Did God the Father Forsake His Son On the Cross?

Al Hsu

In an April 4, 2012 article posted on christianitytoday.com, Al Hsu argues that on the cross, Jesus Christ was not separated from God.  God did not “turn His back” on Jesus because of sin.

This is very dangerous theology.

Hsu argues:

One of the major objections that today’s new atheists have about Christianity is that the Christian God is not worth believing in. They argue that Christianity is a primitive backwards religion of punitive bloodlust, of a father who kills his own son. The Cross is divine child abuse, they say. Fathers should love their children, not abandon them, not torture them, not kill them. If the Christian God forsakes his own child, how could he be worthy of worship? We don’t respect human child abusers—why would we believe in a God who forsakes his own perfect son?

Atheists argue against Christianity based on the fallacious argument that God is a child abuser.  Hsu buys into their illogical line of reasoning, and defends the atheists in his argument.

The crux of Hsu’s reasoning is that he believes that when Jesus cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me,” He was not saying that God had forsaken Him; rather, He was simply pointing to the fact that the crucifixion was the fulfillment of Psalm 22.

Here’s the key biblical insight that changed everything for me in how I read this passage. It’s a simple historical fact about how Israelites cited their Scriptures. They didn’t identify passages by chapter numbers or verse numbers. Verse numbers weren’t invented yet. Their Scriptures did not have little numbers in the text. So how they referenced a passage was to quote it, especially the first line. So the book of Genesis, in Hebrew, is not called Genesis. It’s called, “In the beginning.” Exodus is “Names.” We similarly evoke a larger body of work with just a line of allusion: “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.” or “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

That’s why Jesus often says, “It is written” or “You have heard it said.” He doesn’t say, “Deuteronomy 8:3 says this.” No, he says, “It is written, ‘Man does not live by bread alone.’ ” That’s just the way they did it.

So when Jesus says, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” he’s saying, “Psalm 22.” He expected his hearers to catch the literary allusion. And his hearers should have thought of the whole thing, not just the first verse…

So, Hsu believes that Jesus wasn’t saying that God had forsaken Him; rather, Jesus was simply reciting the beginning of Psalm 22, so that His listeners would think of the entire Psalm.

So, what does Psalm 22 actually say?

1 My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?
Why are You so far from helping Me,
And from the words of My groaning?
O My God, I cry in the daytime, but You do not hear;
And in the night season, and am not silent.

In the actual Psalm itself, the speaker 1) asks why God has forsaken him; 2) asks why God is far from helping him; and 3) states that God does not hear his cries.  So, even if Jesus is simply pointing to Psalm 22, it means the same thing:  God has forsaken Him.

Toward the end of the Psalm, the tone changes.

21 Save Me from the lion’s mouth
And from the horns of the wild oxen!

You have answered Me.

In the end, God does hear the cries of the writer in the Psalm.  Hsu uses this as evidence that God never did turn from His Son on the cross.  However, this misses the entire point of both the psalm and the crucifixion.  In the beginning of the psalm, God does not hear, and forsakes the person speaking.  This person endures great pain and suffering.  The description matches the crucifixion of Jesus.  Only after this occurs, does God answer.  Likewise, when Jesus died on the cross, God did reject Him – until after he had died and paid for the sin of the world.  Then God once again was able to answer His Son’s cries, which He did by raising Him from the dead, and restoring Him to perfect fellowship with Himself.

Another problem with Hsu’s argument is that he assumes a position that is dangerously close to the  “Oneness” view of the Trinity.  This is a heretical view of God.  According to Wikipedia, “the Oneness doctrine… states that there is one God, a singular spirit who manifests himself in many different ways, including as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This stands in sharp contrast to the doctrine of three distinct and eternal ‘persons’ posited by Trinitarian theology.“

Hsu states:

This corrects the dangerous tendency to divide the Trinity. Sometimes we tell the crucifixion story as if God is against Jesus. But Jesus said that he and the Father are one. They can’t be divided. The Trinity was not broken. God doesn’t execute his son.

Hsu argues that the Trinity cannot be divided.  However, the Trinity involves the single Godhead existing as three distinct persons.  God is One, yet Three.

Why does it matter whether the Son was separated from the Father on the cross?

The whole point of the cross is that Jesus Christ took the place of sinful human beings.  The substitutionary death of Jesus is the entire foundation of the Gospel.  Humankind is separated from God because of sin; Jesus took sin upon Himself, and took the penalty for our sin – separation from God – on our behalf.

If Jesus Christ did not suffer separation from God, then there are two possibilities.  The first option is that He did not take the penalty of our sin – separation from God – upon Himself; therefore, we are still liable for that penalty.  In other words, if God did not turn His back on Jesus, then He is still turning His back on the Christian.  The crucifixion and resurrection accomplished nothing.  The second option is that separation from God was never the penalty for sin.  However, if this were true, then why would we need Jesus’ crucifixion at all?

Both of these views are completely anti-Biblical and heretical.  If Jesus Christ the Son was not separated from God the Father on the cross as our substitute, then the Gospel makes no sense whatsoever.  But Hsu writes, “Jesus is not saying that God has forsaken him. He’s declaring the opposite. He’s saying that God is with him, even in this time of seeming abandonment, and that God will vindicate him by raising him from the dead.”  This is dangerous heresy.  While it’s true that God ultimately vindicated Jesus Christ by raising Him from the dead, it’s also critical that God had to utterly reject His Son while He was on the cross, because He bore my sin and yours.  God cannot look upon sin; Jesus Christ became sin in our place, so in order for the Gospel to mean anything at all, God had to turn His back on Jesus Christ the Son, although only while He hung on the cross.

Christian:  Beware of false doctrines such as those proposed by Al Hsu. 

When people reject the straight-forward, plain meaning of Scripture, and instead insert their own ideas into the text, the result is almost always heresy.

1 But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed.

2 Peter 2:1-2

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