Did God forsake Jesus at the cross?

This post continues the series exploring the book Forsaken (The Trinity and the Cross, and Why it Matters) by Tom McCall. For other posts in the series, click a number: 1345678.

Last time we saw how McCall shows that Jesus' cry of dereliction on the cross ("my God, my God, why have you forsaken me"), cannot be taken as indicating that the Father separated himself from his Son. McCall uses several arguments to debunk this wrong-headed (though popular) notion. In this post we'll look at two. First, McCall argues on the basis of God's own essential (and inseparable) triune nature. He quotes Bruce D. Marshall:
God the Son can be truly Fatherless only if God the Father has genuinely given up whatever is necessary for his paternal relationship with his Son... The person of the Father is inseparable from the act of generation by which he eternally brings forth the Son. Without this act of generation, there would be no person of the Father... Were God the Father to renounce his paternity in the passion of the incarnate Son...the Son would at that moment cease to be brought forth from the Father. If this Son came to be Fatherless, he would himself instantly cease to be. At the same time he would naturally cease to suffer the Father's dereliction, since what is not cannot suffer" (pp34-35).
McCall goes on to note that nothing in Matthew's and Mark's accounts of Jesus' cry of foresakenness on the cross demands the idea of a rupture in the triune relationships. Indeed, those relationships cannot be broken, for it is these relationships that constitute the Trinity, and thus the very being of God.

Second, McCall argues from the biblical text, noting that neither Matthew or Mark give any explanation concerning the meaning of Jesus' cry of dereliction. Also, both record that Jesus made a "loud cry" after the cry of foresakenness (Mat 27:50; Mark 15:37), and neither tell us what that cry was - for that we have to go to John's account where "the last recorded words of Jesus come as a triumphant cry from a man with his head held high: 'It is finished' (John 19:30)" (p37). This cry of triumph is hardly consistent with the idea that Jesus had been abandoned by his Father or that the triune relationship had been severed in any way:
There is no hint here of a severed or even strained relationship. There is no sense here of a Father who has rejected his Son or who has turned his back on him. In fact, it is hard to see how such a view could even be compatible with the last words of Jesus. To the contrary, Jesus prefaces his last words with a sense of deep relational intimacy: Jesus addresses his "Father." And they are words of complete trust; what we see here is an expression of the closest imaginable spiritual communion. "Into your hands I commit my spirit."
The last words of Jesus, as recorded by Luke [23:46], are not words of spiritual separation or of utter abandonment of God. They are not the words of someone who knows that the Father has "turned his face away," nor is it the response of someone who believes that he has been rejected by his Father. Luke's last words of Jesus are an expression of confident trust and glad hope. They stand in contradiction to any broken-Trinity interpretation of the cry of dereliction. They are, however, completely consistent with the traditional understanding that the Father -  when he could have rescued him - abandoned Jesus to this death, on the cross, at the hands of these sinful people, for us and our salvation. But even in this abandonment, he is the beloved Son of his Father. The one abandoned to this awful humiliation and death is the one with whom the Father is "well pleased" (Mat. 3:17; Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22) (pp38-39).


David A Sheridan said…
Author McCall clears up the question why Jesus used the term “God” then shortly afterwards “Father.” The last four statements on the cross were made in rapid succession at the “ninth hour” or 3 PM. In the 4th statement Jesus uses “My God...” yet moments later in the 7th statement “Father...” This indicates no separation had taken place. McCall’s Trinitarian reading expertly ruptures the “Rupture Theory” and recovers the true poignancy of the orthodox perspective on the cross.
It might be interesting! But how author dares to argue with the Bible, I don't understand!
Ted Johnston said…
Dear Christian Love,

Perhaps you misunderstand what is meant in this post by the word "argument." It does not mean taking exception with what Scripture proclaims; quite the contrary. An "argument" in this context is the setting forth of a certain interpretive perspective. Personally, I find the perspectives that McCall sets forth in his book to be scriptural and quite insightful.
Anonymous said…
I am wondering if one could delve into the notion of the Essential Spirit and the Economical Spirit to try to understand this question. I find it satisfying in that, at least for me, it gives a framework that provides a basis for "giving an answer the Hope that lies within." Along this line, Jesus the God-Man was God as a baby and a human because he was born of the Holy Spirit and a women. However, his ministry proper did not begin until age 30, when he was lead to be baptized by John and then received what one could call the Economical component of Spirit and received verbal commendation from the Father. Then Jesus was fully equipped to best Satan and begin his public ministry as God-Man. Continuing down this vein, Jesus' work on earth was finished (except for the additional training given to the disciples after resurrection) on the cross when His spirit was yielded to the Father. The Economic aspect of the Spirit was surrendered, but Jesus was still Essentially God-Man and therefore still efficacious as our redemption. He as essentially God went to hell and completed the witness there before being resurrected.

I have some books on my shelf by Karl Rahner and Jurgen Moltmann that got me to thinking along this line.

The book by McCall seems worthy of reading as good "grist for the mill."
Bill Tollner (Anonymous was the only reply option that worked quickly)
Athens, GA
Ted Johnston said…
Hi Bill,
Thanks for posting this comment. We struggle to try to describe Jesus nature as both human and divine, including his relationship with the Father and the Spirit as a man and then (and at the same time) as God. We understand that Jesus limited himself to his humanity while on earth (the doctrine of the kenosis), and thus his relationship with the Father and the Spirit was as a human. The Spirit operated with and through Jesus' humanity during the years of his earthly sojourn in progressive ways, though we're told that Jesus was "full" of the Spirit from birth. There are all sorts of questions that we're don't have specific scriptural information, but its certainly worthy of deep reflection, and that leading to awe, reverence and worship. How great is our Lord who became (and remain) one of us in order to be our salvation.
Anonymous said…
Have you ever thought that the cry of being forsaken was nothing but the illusion of separation from God? Let me explain, Jesus on the cross became sin (not a sinner). This "sin" is not what we experience when we fail in a certain area and we "feel" God has is no longer there for us until we truly repent.

Jesus becoming "sin" is in fact personalizing all sin from the moment Adam rebelled even to the end of time. It is a weight of oppression that we could never understand or experience. He was in fact carrying in His person the mankind' sin of all mankind.

However, if we make the mistake of thinking that God turned His face from His Son because He cannot stand sin, we have to assume that sin is greater than God, that darkness is so powerful that causes God the Father to abandon the Son of His love because sin "offends" Him.

On the other hand, Jesus had no problem touching lepers, laying hands of the most disgusting people that came to him for deliverance and was never contaminated by the sin of these people. Are we to say that Jesus was greater than the Father in this area because He did not feel disgust when these people came to Him?

Instead, He loved them and His compassion revealed how angry He was at what the enemy had done to His own creation.

We also know through the scriptures that he who saw Jesus saw the Father (Jn 14:9), that Jesus and the Father were one (Jn 10:30) and that Jesus did only what the Father showed Him (Jn 5:19), therefore it was Father's will for Jesus to touch the lepers and heal them.

As for the Father, I can confidently say that He never left the Son alone because the bible does not say that. I will go even further to illustrate that then the light goes through garbage is never contaminated because the light is greater than the darkness.

To insinuate that the Father forsook Jesus at the moment when He needed Him the most is to accuse the Father to be a child abuser and someone that cannot be trusted, especially when we fall on our face, something we do continuously.

God is a Trinity, therefore to suggest that the unity of the eternal Triune God was ruptured at the cross is to suggest that evil was stronger than God.

Are you willing to believe that?