Episode 161 - Was there a Split in the Trinity at the Cross?

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I wonder if you've ever sung the song that says “the Father turned His face away.” Often we might sing that at Good Friday or Easter, but what it seems to present is that while Jesus was on the cross, the Father couldn't even look at the Son, and in fact some people have gone far enough to say that there was maybe even a division in the Godhead at the cross, at the crucifixion as Jesus took on and was credited with the sins of the world.

Here's what the gospel according to Mark says, in Mark 15: "Now when it was around noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. At around three o'clock, Jesus cried out with a loud voice. "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani," which means My God, my God, why have You forsaken me.”

And some of us just stop right there, and some people throughout the centuries have stopped and said, "Oh my gosh, the Father forsook the Son. There was a division there. The Father couldn't look on the Son. There was separation, there was tension. There was a problem, however you want to say it. There was some negative influence and interjection into the relationship of the Father and the Son. In other words, into the Trinity, into God Himself. And we have to ask ourselves, could this actually be?

The Cross was the Plan of the Father

There are three ways I want to attack this question today. And the first is just simply to say that the Son going to the cross was not an accident. It was the plan of the Father. The Father gives people to the Son that Jesus would then atone for them, so this wasn't an accident. Jesus going to the cross was very much an act of God. We see in Acts 2 and Acts 4 that the cross was the predetermined plan of God. He didn't just somehow want to atone for sin and save people from their sins, and get lucky in going to the cross.

No, it was his plan that he determined would happen, that he actually planned out and accomplished, because as Ephesians 1 says, "He works all things according to the council of His will." The cross is one of those things that God accomplished. And in fact, Peter in Acts 4 even says that the Jews, the Romans, everyone conspired according to the plan of God to accomplish the crucifixion. It would be kind of odd to say that the Father planned, and accomplished the crucifixion of Christ, and yet He was somehow upset with the Son in the middle of that.

But more than that, Jesus himself says, "No one takes my life, I will lay it down willingly." It's not just the Father who inflicted Himself on the Son, as it's often painted. That's not true. The Son willingly laid down his life. No one takes it. It was his pleasure to come, and die, according to the Father's will, but also for his people.

There are multiple intents of the cross. There's the intent of the Father, there's the intent of the Son, there's the intent of those murdering him. All of these intents are different or dissimilar in some ways, but in some, they're very much similar. The Father and the Son are willing the same thing to happen at the cross. Two different persons, one God, willing the same thing. That's the first reason. It doesn't make sense to say that the Father would be upset with the Son, or that there would be a division, when God was actually accomplishing His very plan.

God Cannot Be Divided

The second thing to point out, though, is that God is one. He is simple. That's kind of a theological term, actually. You might be thinking, "That is the simplest theological term I've ever heard," and you would probably be right. But when we talk about the fact that God is simple, what we mean is that He's not made of parts. Jesus isn't a third of God, because he's one person of God. He's one of the three members in the Trinity. He's fully God.

You can't break God up into parts, just like you can't separate out His love from His justice. There's not a part of Him that's loving, and a part of Him that's just. No, He is fully loving, He is fully just. He is fully holy. God's attributes aren't parts of Him, He is all of them. He is simple, He can't be divided. There is nothing that you can take away from God, and Him still be God. Because there's nothing you can take away from Him. He is Himself.

We are not that way. I have attributes, I have parts of me. I am a dependent and a conditional creature. That's very different than what God is. All of that to say, there couldn't be a division in God, because there aren't parts of God. God is one. That's what the Shema tells us in Deuteronomy, "Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God, the Lord is one!" He is one God. But throughout Scripture, we see that God has a unitary essence and being. He is one “thing.” He's not a thing like other things. He's personal, he's tri-personal. He is a being, but nonetheless, you can't divide him into parts. It doesn't make sense to say there was a division in God, because that's just impossible, based on the type of being that God is.

Often there are questions asked of God that don't make sense for the type of being He is. For instance, some people say, "When did God begin to exist?" Well since God, by definition, is an unbeginning being, it's a category error for me to say, "When did he begin to exist?" It'd be kind of like saying, "Does the color blue smell good?" Smell is not something that colors have. If they do, you should probably see your doctor. Nonetheless, it's a category error to say, "How heavy is the number one?" It's also the same thing to say, "How many parts are there in God?" God is not the type of being that has parts. Numbers don't smell, letters don't have weight, God does not have parts. There couldn't actually be a division in God because of God's simplicity, that He is one thing, one being, not comprised of parts in any way.

Jesus is not a third of God, so there's not a fraction that could be separated out there. That's the second way we could look at this.

The first way is simply to say that the Son was simply doing what the Father wanted him to, and he was doing what he wanted to do, in spite of the fact that it was incredibly painful. The second thing, is that there's the doctrine of divine simplicity that actually guards against that type of inappropriate interpretation of Scripture. There's actually what perhaps should be a more obvious reason. But I think for us, sometimes, is less obvious.

Jesus Didn’t Give Up Hope, He Quoted a Psalm

When Jesus says, "My God, my God why have you forsaken me," we take it as, "Oh that's just what he's saying, that's the end of it. He's expressing one thought and that's it. That's the extent of his thought." But that's not actually true. If you have a Bible that's made more recently, a translation translated more recently, likely it does something different in how it presents the type and the font of Old Testament quotations when they're used in the New. For instance, I really like the New English Translation. I have worked with Bible.org in some form or capacity for over 10 years, and Bible.org is a ministry of the Biblical Studies Foundation. They commissioned the translation of the New English Translation to be free translation, a scholarly, reputable translation with tens of thousands of translator's notes, over 50,000, that explain to you why they made the decisions they made.

What the NET Bible does, the New English Translation, is it actually puts Old Testament quotations in bold when they're in the New Testament. You see the inter-textual links between the Old and the New. This kind of goes back to what we talked about last week, that there is a ton of Old Testament in the New Testament. You can't just get rid of the Old Testament and actually understand the New Testament. Other translations do this, too. The Christian Standard Bible presents Old Testament quotations in either bold or italics, I can't remember. It's a really helpful tool.

If you had a translation like this, you would see that, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me," is actually an Old Testament quotation. More than that, I would say an Old Testament, maybe, allusion.

It's pulling in more than just that quote. It's not just that Jesus said, "Oh, well that's cool. There were some words in the Old Testament, specifically in the Psalms. I think I'll say those." No, it's actually a reference to Psalm 22, which starts out,

"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?"

Jesus is using the first line of the Psalm to call attention to the entire Psalm, just like we do that today. We will say the beginning of a phrase and then someone will finish it.

We often do this with our kids, right? Or, maybe a catechism actually starts that way. Or, we begin a verse, "For God works all things according to good," and hopefully, what we mean is, "according to those who were called according to His purpose and who love Him." We might say other things. "In the beginning ..." and what we're referring to is "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth." We say the first part, and the person who knows and is familiar with the material can fill in the rest.

The Jews were intimately familiar with the Psalms. When Jesus says, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me," he is capturing Psalm 22. We're not going to read all of that today, because it would be several minutes, but I would encourage you to. I want to pull out some parts from that for our benefit today.

One, it starts by saying,

"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me?" "Our ancestors put their trust in you, they trusted you, and you delivered them."

Then it goes on to say,

"All who see me mock me. They hurl insults, shaking their head. They say, 'He trusts in the Lord, let the Lord rescue him. Let the Lord deliver him.'"

This fits the picture of the cross, doesn't it? It also goes on to say,

"Bulls surround me. Roaring lions that tear their prey open their mouths wide against me."

Poetic imagery, because this is poetry, of being surrounded by enemies, and being devoured.

He's saying,

"I'm poured out like water. All of my bones are out of joint. My heart had turned to wax. It is melted inside of me."

Jesus had blood and fluids pooling around his heart and his lungs, we know from John's description of what happened when he was stabbed.

"My mouth is dried up like a potsherd. My tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth."

These are pictures of Jesus on the cross, also. He says,

"I thirst." "Dogs surround me. A pack of villains encircle me. They pierce my hands and my feet. All of my bones are on display. People stare and gloat over me."

There's an incredible picture. I'm struggling for words here, because this was written so far before there was even crucifixion, when people's hands and feet would have actually been pierced. We have a description here of crucifixion, and being surrounded by Gentiles. "My bones are on display," what would have happened after he had been flogged, before being put on the cross. People are standing and gloating.

It continues,

"They divide my clothes amongst them and they cast lots for my garments."

That's exactly what happened at the cross. "But," it says,

"you Lord, do not be far from me. You are my strength, come quickly to help. Deliver me from the sword. Rescue me from the mouth of lions." It continues, "I will declare your name to my people. In the assembly, I will praise you. You who fear the Lord, praise him! All the descendants of Jacob, honor Him! For He has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one."

This is Jesus, he's capturing these words on the cross.

"He's not hidden his face, but has listened to his cry for help. From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly. Before those who fear you, I will fulfill my vows."

What vows? I think of some, for instance, John 6: "All that the Father gives me, I will raise up." So many other promises too, that Jesus made. He goes on to say that,

"All the ends of the Earth will remember and turn to the Lord. All the families of the nations will bow down before him. For dominion belongs to the Lord, and He rules over the nations. All the rich of the Earth will feast and worship. All who go down to the dust will kneel before him."

Here's how this Psalm ends:

"Posterity will serve him. Future generations will be told about the Lord."

Who's the Lord? Jesus.

"They will declare his righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn, he has done it."

Those last four words, "He. has. done. it." Jesus also says something very similar, at the cross, "It is finished." Why? Because he has done it.

This Psalm, like many lament Psalms, and that's the type this is, has a formula to it. It starts with an address to God, it has petitions for rescue, it describes a trouble, it gives reasons why God should answer, and then it declares assurance. It ends with praise and doxology. Isn't that incredible?

We miss this if we don't realize that Jesus on the cross is referring us to the whole Psalm. It's not an affirmation of a division or a rejection of Jesus from the Father. In fact, it's the exact opposite. It expresses a confidence in the Father. A confidence in God, a confidence that future generations will praise him, that they will proclaim his righteousness, literally his goodness. They will declare to a people yet unborn, who is us, that Jesus has done it. That at the cross, it was finished. Our sin debt was paid for, as Paul says in Romans, God was seen to be just in punishing sins, and also the justifier, the person who credits righteous, other people. Of those who place their faith in Christ, he is both just and the justifier, and we see that in what Jesus quotes here.

It captures, more fully, what happened at the cross. One, we just need to know our Bibles better, because even if we didn't have that in bold, we should still probably know the Psalms well enough to know this is an Old Testament allusion. We need to know the context of Psalms, the context of Old Testament quotations. Once again, the New Testament was not written to be dropped out of the sky without an understanding of the Old Testament, to make sense of it. They fit together intricately, intimately, and importantly. We must be able to see and learn about those links.

A good translation, a modern one that calls out Old Testament quotations can be helpful, but let's not persist in carrying on this idea that there was a division in the Godhead at the cross. There wasn't. The Father delighted in the Son accomplishing salvation, because the intent of salvation, while there are many, the prime intent is for God to glorify himself in the saving of a people for himself. I am thankful, for one, that God chose to do that, that I am a beneficiary of the love of God, that He has saved me to then glorify him, as we seen in Ephesians 1, that salvation is to the praise of his glorious grace.

Let's not get the theology of what happened at the cross wrong. Such that we create theological problems, and even inter-Biblical problems. The Bible is united. It presents a cohesive understanding of things. It's our job to align our understanding with what Scripture presents.

I'll talk with you next week on Unapologetic.