Did the Father Forsake the Son on the Cross?

In this episode of the Holy Joys Podcast, Travis Johnson joins Johnathan Arnold and David Fry to discuss Matthew 27:46, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

  1. Why does Jesus quote Psalm 22:1 from the cross?
  2. Is there a break or separation between the Father and the Son on the cross?
  3. Does Jesus bear the wrath of God on the cross?
  4. Why is important for pastors to address this issue?

Resources

Methodist theologian William Burt Pope:

There is no discord in the Divine nature, no conflict of interests between the Persons of the Holy Trinity. The Eternal Son does not propitiate an anger in the Father which He does not Himself share; nor does the Eternal Father represent a holy justice in the Divine nature which is to be satisfied by an atoning love only found in the Son; nor does the Eternal Spirit witness a covenant that solves a discord in which He has no part. (Compendium, Vol. 2, 293)

Fred Sanders, “Godforsaken For Us“:

In context, these particular words of Jesus on the cross don’t put the Father-Son relation in focus. Other prayers from the cross do: “Father, forgive them” and “Father, receive my spirit,” for instance. But for some reason, it is the words “why have you forsaken me” that have caught the modern imagination as having something special to say about the Father-Son relation. You can hear this presupposition in the way people paraphrase the cry of dereliction: On the cross, they say, the Father turned his back on the Son; the Son cried out to the Father; the fellowship between the Father and the Son was somehow eclipsed.

It’s a curious shift. The modern instinct fronts the Father-Son relation in a passage that does not. The names Father and Son are not on the surface of the cry of dereliction. The words of Jesus here make prominent the name God (Eli, Eli). Jesus cries the name of God humanly from a human place.

One reason he does this, I think, is that what is being enacted here on the cross is the Divine-Human encounter over sin. The one who has taken the place of the sinner is being punished by exile, precisely as a human, precisely by God. To put this in the background and reach out instead for Father-Son language in the paraphrased telling of this story is to tacitly accept the proposition that what is happening on the cross reveals more about the Trinity (God in himself) than about the incarnation (God meeting man) or the atonement (sin meeting justice).

Travis Johnson
Travis Johnson is Lead Pastor of the Findlay Bible Methodist Church.