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.

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14 Comments on “Did God turn His face away?”

  1. Mark McK Says:

    Good post transfarmer…

    Like all of theology this might just be a play on words… but I think that when we are talking about something as central to our faith as the cross there are some things that we must insist upon. One of those is that the Father and the Son where separated. We cannot say this is a real, ‘physical’ (ontological – for those who prefer the technical terms) separation, as your hero pointed out, this cannot take place and the universe still exist.

    However we must say that on the cross Jesus experienced separation from his Father. Jesus became sin for us and sin separates from God. We cannot imagine what this experience of separation would have felt like for Jesus, he always had known perfect fellowship with the Father, and now he IS sin, making it impossible to have fellowship with his Father!

    Your hero is right in pointing out the hope in Ps 22. It is there, and as Jesus used this as his cry of dereliction we might speculate that he has some ‘faith in God to save him’. Yet this faith does not easy the pain, the burden, the weight of separation…. so much so that I am still going to sing ‘the Father turned his face away.’

  2. Mark McK Says:

    Can I clarify…’Like all of theology this might just be a play on words…’

    I really meant ‘Liuke all theological debates this could be seen as a play on words’

  3. transfarmer Says:

    Thanks mark yea i appreciate your point about this hope not undoing the pain and burden jesus bore on the cross, it was not my intention to suggest that it did so thank you for clarifying. I’m still not convinced about the seperation thing though, i cant quite get my head around it yet but i’ll come back to you with my thoughts soon.

  4. neuro-praxis Says:

    Hello my darling.

    1. The wrath of God is not an abstract idea. A short while spent browsing the old testament will demonstrate God’s abhorrence of sin, and the consequences of such sin. If God has no wrath, then we cannot trust the bible – our only account of Him. This new belief you are espousing actually steeply undermines scriptural authority.

    2. If Jesus did not bear God’s wrath, then he is just some guy who was crucified; a death orchestrated by men. The separation of Jesus from the father is a divine mystery, but because it is difficult to comprehend does not mean it did not occur. (It is like arguing that because no woman has ever become pregnant while remaining a virgin, Jesus’ mother could not have done so.) If God did not pour wrath out on Christ (which is central to orthodox Christian thinking) then I have nothing to be grateful to Jesus for, any more than I have anything to be grateful to anyone else who died at the hands of men.

    3. Christ’s death, descension to hell and resurrection on the third day are central to the Christian faith. They were planned from the beginning of time by an utterly just God; an utterly just God whose perfect love is met with perfect justice. Sin in the face of justice bears wrath. Sin to God is repulsive. God dealt with this repulsion, as He claimed he would when he made his covenant with Moses, by **ripping Himself apart** and bearing the burden of sin Himself. Any movement away from this reality is, I am afraid, grave heresy.

    4. The idea that the world would collapse if the Trinity was separated is an interesting one, but it does not have biblical support. In what way is it a coherent understanding of how God has shown Himself to operate in the world?

    5. I for one am deeply grateful that Christ bore God’s wrath for me. It means that I do not have to. The Lamb was crucified so that I am free. He was not crucified to make some cosmic point; He was crucified amd separated from the father because it is only just that there was monumental punishment for the abhorrence of chosen, willful sin.

    The gospel is a very offensive message, and this is one of the reasons why. Your new hero is actually not espousing new ideas – there is a whole movement of theologians who do not like the discomfort of atonement theology, which is bloody, hard and wrathful. But that is one of the parts of God’s character; but His tendency – never forget – is to pour that wrath out on Himself – not onto us – this creating a new and perfect justice drenched in love.

  5. transfarmer Says:

    Hey my favourite neuro. I hope i’m not as much of a heretic as you think i am but i may well be so i really appreiate your input. In response to your comments: I DO believe Jesus bore the wrath of God on the cross for us (although i will write more about this on a seperate entry). However what i am thinking about is whether or not Jesus has at the same time as bearing the wrath of God still remained one with God. Previously i understood that the seperation was a TOTAL seperation but now i am wondering if Jesus’ relationship with the Father still remained intact in someway. If it was totally severed this would mean a brokeness in the trinity and the trinity would have ceased to be the trinity. I do appreciate your point about ‘just because we cant comprehend it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen’.
    BUT is it possible that Jesus bore the wrath of God without God turning his face from him?
    Ok i’ll go write the next part of my thoughts on a new entry and see if it helps then you can make a full conclusion on my theology and help correct it. While i was away i freeked out so much about the idea of being a heretic that i almost gave up my faith then i remembered this thing called the church (aka my community) who continually sharpen and challange and protect me. so thanks for your heart.

  6. […] Partly in response to neuro in the previous post and partly because i wanted to talk about this […]

  7. dissenterdan Says:

    Hey. enjoyed the blog. Since we are being speculative let me say that for me the separation of Jesus from his Father was a separation of the Father as God and Jesus as man. The danger might be in thinking of Jesus on the cross as only God. In the incarnation Jesus sets aside his equality with God and takes the form, the limitations, the emotions of a man. He does not only appear to be a man (who is really God all the time), he is a man, fully and completely (who is also really God all the time.) For me, the point of the Psalm is both that Jesus the man fully experiences the full horror of separation from God sin has caused and that he has knowingly entered into it because he knew his Father’s will would not be to leave him thus separated. in this way as God, the nature of the trinity was never in doubt but as man, Jesus (who had walked with God as a man in perfect relationship all his life) faced and bore the genuine separation and torment it meant to take what we deserved upon himself. For me, anything less implies docetism on Jesus part and poor service to the Psalm on ours.

  8. […] said: “Hey. enjoyed the blog. Since we are being speculative let me say that for me the separation […]

  9. Steve B. Says:

    I am really enjoying this blog. I started down this road a few days ado helping a fellow student in the Word understand the Father’s heart and as I mentioned The Father turning His face away from Jesus and God not being able to look upon sin, he said “can you show me where it says all that in the Bible?” This has been a very enlightening (as well as frustrating) few days. A Pastor friend pointed me to the sacrificial lamb in the OT. He said everything that happened to the lamb had to happen to Jesus, being the “Lamb of God”. This took me to Lev. and I studied the sacrifices for some time, getting stuck in Chapter 16 and the “Scapegoat”. But no mention of the people turning their face or backs on the goat as the sins of man were placed on it, so of course no requirement for God to follow suit. Please understand, this in no way is to detract from what happened on the cross. This is solid in my heart, I am after scripture that makes a point (as to teach it). Hab. 1:13 says “Your eyes are to pure to look upon evil.” This is a weak point. Yet it does make a point. I will have to work on this more later.
    BBlessed, Veest

  10. hayleyneal Says:

    i am a little late on this band wago – 2 yrs in fact but i am currently writing an essay on this… and having this conversation with myself at the moment.

    i think separation is an unhelpful word. we often talk about sin separating us from relationship with God and to be saved is being brought back into relationship… but even though adam and eve sinned they remained in relationship with God – he spoke to them even when he was displeased.

    so i am wondering if the answer doesn’t lie in that only Jesus the Nazarene bore the sin of the world but Christ Jesus the incarnate son of God bore it … he can maintain unity with the father because he was bearing the wrath in relationship. the judgement in the relationship – which confirms that it would take God in Christ in Flesh to bear the sins of the world. If it was just Jesus human bearing hte sin of the world we would be still dead in sin. only God could bear that weight of sin, guilt, shame, wrath and come back to life. if little ol me did that – no chance.

  11. transfarmer Says:

    hayley thanks for your thoughts, i’d almost forgotten this post! apologies for the delay in my response… would love to hear your conclusions in that essay…

  12. Frank Leonetti Says:

    Isa 59:2 But your iniquities have separated you from your God;
    And your sins have hidden His face from you,
    So that He will not hear.

    God not look upon us with sin. If He became sin… How could God look upon Him?

    I think the Father did not look, but in His heart He never forsook Jesus.

  13. Bill Says:

    All you need to do is read Psalm 18 and ponder Job 1-2. If God cannot look at sin, then how on earth could Satan stand before God and have a conversation in Job 1-2? God looks on sin all the time, but not with approval. Secondly, Psalm 18 describes how God rescues His own who suffer and are about to die. Thick darkness surrounds God (Psalm 97.2), so the closer God gets, the darker it becomes – and the darkness of the moment Jesus dies shows the nearness of God the Father. If the Father was separated from the Son at the cross, Jesus could never had said, “Into Your HANDS I commit My Spirit.” Jesus wouldn’t have talked to the Father at all … for Jesus would have known that the Father was not listening. No, the Father never turned His face away from the Son. He came so close that the rocks split, the veil was torn from top to bottom (talk about God getting close!) and the dead came to life … and the Son was in the very hands of His Father. Grace and peace to you!

  14. Gabriel Says:

    The problem is when people don’t quote the full verse for Hab 1:13 which states ” Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity: wherefore lookest thou upon them that deal treacherously , and holdest thy tongue when the wicked devoureth the man that is more righteous than he?” Habakkuk is asking why is God looking at sin.

    God didn’t turn his face away from Christ just as Psalm 22:24 states “For he hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; NEITHER hath he hid his face from him; but when he cried unto him, he heard.” Pretty clear there it states that God did NOT hide his face from Him and God heard Him.

    Sin separates US from God not God from Himself. God is omnipotent. Which is the whole reason why unbelievers need Christ’s blood to redeem them.

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