was worse than this for Jesus was the separation from God he experienced as he took on the sin of the world. I believed that at that moment when Christ ‘became sin for us’ that since our sin separates us from God it also must have separated Jesus from His Father. That God the Father had to (as we sing) ‘turn his face away’ from His Son.
This idea in my head was reinforced by the words that Jesus Himself speaks on the cross “my God my God why have you forsaken me”. It seems from these words that God did infact forsake Jesus on the cross. More than that I believed He had to otherwise the cross could not have accomplished all that it has accomplished. BUT my thinking has been flawed. So simply and yet so significantly (I have to admit im a little pissed with myself that i didn’t figure this out alone but that’s just my pride).
So, as my new friend pointed out: ‘if there were ever separation in the trinity the whole world would have ceased to exist’. Can’t argue with that right? It’s true and obvious. And yet this being true means that the way i have understood what happened between God and his Son on the cross is not quite right. God did not forsake His Son. He did not turn His face away from Him. (I was flabbergasted when my friend said this at first).
Some of you may be in protest – but hold on you say ‘what about Jesus words on the cross?’ this is where it gets even sweeter. The words that Jesus says on the cross are a quote from Psalm 22 as most of you already know. If we actually take the time to read the Psalm we realise that although the psalmist begins with cries about why God has forsaken him and is so far from saving him he comes to a place where he says these words “…You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you descendants of Jacob, honor him! Revere him, all you descendants of Israel! 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…” You see? When Jesus quoted this Psalm that’s exactly what He was doing, quoting this psalm – his hearers wouldn’t have just heard the words my God why have you forsaken me, they would have also heard the words for He has not despised the afflicted one, He has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help. His hearers would have known this whole psalm they would have known that Jesus was referring not to a prayer of desperation but a prayer of hope. They would have heard the hope in Jesus words, but today we just hear desperation. We hear it wrong simply because we do not know scripture as we should, it is not in our minds and on our lips like it would have been in Jesus day.
It’s kinda like when i say something like “in my best behaviour i am really just like him” those of you who are sufjan stevens fans will understand that i am saying that i am a deeply sinful person because i am quoting a line from a song that is about a murder. Those of you who do not know sufjan stevens song will be like ‘what the flip?’. It’s a culture thing. I don’t have to explain myself to those of you who like sufjan you know exactly what i’m saying although i don’t actually say it. And so it is with Jesus on the cross, this phrase of despair was also a phrase of sure hope. I feel like this is something fredric Buchner would say because he talks so much about the comedy of the gospel – well, this is the comedy of the cross and Jesus knew it. As he hung there for us offering himself as the sacrifice for our sin in pain and suffering that we will never understand he at the same time knew fully the picture of what he was accomplishing also in a way that we will never understand.
At this point i now have all the how questions. Somehow Jesus has taken the world’s sin on his shoulders and yet at the same time remained one with the Father. Somehow He has experienced death and hell and yet at the same time remained one with the Father. how does this all work? – i will play with these questions on another entry on another day.