Did the Father turn his Face away?

How great the pain of searing loss,
The Father turns His face away
As wounds which mar the chosen One,
Bring many sons to glory.

(“How Deep the Father’s Love for Us” by Stuart Townend, I think.)

This concept appears in a great deal of sermons on the atonement and it seems to revolve around this logic:

  1. God cannot look at sin. (Hab 1:13)
  2. He who knew no sin (Jesus), became sin… (2 Corinthians 5:21)
  3. Therefore God could not look at Jesus on the cross. (Q.E.D.)

The other source for the view comes from Jesus’ cry on the cross, “Why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34).

I have a longer essay on this topic that deals with instances of this view in recent Bible commentaries. One day I may edit it down for blog consumption, but in summary, I find the view that God the Father turned away from Jesus on the cross to problematic for several reasons:

  1. The doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation make this notion fairly incoherent.
  2. The whole Bible teaches that God is with the righteous in their suffering.
  3. Jesus’ cry is from Psalm 22, which is a prayer written for times of intense suffering and includes this bit of theological wisdom, “For he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and he has not hidden his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him (Psalm 22:24).” 
  4. The idea that God cannot look at sin does not actually mean that God doesn’t see sin. It means that God judges sin.
  5. The whole testimony of Paul and Peter on the topic of suffering is that precisely at the moment one seems abandoned by God is when we know that God is with us precisely because Jesus was raised (Romans 8, 1 Peter 2-4, 2 Corinthians 3-5, etc).
  6. If the notion is raised in defense of penal substitutionary atonement, let it be recalled that God’s wrath happens when he sets his face against people (Leviticus 20:3). The metaphor is wrong. If the notion is raised because of the sadness of the even for God, let us remember that “it pleased God” to use the message of the cross to confound the wise (1 Corinthians 1:21). “It pleased” is a word used to indicate something that was considered best or most useful by a king or Lord. This wasn’t something sad that happened, it is something that God planned.

Conclusion:

Thought I fully understand the piety and logic behind the view that God the Father turned his face away from Jesus on the cross and can appreciate the attempt to maximize our concept of Jesus’ suffering on our behalf, the notion is very difficult to support. I prefer to just hum that part of the song.

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1 Comment

  1. Pingback: Devotional Thoughts: Blessed are the pure at heart | My Blog

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