10 Reasons The Father Didn’t Turn His Face Away At The Cross

Psalm 22:1 is a key verse for the rejection theory. ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me?’ (Ps 22:1). What does it mean? Two things. First, context is clear. Look at the parallel verse: ‘why are you so far from helping me?’ This is the issue: ‘no help’. The sufferer is asking why God doesn’t save him from his oppressors. I.e. ‘Why do you let my oppressors torment me?’ The Father gives the Son over to suffering. Psalm 22:1 is the equivalent of Isaiah’s statement, ‘It pleased the Lord to bruise Him’. In fact, the Psalm later says it: ‘You have brought me to the dust of death’ (v. 15).

Christ took the penalty for our sin upon Himself. Our penalty was eternal separation from God. Therefore, the Son must have suffered separation from God—mustn’t He? What would that mean? Is this the severing of the Triune union between the Father and Son? Is this relational, being ‘cut off from…sweet fellowship with his heavenly Father’, such that Christ was ‘abandoned by his heavenly Father’ (Grudem, Systematic Theology, 574)? What does Townend mean, saying there was ‘searing loss’ when ‘The Father turns His face away’? The Father’s anger was upon the Son, who had ‘become sin for us’, so the Father had no choice but to reject and banish the Son from His presence.

Here are 10 reasons why I don’t believe it.

  1. The Father was never more pleased with the Son than at the Cross.

The Cross was Jesus’ ultimate act of obedience: obedience—even to the point of the Cross (Phil 2:8). If ever the Father could say, ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased’, it was at the Cross. The OT sacrifices were a ‘sweet smelling aroma’; how much more was Christ’s sacrifice a delight to God? ‘Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma’ (Eph 5:2).

  1. The Cross was the Father’s plan.

Jesus was ‘delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God’ (Acts 2:23). ‘It was the will of the Lord to crush Him’ (Isa 53:9, ESV). And the Lord takes pleasure in His will. In fact, the word for ‘will’ in Isaiah 53 is chaphets, pleasure, delight. ‘Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him’ (NKJV). Which takes us back to point one.

  1. The Triune union cannot be severed.

That really should be an obvious point. Father, Son and Spirit each fully and together possess the divine being or substance. They cannot turn on each other. The problem here is that some misunderstand the Trinity. The Trinity is three guys who get along really well with each other. But they’re independent enough to turn on each other, as well. This social model has made deep inroads in evangelicalism’s Trinitarian thinking, but it’s not the Bible’s God. That’s playing with tritheism.

  1. If the Father turned away from the Son, the Son turned away from Himself.

The Father fully possesses the divine attribute of justice. The Son fully possesses the divine attribute of justice. If justice demands the Father turn away from the Son, then precisely the same justice demands that the Son turn away from the Son. Moltmann was wrong: this would not be Father against Son, God against God. This would be Son against Himself, separating Himself from Himself (or the Son’s divine nature rejecting the human nature). Of course, the perfect Son was repulsed to be treated as a criminal—it was a heavy burden to bear—but this is another matter.

The rejection theory is well meant, but it doesn’t make sense. Moltmann wanted a God who felt pain, but it only humanises Him, which leaves us all in a desperate muddle.

  1. Was Jesus banished from God’s presence all through His earthly life?

Jesus wasn’t just ‘made sin’ at the Cross, but all through His earthly life. He was ‘born under the [curse of the] law’ (Gal 4:4). Did the Father ‘turn His face away’ from Jesus through all His earthly life?

  1. Psalm 22:1 doesn’t say the Father rejected the Son.

Psalm 22:1 is a key verse for the rejection theory. ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me?’ (Ps 22:1). What does it mean? Two things. First, context is clear. Look at the parallel verse: ‘why are you so far from helping me?’ This is the issue: ‘no help’. The sufferer is asking why God doesn’t save him from his oppressors. I.e. ‘Why do you let my oppressors torment me?’ The Father gives the Son over to suffering. Psalm 22:1 is the equivalent of Isaiah’s statement, ‘It pleased the Lord to bruise Him’. In fact, the Psalm later says it: ‘You have brought me to the dust of death’ (v. 15).

Secondly, it’s a rhetorical question. The sufferer knows full well why God does this. What’s the point of asking it, then? To express his distress. This is real suffering. He really doesn’t want to go through it. He would rather God saved Him instantly out of it. ‘If it is possible, let this cup pass from me. But not my will…’ (Matt 26:39).

Perhaps it also means, ‘It feels like you have abandoned me’ (Calvin), or ‘It’s really hard in my present circumstances to feel your closeness’ (which is a very real human reaction, isn’t it, as the extent of physical pain clouds over our spiritual senses). See Lucas Sharley, ‘Calvin and Turretin’s views of the Trinity in the dereliction’, RTR 75, no. 1, 2016.

  1. Psalm 22 affirms that the Father sustained the Son on the Cross.

Reading the whole of Psalm 22, it strongly affirms that God sustained the sufferer. I’m particularly drawn to the participles of v. 9. ‘You are the one bringing me up, from the time of my birth, and you are the one making me trust from the time I was breastfeed onwards’. The verbs are not just about the time of being born. These are ongoing realities. See also Isa 50:7, of Jesus at crucifixion, ‘The Lord God helps me’.

The Psalm heads to the great turning point in v. 21: ‘You have answered Me’. No hint of relational abandonment in that. Put v. 24 in large letters: ‘He has not hidden His face from Him’.

  1. Rejection would have been unjust.

Jesus became sin for us, but He was still the perfect Son of God. ‘Truly, this was a righteous man’ (Matt 23:47). The implications of this need to be honoured. To personalise this, if you were a judge, and your own innocent son valiantly stepped forward at a trial to take a criminal’s punishment upon himself, would you be angry with him and reject him?

  1. The value of the Cross doesn’t need bolstering with a ‘rejection by God’ theory.

Christ paid our debt. Our debt was eternal death, so where is there eternal death at the Cross? It’s not enough that Christ merely physically died, is it? We are due physical and spiritual death. Therefore, we need to bolster the cost of the Cross. We need to find spiritual death at the Cross.

The ‘rejection by God’ theory looks like the answer. However, division within the Triune God is not the same as our everlasting spiritual death. The Cross simply wasn’t everlasting; it was only a few hours.

Also, this misunderstands the atonement. The atonement doesn’t need to be a tit for tat arrangement—an exact exchange, as it were. An equivalent payment, yes; an exact payment, no. ‘The  payment  is  not  precisely  what  is  demanded  in  the  obligation,  but  an equivalent’ (Turretin).

There is inestimable value in the death of God’s Son. It was God’s Son who died. The value is in the Person: God’s righteous, precious Son. And the nature of His death: a freely given sacrifice, with perfect love for us and obedience to God. That’s what makes it ‘sweet smelling’ (Eph 5:2). We’re so used to people dying, that we miss the uniqueness of Christ’s death. It was the purest life that was willingly offered.

How could we forget this, that we would need to seek the value of the Cross elsewhere? That’s enough ‘value’ to pay the sins of all God’s elect people; and for the sins of the whole world, and a thousand worlds besides, many would add. When I remember who it was who died on the Cross—not just the method of execution, and not some theory of Trinitarian disruption—that’s when I fall silent. It was the incarnate Son of God.

  1. It’s not in Scripture.

There is no clear statement in Scripture that the Father turned His face away. If the Father-Son relationship was separated at the Cross, that would be huge. It would be the core meaning of the Cross. You would expect it to be everywhere in Scripture. But of course it’s not.

Does ‘The Father turn His face away’? ‘The Father gives His Son to die’, yes. ‘He prays, “Please take this cup from me”,’ yes. ‘He bears the full weight of my sin’, yes. But ‘He has not hidden His face from Him’ (Ps 22:24). Townend’s song is beautiful, and the metaphor admits to other meanings. I can sing it with a bit of double think: ‘The Father appears to turn His face away, by giving His Son over to execution, but actually sustains Him through His suffering’. As Jesus bore the full weight of sin, He was sustained by His God; and the Father was never more pleased with the Son.

Dr. Jared HoodLecturer in OT, WCF and Reformation History at the Presbyterian Theological College, Melbourne and Editor of Reformed Theological Review, Australia’s leading evangelical journal. This article appeared on his blog and is used with permission.

The post 10 Reasons The Father Didn’t Turn His Face Away At The Cross appeared first on The Aquila Report.

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