Cyber-psalm is suspect

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.

0 thoughts on “Cyber-psalm is suspect

  1. Pingback: The Father and filial friend feigned fulsomely forsake « lingalinga

  2. Peter,

    Thanks for lots of good stuff on the Cyber-Psalm 1. I will read your post carefully and try to respond to it more fully next week. The exchange between you and Suzanne on lingalinga was very fun.

    I’m not averse to changing the wording on CyPs1. It is a personal expression of prayer but proclamation in the sense that I want to testfiy to God’s glory.

    Thinking out loud here as I read your reactions, it seemed that you are advocating “hidden meaning” in the text, that is the original language, which is not plainly available to readers of the Scriptures (even the TNIV) and also reading the crucifixion story through the lens of trinitarian theology.

    I’m a lowly English lit. major that snuck in the back door on Bible translation so it’s no surprise if my writings are shaped more by euphony than theology.



    (Posted by Peter Kirk for Lingamish)

  3. Lingamish, thanks for your reply (sent by e-mail and posted by me at your request).

    Yes, I accept that I am reading the text in the light of a theological construction. But so are you, surely. The word “reject” is not there in the text. As an English major you should know the difference between “forsake” and “reject”, as in my example of you forsaking family and friends.

    I understand your desire for euphony. But the theology of millions can be shaped by the hymns and psalms they sing or read. So it is important that that theology is correct. Well known song writers usually get their work checked for its theology by people who are knowledgeable in this area. If you aspire to be well known or sung by millions, you may need to do the same.

  4. Peter – you are right on; this is my son in whom I am well-pleased – ratsah in the Hebrew and terribly obvious in the English. God accepts Jesus and the full scope of his being made sin for us. The psalm has good imagery but the our darkness taken on my him allows the darkness itself to become light in him!

    The year of Jubilee – all these things come to focus in Christ and make the work good news not bad. So by the same work we too can purify ourselves as he is pure and joy in that profound acceptance of our full humanity in the love of God.

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