My cyber-friend Lingamish has published the first of a series of “cyber-psalms”. (In this sentence “cyber-” seems to mean no more than “communicating only on the Internet”.) On his lingalinga blog he notes:
Aren’t those susserating* sibilants simply succulent?
Indeed, Lingamish, this is a great poem or psalm. Except for one little problem. You have fallen straight into the trap of describing the atonement as the Father working separately from the Son, the very trap I have been trying to warn you and others about on this blog for more than a year. Well, I can hardly blame you for not reading all my 45 posts on the atonement, but surely you have read at least one of them?
The problem is this: you wrote:
And you rejected him.
Out of love for us,
the people living in darkness.
That is, you wrote that God the Father rejected Jesus. That is not what the Bible says. In Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34 we read that Jesus, quoting Psalm 22:1, cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (TNIV). But “forsake” (Greek enkataleipo, Hebrew `azab, to show off a bit) does not mean “reject”, it just means “leave”. You have left or forsaken your family and (non-cyber-)friends in America to serve in Africa, but I hope that doesn’t mean you have rejected them. Similarly, God may have forsaken Jesus, but that doesn’t mean that he rejected his beloved Son.
So why does Lingamish think that God rejected Jesus? Well, he hasn’t yet replied to what I wrote to him personally about this, except to explain on lingalinga why he turned off comments on this post (and forced me to respond here rather than in a comment). So I can only surmise.
But it seems likely that he has picked up a distorted version of the doctrine of the atonement, in which God the Father places the sin of the world on his Son and then turns against him, pours out his wrath on him, and punishes him with a cruel death. This is the false teaching which I have joined in with J.I. Packer, John Stott and Steve Chalke to reject and refute.
So, what is wrong with this teaching? In general terms it goes against the doctrine of the Trinity, and more specifically it conflicts with verses like 2 Corinthians 5:19 by denying that God was united with Christ on the cross. Here is Packer’s take on the matter:
The Trinitarian principle is that the three distinct persons within the divine unity, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, always work inseparably together, as in creation, so in providence and in every aspect of the work of redemption. … [The death and resurrection of Christ and the sending of the Holy Spirit were] planned by the holy Three in their eternal solidarity of mutual love, and … the Father’s central purpose in it all was and is to glorify and exalt the Son as Saviour and Head of a new humanity
So no place here for the Father working against the Son and rejecting him. And here again are Stott’s comments:
We must never make Christ the object of God’s punishment or God the object of Christ’s persuasion, for both God and Christ were subjects not objects, taking the initiative together to save sinners.
This clearly rules out the kind of distorted presentation of the atonement which I described before – which is also the kind Steve Chalke infamously referred to as “cosmic child abuse”.
So, how can we say even that God forsook Jesus? I’m not sure that we have to take this as objectively true. Rather, Jesus in his agony expressed that he felt that God had forsaken him, felt alone, felt as we ordinary humans so often feel when God seems far away in sickness or tragedy. This helps him to empathise with our weaknesses (Hebrews 4:15). But the truth is that God never really forsook him, certainly never rejected his one and only beloved Son. And neither will he reject us his Christian sons and daughters,
because God has said,
“Never will I leave you;
never will I forsake you.”
(Hebrews 13:5, TNIV)
Lingamish, I know it’s hard for you to comment on this, so if you e-mail me a response (but before Sunday night as I go away on Monday for a few days) I will post it as a comment from you.