Did the Father Abandon His Son on the Cross? Absolutely NOT!

Did the Father abandon His Son on the cross? Absolutely NOT!

Although this has been a troublesome passage over the years…at least for some, including me!

After looking at Matthew 27:46 (quoting Psalm 22:1a), the great Reformer Martin Luther was heard to mutter: “God forsaking God! Who can understand it?”

How do we resolve difficult Bible questions in general?

I want to use Matthew 27:46 as a model of how to approach any difficult Bible passage. I’m fine if you disagree! Your comments are welcome, and I will respond as long as they are more light than heat.

As we go through the Bible book by book, we will come across unclear or difficult passages. Some passage may seem to contradict commonly held theology or practice or Bible teachers we have listened to.

Since God is uncreated and infinite and we are created and finite, I have a “Deuteronomy 29:29 Bucket” into which I throw my unanswered questions.

But first, I want to do the hard work to pursue the current light I have. God wants us to be a workman who handles the Word well (2 Timothy 2:15). He also seeks to develop a humble person who realizes our beliefs will always be in process because we still see partially (1 Corinthians 13:12).

So take time to pour over the difficulty, until the Spirit of God no longer releases spiritual life in it. For me, this the limit of my study. Then I stop and throw it temporarily into my “Deuteronomy 29:29 Bucket” (go read Deuteronomy 29:29). Since I want to be a lifelong life-learner, however, this may recycle later.

“Interpret less clear passages in the light of more explicitly clear truth.” This is one of my Baker’s Dozen Common Tips to interpret Scripture. Scripture is God-breathed, so it does not contradict itself when correctly interpreted, although mystery still exists!

Here is my process for difficult Bible questions.

First Step: Carefully define the Biblical problem.

Second Step: Begin with certainties that relate to your difficult question.

Third Step: What is the simplest explanation describing the MINIMUM this passage MUST teach?

Fourth Step: Is there MORE this passage MAY teach?

Fifth Step: What truth will I grasp to impact my life and others?

Sixth Step: What still needs to go into my “Deuteronomy 29:29 Bucket”?

Now let’s look at this for Matthew 27:46:
“Did the Father abandon His Son on the cross?”

First Step: Carefully define the Biblical problem.

  1. How do we understand Jesus quoting Psalm 22:1: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me” in Matthew 27:46 (parallel in Mark 15:34)?
  2. What does Jesus mean by “forsaken” as He quotes Psalm 22:1? Is it even possible for the Father to abandon His Son? How does the inseparable oneness of the relational Trinity fit here?
  3. Based on Habakkuk 1:13a, some say the Father had to abandon Jesus because He bore our sins, taking “forsake” as literal separation of the Father from the Son.
  4. One person expressed his thoughts like this: “Here Jesus was bearing the sins of the whole world, and even God the Father had to turn away as Jesus bore the curse and identified Himself with the sins of the whole world” (Walfoord). Martin Luther also seemed to come from this position. Does Scripture support this position?

Second Step: Begin with certainties that relate to your difficult question.

1. Jesus and the Father are inseparable Trinity from eternity past into eternity future.

They are forever connected from eternity past into eternity future. Beginning with the relational Trinity, rather than with the cross, changes our perspective on many of these controversial question. I try to begin all my thinking on Scriptural topics with the relational Trinity before time.

2. Why did Jesus quote Psalm 22:1 while hanging on the cross?

  1. For Jesus, the Psalms were His source to gather language in prayer, as they are for us today as His followers. Jesus quotes or alludes to Psalms more than any other OT book. It would be natural for Jesus to pray by quoting the Psalms.
  2. This Psalm is a prophetic Psalm, not only applying directly to David in His time, but also to Jesus. Psalm 22 would naturally be tugging on Jesus’ mind and heart at this time. Compare Psalm 22 with the Passion events in the Gospels. You may be surprised by the number of prophecies from Psalm 22 that were literally fulfilled, reminding Jesus of the entire Psalm. To name a few: scorned and despised by people, mocked, insults hurled at Him, His enemies saying the Lord abandoned Him, cast lots for His garments.
  3. As in all Lament Psalms, of which Psalm 22 is one, Scripture accurately reports the honest, raw, unfiltered feelings the psalmist experiences, even when these feelings don’t align with Scripture and Reality from God’s viewpoint. The point of lament psalms is to learn into God with our honest feelings. Perhaps the best illustration is Psalm 13:1-2. At least three of these “How long…?” cries are untrue (I believe all four are untrue). Yet they are a very true and authentic reflection of his inner feelings and turmoil. Psalm 13 also provides us with a model to work through, to move from lament (1-2) to petition (3-4) and on to praise and trust (5-6)…with no change in circumstances.
  4. Jesus was fully man (and also still God). So we are gazing at mystery, above our pay grade to fully grasp. As a man, Jesus experienced all that we experience,  personal sin excepted (Hebrews 2:14-18; Romans 8:3). Have you ever experienced the agony of deep, unrelenting pain? Or crushing aloneness when all your friends left you, or abandonment when important friends leave, even betrayed by one of your closest friends? How did that feel? Jesus also experienced similar gut-wrenching pain as a real Man, which releases His compassion to come alongside us. Jesus felt gut-wrenching agony, like we do (Hebrews 2:14-18, 4:15-16).
  5. Psalm 22:1 then is the appropriate lament of a Man who trusts God and honestly expresses to His Father His raw feelings, His physical pain, His sin-bearing pain, and His pain of abandonment. “Jesus ‘cried out’ the words of Psalm 22:1, because He felt like His Father was abandoning Him.” (Dr. Constable, emphasis added). Note: “felt like.” Like David, Jesus accurately expressed His authentic, raw feelings, even if the Father never abandoned Him.
  6. That Jesus expressed His strong feelings of aloneness because of pain through the words of a well-known lament Psalm is much different than the Father actually abandoning Him by turning away from Jesus. In fact, Jesus’s response, understood like this, now becomes a powerful model for His people during our darkest times.

3. What about Habakkuk 1:13, regarding “not looking on sin”?

  1. Be careful not to take a partial verse out of it’s context. In Biblical interpretation, “context is king” (another of my Baker’s Dozen Tips). The chasm is wide between the meaning of “not looking on sin with approval and “not looking on sin at all.”
  2. The more literal translation, the NASB (along with the Amplified Bible), reads: “Thine eyes are too pure to approve evil” (Habakkuk 1:13). The Father is too Holy and pure to ever look approvingly or with favor on the ugliness of sin. God is too pure to look with approval on sin, but this does not mean that God cannot look on sin at all. The NASB brings out the meaning of the verb. “Look intently,” then the shade of “regard with pleasure or care.” It’s this attitude of looking with pleasure that is denied, not the act of looking.
  3. In actuality, God has looked on sin for millenniums, since the Fall in Genesis 3. God just has not looked on sin with approval.
  4. And at least read the whole verse in Habakkuk 1:13 before interpreting. The first part of the verse asserts that God cannot look approvingly on sin. The second expresses Habakkuk’s outrage that God seems to be looking with approval as Nebuchadnezzar first invaded  Israel. Habakkuk, a man who trusts deeply in God was perplexed. How could a Holy God who does not approve of evil use such an unholy people? “We are Your people, Lord. How can you sit back and watch while our wicked enemy swallows us up. Act on our behalf!” Habakkuk is three short chapters. Read it for yourself if you still struggle with this. Don’t use Habakkuk’s honest wrestling in God’s presence with God’s will as proof for a theological position that has other problems.
  5. That God cannot look on evil at all does not square with the rest of Scripture. For example:
    • In the divine councils of eternity past, the revulsion of sin was viewed and taken into account since Jesus was the Lamb slain before the foundations of the world.
    • The first man, Adam, did sin…royally…and the Father never did forsake him. In fact, the LORD searched for Him after the Fall with His love-question, “Where are you, Adam?”
    • Scripture says that God’s eyes go throughout the earth, looking on humanity, both the wicked and the good (Proverbs 15:3). God does look on sin, just not with approval.
  6. Psalm 22:24 clearly states that God “…has not hidden his face from him.” Face often representing the intimacy of God’s presence, which was not hidden.
  7. This in no way ignores the awfulness of what Jesus experienced, taking all our sin on Himself. On the cross, Jesus took on Himself all the horrific sins from the entire world, “Himself for us.” Jesus became our sin (2 Corinthians 5:21). How horrid the sins of the world were is beyond my imagination. Yet the Father no more abandoned His Son than He will abandon us in the midst of our dire straights.

4. Jesus’ focus during the cross was trust, even in the midst of His frank honesty while experiencing excruciating pain, not fear of abandonment.

  1. Psalm 22 as a whole is a lesson in trust, that the Lord has not turned His face from David, but listens to his cry (v 24).
  2. Jesus previously stated that His Father will never leave Him, just like Jesus will not leave us as orphans (John 16:32; John 14:31).
  3. 1 Peter 2:23b uses Jesus’ experience on the cross to teach us how to respond in trials. Jesus entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly, His Father. Since that’s true, it is a clear statement that helps interpret Jesus’ cry on the cross as trust-based, not fearing abandonment, but expressing his real, human feelings.
  4. Just before He breathed His last, Jesus committed His spirit into the Father’s hand, quoting Psalm 31:3. The natural way to understand this is that Jesus was still connected to the Father’s presence.
  5. If we believe the Father abandoned His Son in His time of most dire need, how could we have confidence that He will not abandon us when we sin? This is a very practical pastoral question since such situations are when we are most aware that we need our Father.

Third Step: What is the simplest explanation describing the MINIMUM this passage MUST teach?

Matthew and Mark are reporting the tortuous agony Jesus felt on the cross. His response was to continue His lifelong prayer-life, as He selects the gut-wrenching lament from Psalm 22:1 to express His feeling of the Father’s abandonment during His pain. Nothing in Scripture forces us to believe that the Father actually turned His back on His Son, causing separation. This Psalm prophetically spoke of many events of Jesus’ passion, so it would be natural to select this lament Psalm to give words to His feeling. The nature of Lament Psalms does not demand “forsaken” to mean a breach in relationship or a break in the Trinity itself, only our authentic feelings of abandonment.

Fourth Step: Is there MORE this passage MAY teach?

Not for me.

I see no clear Scripture that teaches that the Father must turn His face from His Son on the cross and abandon Him. Habakkuk 1:13 is adequately explained by looking at the entire verse in the context of the whole book of Habakkuk.

If the Father had to turn His back on the Son, choosing to separate Himself from His Son for the only time in all eternity, this raises problems about the nature of the Trinity as inseparably one. This question is far more knotty.  Many of these problems have no adequate explanation. How can we opt for an answer devoid of Biblical support that creates more difficult problems? And it does not adequately answer the question before us. However, if you see this differently, add a comment full of the light you have.

Here are some of the theological and practical implications to this “can’t look on sin at all attempted explanation (referred to below as “Such a view….”

 First, Jesus and the Father are inseparable Trinity, forever from eternity past into eternity future. Beginning with the Trinity, rather than with the cross, changes our perspective on many of these controversial questions. Such a view of the Father breaking relationship with His Son by turning His back on the Son when He most needs Him presents a weak view of the inseparable Trinity.

Second, God has repeatedly promised not to abandon His genuine children once they know Him and thus have eternal life (John 10:28-30; Heb. 13:5). Such a view makes the Father an Indian Giver, toward us or His Son. If the Father will not ever break His promise to us, why would He to His own Son (John 16:32)?

Third, such a view misses the heart of the purpose of the Good News. Jesus came, died and was raised again so that the Father, Son and Spirit could take up their home in us…permanently (John 14:20). Adam and Eve felt this deep aloneness after their choices to rebel in Genesis 3. God initiated to reestablish relationship through the first blood sacrifice. Far from not looking on sin at all, God looked on them in their fallen, sinful state to usher them back home into His presence.

Fourth, such a view seems to imply that a Holy God would become polluted if He looked on sin at all. What a very low view of the power of holiness. In the OT, a leper touched a man and the man became polluted. In the Gospels, Jesus touched a leper and the leper became clean. We must enlarge our view of the power of God’s holiness to cleanse.

Fifth, such a view  would imply that God is too holy to be among sinners. This was the false view of the Pharisees and the Jewish teachers of the Law (Luke 15:1-2). Jesus shattered this false perspective in the three-fold parable of the lost sheep, the lost silver, and the lost son. Let’s not slide back into thinking like the Pharisees since this would undermine the mission assignment the Father has given us. The Father sends us into this sinful world on His mission with His authority. This means we must rub elbows with wickedness and sin on our way, yet not look on it with favor. The Father “sends us into the world, although we are not of the world,” like Jesus (John 17:16 + 18).

Sixth, such a view would undermine much of the hope when we sin since it would say imply that when God sees sin, He must separate. The heart of the Father and Jesus that I see in the NT in particular draws nearer when we sin that His kindness might lead us to repentance. What good human father does not grab his young son when he sins, hugging him closely on his lap, in order to encourage him to deal with sin quickly? This reflects our Father’s heart.

Seventh, here are four online sources that may fill in details where I did not clarify well enough: one, two, three, four, although I don’t vouch for everything written on those websites.

Fifth Step: What truth will I grasp to impact my life and others?

  1. Since the Father never abandoned Jesus on the cross, even as all the sins of the world were heaped on Him, I confidently believe that He will also never, ever abandon me, no matter my circumstances. Such kindness draw me to repent after tending the “hogs of my sin” in a distant land on my journey.
  2. As I run into friends who ask the question, “did the Father abandon His son?” I want to privately challenge them to rethink this, especially with Easter almost upon us. Gently come against this because of the dangerous implication for our connected relationship, if the Father had indeed abandoned the Son.

Step Six: What still needs to go into my “Deuteronomy 29:29 Bucket”?

Is this idea, “Did the Father abandon His Son?” based on any clear passages I missed, Lord? If so, give me light. And if some of you have missing pieces, please comment below.


2 thoughts on “Did the Father Abandon His Son on the Cross? Absolutely NOT!

  1. Thank you for this post. I have come to the same conclusion. It is so hard for us to see past tradition. It is why the light of scripture is so badly needed. May it truly be the cry of our hearts.
    I preached a message in Easter regarding psalm 22. I touched lightly on this and the resistance was palatable. Thanks for your work brother.
    ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda

    • My son-in-law tentatively shared this thought with me. MY first response was also skeptical…until I dug a bit deeper into Scripture. I have a solid bible background. As I continue on my journey, though, I want to be open to new insight grounded in Scripture as a lifelong life-learnr. Blessings

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