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God, why have you forsaken me?

This line from Jesus on the cross usually gets interpreted as how that is the moment when Papa actually turns his back on his Son because of sin.  This is both exegetically unsound and theologically perverse. 

Sure, the yahoos milling around under the cross thought he was complaining about not being rescued, but that’s because they didn’t share Jesus’ cultural background.  Any Jew would know that by quoting the first line of Psalm 22, Jesus was invoking that psalm as his interpretation of the situation.  Psalm 22 says “I feel like Papa has abandoned me, but I know He has not.”  Really.  Go read it.  At this moment on the cross, Jesus is faced with the serpent’s oh-so-convincing lie that Papa cannot be trusted.  He is feeling what every human feels.  But by faith he pushes through the darkness and refuses to believe the lie.  He invokes Psalm 22, by which he honestly expresses what he’s feeling, but also shouts his triumph over human darkness: “I feel forsaken, but I know I am not.” 

The whole point of the incarnation is that the wholeness of the Father-Son relationship would heal the brokenness of the God-human relationship.  The Son entered into humanity’s broken relationship with God, while never letting go of his own relationship with his Father.  This moment on the cross is the final victory of the Son’s trust over Adam’s distrust.  This is where the breach is finally healed.  To say that human distrust WINS at this point is a real downer, to say the least.

This is an piece of the Nicene (pre-Augustinian) tradition that is so important to my theology.  Augustine filtered the whole Bible through Roman jurisprudence, seeing the whole Bible as being about laws and punishments, courtroom proceedings, legal minutia, and executions.  For him, it was absolutely necessary that God got to vent his wrath (a.k.a., murderous fury) on someone, and he located that venting at this moment on the cross, because it so obviously didn’t fit anywhere else in Christ’s incarnate life of unbroken relationship and intimacy with the One he called Papa.

But the predominant idea before Augustine was of the Triune God as “the Great Physician” who heals us by becoming one with us and “infecting” us with his own wholeness.  This is presented over and over again in the gospels as Jesus touches lepers.  Rather than getting himself infected with their disease, they get infected with his health.  But if Augustine is right, then it would be like saying that Jesus eventually succumbed to the leprosy germs and then died.  Augustine’s interpretation ends up with the implication that on the cross, humanity’s alienation from God did finally triumph over Jesus’ relationship with his Father.

And that just ain’t so.


2 Responses

  1. Wayne Jacobsen likened Jesus’ work on the cross to Jesus taking cancer upon himself to become the antibodies we needed to be healed from our own cancer. (“God made him who had no sin, to be sin for us.”)

    A close examination of penal substitution shows that it is inconsistent with the God of the Bible. And the alternative is not only true, it is LOVE!

    I’ve just started browsing your site… (found you by way of Parry’s) … and thanks for your efforts!

    • Lauren, it’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance! I LOVE Waynes cancer analogy. Somehow the disease/healing images work so beautifully. One of ancient Christianity’s favorite ways of referring to Jesus was as “the Great Physician.”

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