What Happened to the Trinity on the Cross?
In this episode, Kymberli Cook and Drs. Glenn Kreider and Scott Horrell discuss the Trinity, focusing on what happened to the Trinity when Jesus died on the Cross.
- What everyone should know about the Trinity
- What Scripture passages discuss the Trinity on the Cross?
- Differing views on what happened to the Trinity on the Cross
- What does it mean to be forsaken?
- The Father and Son’s relationship in light of the Cross
- How do unorthodox views impact the Trinity?
- Kymberli Cook
- Welcome to the Table podcast where we discuss issues of God and culture. My name is Kymberli Cook, and I am the Senior Administrator at The Hendricks Center. Today I’m joined by Drs. Glenn Kreider and Scott Horrell who are both professors in our Theological Studies department here at DTS. Thank you so much for being here, Dr. Horrell and Dr. Kreider. We really appreciate your time. Today, we are going to be talking about a really fun but somewhat intricate conversation on the Trinity. We’re going to be talking about what happened to the Trinity on the cross.
The Bible verse, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me,” and other ones around that have really kind of set up a variety of interpretations in how we understand that verse and the concept of Jesus being forsaken on the cross and particularly because it impacts how we might view the Trinity – particularly what happened on the cross, but just in general how we understand the Trinity and how we understand God’s relationship even with us and if we can be forsaken or what that looks like. Dr. Horrell, let’s start with you.
If you wouldn’t mind, you’re kind of the resident Trinity expert on campus. That’s kind of one of the things that you’re known for. And so, if you wouldn’t mind just kind of walking us through – before we get too deeply into what happened at the cross specifically, just what are some really key points that we need to have in mind with regard to the Trinity as we kind of walk into this space? How should we properly understand the Trinity and the dynamics that we really need to keep in mind?
- Scott Horrell
- Well, thanks, Kim. It’s good to be on here. It really is. And expert on the Trinity? I don’t want lightning coming out of heaven. So we all stand humbly before, I would say, the mystery of our God. But if we are to define it, what I would say is that the one true God eternally exists as three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Equal in nature – really one in nature; equal in glory because it’s a shared glory finally; and distinct in relations. The Father is always the Father. The Son is always the Son. So in that, we really have one God, one essence, one nature, one substance that is God and lots of biblical passage that lead us that way.
And yet, increasingly – especially as we come into the New Testament – you see that the Son is really God as well. In the beginning was the Word. The Word was with God. The Word was God. Wow. And of course, John’s Gospel drives that deeply as we continue on. So you have a Son who is God and a Father who is God, and with time we begin to see the Spirit too speaks in the first-person. Father says, “I am.” The Son says, “I am.” And the Spirit speaks of, “Set aside Paul and Barnabas for the mission that I have for them,” in Acts and so forth, so we see three persons, one God.
And that’s kind of framed by the council of Nicaea – the first ecumenical council of the church – in 325. It was called together to determine, “Is the Son really God, of the same essence as the Father, or is He not?” And so, 325 we have the Council of Nicaea and the initial form of the Nicaean Creed. 381, that’s refined more in what is called the Constantinople Creed, which we usually call the Nicaean Creed. But basically, yes; one God, three persons. And that frames the mystery in which the church has walked ever since.
- Kymberli Cook
- Okay. So thank you for that. That was so concise. I feel like we should just even cut that down, and it can be a nice encounter for anybody who’s needing to brush up on their Trinity. So Dr. Kreider – turning to you…again, probably more preparing for the conversation. What are the passages that typically are in play when we are thinking through what happened to the Trinity on the Cross? What are the piece – you know, I already quoted one – “My God, my God, Why have you forsaken me?”
What are the other two or three key passages that people really kind of look at and say…you know, because when we look at scripture, we can’t just take one Bible verse. We have to look at the corpus. We have to look at what all it says and then say, “Okay. These are the pieces that we have, and we have to figure out, you know, to the best of our ability how to fit them together.” What are some of those other pieces that are a part of this conversation?”
- Glenn Kreider
- Yeah. You’ve given the key one; whether it’s in Matthew or Mark, Jesus quotation from Psalm 22; “My God, my God, Why have you forsaken me?” And that’s basically it. We’ve got how to interpret Isaiah 53 and actually how to interpret Psalm 22 – what Jesus is doing with Psalm 22. Many people who take a particular view of, “My God, my God, Why have you forsaken me,” go back to Habakkuk 1:13 that God can never…his eyes are too pure to look at evil. And that’s really kind of the issue here; that from the very beginning we have the declaration twice in the New Testament that Jesus is borne of the virgin.
But as to how that works, how that was accomplished, we have the mysterious line which is that the Holy Spirit will overshadow you. And I think something similar is going on at the end of Jesus’ life, where we have –ambiguous is too strong a word. But we have these very little detail – which doesn’t stop us from speculating, and that’s part of the issue here – to try to figure out what, as Dr. Horrell said a moment ago, “What is this great mystery which is beyond our ability to understand?”
- Kymberli Cook
- Okay. And Dr. Horrell, are there any other passages you would throw into the conversation as well that people should be aware of?
- Scott Horrell
- Well, I think reflecting the complexity of all of this, it’s just looking at the Gospels themselves. Because as Dr. Kreider said, Matthew and Mark, the only words they have of Jesus on the cross are out of Psalm 22, Verse 1; “My God, my God, Why have you forsaken me?” And then at the end, a few verses later, He cries out in a loud voice and dies. Luke approaches it differently. And remember. John and Luke both had significant contact with Mary at the foot of the cross and John was there himself. Luke is almost more positive.
He says on the way, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” The old King James. And then, you have the thief on the cross and asking for mercy as the Lord comes into his kingdom. And Jesus says, “Today you’ll be with Me in paradise.” And then, His third statement in the Gospel of Luke is, “Into your Father, into your hands I command my spirit.” In John, it’s almost more neutral. He says, “I thirst. Woman, behold your son. son, behold your woman,” as he talks to…your mother, as He talks to Mary and the disciple John.
And then at the very end, the third statement and final statement in John’s Gospel is finished. Which is really interesting because then in the Gospels, you have both kind of the negative, “My God, my God, Why have you forsaken me,” and in Luke almost a positive trust in the Father. And in John, it’s rather neutral in all of this. And even just before the garden Gethsemane, Jesus says to the disciples, “You will all abandon Me. You will all leave Me. But my Father will be with Me,” as He talks about what’s before him. So it’s a fascinating – what do you say, again – complexity; a puzzle that we don’t entirely understand.
- Kymberli Cook
- Okay. So now that we’ve laid the foundation – we have a general idea of how we should be understanding the Trinity in general – and now we also have an idea of some of the passages and some of the conversations that lead into this question. So what happened to the Trinity on the Cross? Essentially, was it broken? Was Jesus forsaken? If so, what does that mean for the trinity which is supposed to be one substance? Like you were talking about, Dr. Horrell. So I think what might be most helpful for our listeners is to walk through, at first, just what are the differing views? What are the different ways that this is interpreted? So Dr. Kreider, do you think you could take – I’m going to be honest. I don’t even know how many there are. [Laughs] But do you think you could take at least one – one or two…if you want to start, and then Dr. Horrell, we’ll also talk to you about this one as well.
- Glenn Kreider
- Yeah. There’s one other preliminary conviction that I think we should remind ourselves. And that is, whatever we say about the relationship in the Godhead, whatever we say about what happened on the cross, we must not cross the line that implies or states that the Trinity is broken; that somehow this perfect harmony, this perfect relationship in the Godhead is broken. Because that has devastating effects and consequences. So if the relationship between the Godhead is broken, then the whole universes passes out of existence because that destroys the oneness and the unity of the Godhead. So that is one of the boundaries we should not cross. On the other hand – on the other end – is the boundary that fails to wrestle with the text.
We have to do something with these texts. And I’ll just talk a little bit about Matthew 27 and the parallel text of Mark. “My God, my God, Why have you forsaken me?” There are a number of questions that that quotation raises. And I think the interpretations fall into two broad categories. They’re nuances, and there might be other distinguishable positions. But one position argues that – and it’s popularized in hymnody – particularly modern hymnody – in an attempt to explain the unexplainable; in an attempt to make concrete that which is difficult to understand. Which is just pretty much to say the same thing. A metaphor’s been introduced that is deeply troubling. And that is that the Father turned His face away.
That’s a metaphor for describing forsakenness that I think has caused a lot of people to think. And there are actually people who argue this position – that on the cross when Jesus took on the sin of the world, God poured out his hatred on His Son, His anger, His wrath on His Son because God can’t look – can’t be in the presence of sin; that at that moment that the loving relationship between he Father and the Son is broken. I can hardly begin to tell you how horrifying that is theologically and how horrifying that is ministerially. If at His moment of greatest need the Father forsook His Son – if at His time of greatest need – the Father abandoned the one He loves the most, we have no hope.
In fact, Jesus taught us – and it’s in Deuteronomy long before we get to the New Testament – it’s the promise of the indwelling Spirit; that promise that I will l never leave you or forsake you. And that promise becomes vacuous and meaningless if our Savior on the cross experienced the abandonment by His Father. So if that’s not an acceptable position, then what’s the alternative? And try to do this fairly quickly. It’s the question of, “What does it mean to say he was forsaken?” Forsaken in English often has a connotation of being left alone. It’s a negative connotation. But I think there’s also a positive connotation of being forsaken as well.
So rather than saying, “This text doesn’t mean what it says,” I would say in this moment of great anguish when the Son takes on Himself the wages of sin – the consequences of sin, if you will – the penalty of sin, He looks into the eyes of the only one who could deliver Him. And His Father does nothing. And He dies not alone, but He submits to the Will of the Father. But in submitting to the Will of the Father, He also – as He says in John 10, “And it’s my life. I lay it down. I take it up again.” This is the agreement I have with My Father.”
So Jesus’ death on the cross wasn’t murder. But it was a murder that wasn’t under his control. He willing submitted to the will of the Father throughout his entire life. The Gospels make that point over and over again. But at this moment, He has the power or authority over His life. And Nicaea says, “It’s for us and for our salvation.” Paul says, in Ephesians,” it’s out of His great Love for us; God who is rich in mercy.” So what motivated the Son on the cross” – and I think that’s what motivated the Father as well – was His Love for those who would be redeemed by Him.
- Kymberli Cook
- Okay. And just to make sure that we’re clear on this, Dr. Kreider…so in the interpretation that you are speaking of, how – as opposed to something really was broken in the Trinity and all of the massive ramifications that that would have that would be un-Christian, how is forsaken understood specifically in what you’re talking about?
- Glenn Kreider
- Yeah. So in order to understand how Jesus is using the Psalm, I think it’s helpful to look at the Psalm. And probably, as many scholars have argued, when Jesus quotes from Psalm 22 He maybe even verbalizes the rest of the Psalm. It’s just not recorded for us. But surely, everyone standing around the cross recognizes the language of Psalm 22, and they know how that Psalm ends. So I think its Verse 24. The second idea of the Psalm promises deliverance, promises resurrection. David expresses in this time of suffering and persecution his experience his feeling of being abandoned, of being forsaken.
But He clings to the promise that God will deliver him that God will vindicate him and set him free. And right in the middle – Verse 24, I think it is – says, “The promise that God will not turn His face from” – that’s what’s problematic of the lyric of the Psalm. Because the metaphor that the Psalm uses for forsaken is a metaphor that’s explicitly rejected in the Psalm that Jesus is quoting in Verse 22. So how should we understand forsaken? I didn’t forget the question you asked. How should we understand forsaken?
So in a way and to a much greater extent than David was able to experience and David experienced feeling forsaken by God that God is not defending him that God is not acting on his behalf…and he looks – it’s the lament tradition. When David looks at what’s going on around him and says, “If you were a good and holy and just, powerful God, why don’t you do something? And I think that’s what David is expressing. “My God, my God, I feel like I am forsaken by you.” When Jesus puts that on the cross, He is much higher degree of persecution and suffering and forsakenness. So I think forsaken means not that the Father turned His face away, not that God abandoned Him at His time of greatest need, but the Father did not deliver Him; in a similar way that righteous people throughout history – Daniels’ friends, when Nebuchadnezzar says, “You’re going to bow to the idol.”
And they say no and says, “You don’t know who I am.” And they say, “Yeah. We know who you are. But our God is able to deliver us. But even if He doesn’t, we’re still not going to bow.” People of faith throughout history have always recognized that God is able to do what we want Him to do. But He doesn’t always respond and deliver us from evil. And I think that’s what it means to be forsaken. He was forsaken to the murder that His enemies carried out against Him. So He wasn’t forsaken by the Father, but He was forsaken too.
Because there’s no way for God, the Father, to have delivered Him and accomplish the plan of redemption they had agreed before the foundation of the world. When He’s pleading with God – with the Father at Gethsemane if there’s some other way; but, “Not my will, but yours be done.” It’s a recognition that this is what is required. And never in Jesus’ life – I think this is fair. Never in Jesus’ life did He come so face-to-face with one of the purposes for which he came; and that is to redeem sin, to take upon himself – back to John Chapter 1, as John the Baptist put it; that He is the Lamb of God. He takes away the sin of the world.
- Kymberli Cook
- Okay. And so, I feel like what I’m hearing from you, Dr. Kreider, is that there are at least two interpretations. One would be that, indeed, the Father did forsake the Son and turned His face away, as you were saying, from the popular song. And then, another would be looking at that more of the, “My God, my God, Why have you forsaken me,” as essentially a throwback to Psalm 22 and really understanding forsaken in the sense that God did not deliver Jesus from the cross for a variety of reasons. But that would be what it is speaking of. Is that fair?
- Glenn Kreider
- Yeah. It’s the language that we hear Paul use in Romans and elsewhere when he says that the Father delivered him over – or He delivered Him up for our justification. That’s what I understand forsaken to mean. Not that the Father actually carried out what happened to him but delivered him to murder that was carried out. I hope I didn’t confuse the issue there.
- Kymberli Cook
- Oh, I don’t think so. We’ll see. Dr. Horrell. Okay. So we’ve heard those two interpretations. Are you aware of some other interpretations of forsaken and that particular phrase or just how we understand what happened on the cross?
- Scott Horrell
- Well, sure, there are other ones out there. There’s many today. It certainly wouldn’t represent us. Who want to deny any kind of a substitutionary role of Christ on the cross? So almost unanimously, if they believe in the Trinity at all – and many do – would reject any idea of forsakenness. Let me take this, though, all the way up to God before creation as Dr. Kreider did in part. What happens at the cross, as through all of God’s working history, is a Trinitarian acting. It’s not Father versus Son. This is a decision, as Glenn said – 1 Peter 1…what is it, 19, 20? Somewhere in there. You know, this is an unblemished lamb whose blood was shed as it were from before the foundation of the world. This is a plan before creation. And Revelation has some hints that way as well.
So as we talk about the incarnation, we also talk about creation and the immensity of God’s work throughout. And this is a Trinitarian decision. This is as much the Son – this is not divine child abuse as some would like to say. This is as much the Son’s decision. Right from the outset, we see that – and as Jesus begins his ministry – as it is that of the Father. And we cannot ignore the Holy Spirit here either. So I think there’s many different strands that are coming in here. One side that leans against what Dr. Kreider said has is that there’s so many verses that seem so shockingly strong – like Isaiah 53 that was mentioned earlier – that pleased the Father, pleased God to bruise him; speaking of the Messiah. He was pierced for our transgressions. Many terms like that that seem to go deep into a wrath being poured out.
- 2 Corinthians 5
- 21 is really strong. “For God made him who knew no sin to become sin for us, for all of us, that the rights…that we might become the righteousness of God.” There are a lot of texts there. So when we ask, “Was the Trinity broken” – well, of course it wasn’t. If you say it was, you’re outside of orthodoxy. You are a heretic. It is kind of a pejorative question, actually. But what’s the inter-dynamic of the triune God…certainly the essence of God, the oneness of God is not divided. And even more complex things come in. How could God – how could the Son be eternally generated or the eternal generation of the Son occur and the eternal procession of the spirit…how could that occur at the same time as the Son as bearing the sin of the world on the cross?
And yet, it does seem that there is not just a turning-away but a wrath of God that’s being poured out. I would argue that it’s the wrath paradoxically not only of the son…excuse me, not only the Father. But also, Christ is satisfying His own hatred of sin. The spirit is involved here too as there is a complete satisfaction for sin. But is there…in that, is there some kind of a division between – what do you say – God and humanity? Let me add another dimension here. You’ve got Nicaea in the clear profession of Trinity. But you also have the Council of Chalcedon. You have the first two ecumenical councils in Nicaea and Constantinople affirm the full deity not only of Jesus Christ but finally in 381 of the Holy Spirit as well.
But then, we come to the third and fourth ecumenical councils – Ephesus and really Chalcedon. 451 is where you have this profession of the one Jesus Christ, the only begotten who is in two natures. And they’re not confused. They’re not changed. They’re not separated. They’re not divided. Indeed, the language of Chalcedon is very strong that they are united in the one person prosopon. And hypostasis, the one being of Jesus Christ that cannot be pulled apart.
So as we talk about Trinity and the Cross, we have the two primary confessions of Christian faith; Trinity, but that’s the God-man on the cross. And it is the wrath of God, it seems – from a number of passages actually being poured out on Him. So I see a mystery here that’s not easily untangled. Is it…Glenn you’ll call me a heretic now. But is it possible that there is a darkening of the koinonia appreciated forever and ever and ever in all of eternity as the Son is the cross?
- Kymberli Cook
- Dr. Horrell. Just to be clear, what do you mean by koinonia for those people who are listening who might not know what that is?
- Scott Horrell
- The full fellowship that the Son has eternally enjoyed with the Father and the Holy Spirit, I think we can. So He bears the sins of the world, something He anticipated was planned before time. Was He enduring the wrath of God – which includes His own, ironically, as He hung on the cross? Now, when He cries that it is finished, certainly He enters into Hades – or in some translations, Hell. But as the victorious Savior, it is finished. There’s no further suffering some even Calvin have implied. But is there that moment in history?
For me, there’s a lot of complexities here. But it is the very fact that this Son of God died on the cross that crucified God, quote, “One well-known title,” that for me more than anything else shows that God cannot be one person. He’s not a righteous man like John the Baptist. Rather, this is really God who is both just and the justifier of those who believe He is really distinct from the Father, not just an anointed spirit-filled man. And so, with that awfulness of the cross and the Son bearing – in some way – the wrath of God, with the resurrection ascension and glorification of our Savior, all the more we see God is not one person. He has to be at least two persons. So I’m not sure where we go. We’ve got these different strands coming in, and any single solution seems to me less than satisfying.
- Glenn Kreider
- So let me try this, Scott. And, no, I would not call you a heretic. I don’t use that for friends. But also, thank you for pointing out what we all agree and affirm; and maybe I should’ve said this one earlier too. We all believe in substitutionary atonement that from the very beginning of the Christian faith the atoning work of Christ has always been affirmed as substitutionary. Since the reformation, it’s been affirmed as a penal substitution. A penalty was payed, or wages were paid. And so, there’s something legal – there’s a legal metaphor at play. So nobody in this room would affirm a heretical view, a non-substitutionary view.
And in fact, I want to go on record as affirming a penal substitutionary view as Scott did too. But here’s my concern. Isaiah 53 is a challenging, poetical, prophetical text. It seems interesting to me that that text you quoted in Verse 10 in the Septuagint is translated not as it pleased the Lord to crush him, but it pleased the Lord to cleanse for purifying. And that’s a pretty significantly different reading than the Masoretic text. And secondly, I think it’s at least interesting that none of the New Testament writers quote that text; that when they describe what happened to Jesus on the cross, every single one, every single time, they attribute to – they attribute the death of Jesus to the murderers. “You with the help of wicked men put Him to death.” They never attribute that to the Father. Never.
What they attribute to the Father is the Gospel, that God raised Him from the dead. It is finished, as you know. It’s a figure of speech that doesn’t indicate that it is finished. It’s a declaration of completion. And the work of Christ in redemption is not finished until He returns to Earth and makes all things new. So in no way minimizing the importance of that declaration, there is not more atonement for sin necessary. But we continue to look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.
One other text is interesting to me; that in Hebrews Chapter 12, after the long list of people who persevered in faith, we are surrounded – a writer of Hebrew said – “By so great a cloud of witnesses. And let us lay aside every weight and sin which clings so closely and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us looking to Jesus.” The version that I memorized, the author and finisher of our faith; ESV, the founder and perfecter of our faith. And hear this. “Who for” – [laughs] that was not to my two colleagues. I know you know this text. “Who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising its shame and is seated at the right-hand throne of God.”
- I can’t make any sense of the view that says the Father was the cause of the Son’s shame. I can’t make any sense of the view that said what happened on the cross was, the Father caused the suffering and the death of His Son. I can’t make sense of any view that makes the Father the cause of the thing that the Son wishes he didn’t have to go through – especially since every Gospel and every Apostolic sermon has – Tom McCall has put it recently in his book. And all the preaching of the early church attributes the death of Jesus to the murders and His resurrection to His Father. So maybe this is the way we ought to read Isaiah 53
- 10; that it wasn’t crushing His Son that caused God pleasure – it was rather the salvation of humanity and of all creation that would occur because of the atonement for the sins of the whole world.
And that, it seems to me, is less prone to the charge that you actually believe in a God who crushed His Son? You actually believe that on the cross, the Father abused His Son? You actually believe in…and here’s what I’ll ultimately say. Since I don’t want my view to be heard to sound like divine child abuse, I don’t use language that sounds like divine child abuse. I attribute the evil that happened to the Son to the perpetrators of the evil. I don’t let the evil-doers off the hook. I don’t let the perpetrators off the hook. I don’t further victimize the victim by saying, “You brought this on yourself,” and say, “No. You with the help of wicked men put Him to death.”
But God has raised Him from the dead. And in so doing, it doesn’t solve all the problems, and it doesn’t resolve – as we’ve said multiple times – this incredible mystery. And thanks for taking us back to before the foundation of the world. All of this is the work of the Trinitarian koinonia –let me just really quickly say, and neither Peter nor the book of Revelation means that prior to creation God, the Son, took on flesh, the Father took Him out and kills Him. There are people who actually teach that, so I just felt like I needed to say that’s not what that means.
- Kymberli Cook
- So okay. So I’m just going to step in for one second. Dr. Kreider, it seems like the interpretation that…again, throwing back to Psalm 22 and thinking through forsaken being more, “God did not deliver Him,” it really seems to be driven by a value of wanting to avoid looking at the situation looking like divine child abuse – that critique that has been made about Christianity and about this very question. So that seems to be what that value is that’s kind of driving – and obviously, you’re reading of the interpretation and everything. But Dr. Horrell, what would you say might be the value behind the idea that God did turn His face away – that there was some kind of darkening of the koinonia, like you said? What would be the value behind that? Go ahead, Dr. Kreider. Yes.
- Glenn Kreider
- Yeah. ‘Cause I have one – I don’t want it to sound like…and I don’t think this is what you were saying. I don’t want it to be misunderstood. What drives this is not merely being able to respond to the prevalent charge of divine child abuse. That’s a really serious issue and incredibly important for us. But also what drives it – and I would like to say the foundation before that – what drives it is the character of the loving God; The God who reveals Himself in scripture declares that He is merciful and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. I think He actually is that. And it seems to me to be inconsistent with that God to see Him not treating His Son in a loving and merciful and kind and gracious way. And I don’t want to anticipate Dr. Horrell’s response, [laughs] I’m not pitting the love of God against other attributes. I’m not pitting God’s love against other attributes. What I’m trying to do is to preserve the integrity of who God is, the simplicity of who God is and avoid pitting attributes against attributes.
- Kymberli Cook
- Thank you for that clarification. I in no way was trying to [laughs] throw you onto a, you know…what’s it called? An extreme. Okay. And Dr. Horrell, what might be some of the values that, again, this other interpretation is preserving?
- Scott Horrell
- Yeah. Let me back up a little bit just to say that I’m not just saying it’s the Father’s wrath. There is a justice and righteousness of God, of the Son and the Spirit as much as the Father, though each has their roles in the salvation offered freely to all of human kind. That wrath of God somehow is being also absorbed by the Son even in the midst of it all. So I want to say kind of a both-and if I can. One of the values, Kim, would be this; when we look in the Garden of Eden and find Adam there – Jesus is called the last Adam – what happens with the sin that occurs that has marked all of humanity ever since?
First of all, Adam and Eve are separated from God. God comes asking, “Where are you?” And they then are distorted within themselves. There is this brokenness inside. And finally, that amounts to going back to dust. “You will die. Your inner reality, your inner soul, will be divided from your body.” In came the tension between Adam and Eve, and soon we see first Cain and Abel and then on from there. We see the brokenness with nature, that now they have to leave paradise – Eden – and in fact, thorns and thistles will spurt from the ground.
What I find fascinating is that, you know, this is – these divisions, I call them – that started in Genesis 3 track all the way through the scriptures and all the way through human history. They’re what we spend most of humanity – 95 percent of our time or more – trying to overcome. We have religions. We want to live as long and prosperously as we can. And healthy. We don’t want to die. We want relations with others. Nature’s a constant battle for an Agrarian world until, what, last 20 years. So you see these divisions everywhere. And here comes Christ as the Savior of the world. He is the last Adam. What is He doing on the cross? It seems to me, in some sense, He is suffering those same divisions that all of humanity has suffered. He is our substitute as the last Adam.
And so, in some sense there is that estrangement in koinonia or fellowship with the Father. I don’t know how to explain that because there is the Love of God. You know the Father is – you might say – suffering with the Son in the midst of all this. There’s no doubt about that. But there is a wrath being poured out that is aligned with the entire character of God. It is the justice being met so that I can be forgiven. So as we look at the cross, here’s the darkness. Here’s the, “My God, my God, Why have you forsaken me?” Here is Jesus tortured, and He dies. His flesh from His soul – I guess you’d say – torn apart. He is forsaken, what, by His disciples, His own brothers and sisters didn’t believe till later. He came unto His own, and His own received him not. He is the light of the world, but the darkness does not comprehend Him.
And you see there on the cross…you see Him crowned with thorns – the very mark and curse of the garden; the earthquake, the rock split, the temple veil torn from top to bottom. You see these separations being evidenced, it seems like, in every way. There are marks on every side. So I take it that in some way, this God-man – Chalcedon’s one Jesus Christ, our Lord – is experiencing these things in our place as our substitute even as He’s satisfying His own righteousness as that of the Father. So it is…so I’m kind of saying a both-and rather than an either-or. And it’s like Nicaea – the one God, three persons – like Chalcedon – one person but, what, two very different natures.
I see the Trinity in the Cross as one of those other mysteries that we have no real solution to. I think D.A. Carson called this – it’s like peering over a precipice. There is not really satisfying answers. And I think Dr. Kreider would agree with that. We are left astonished. Now, do I think there’s a reason that, you know, as we look at the soteriology of heaven, there is the Lamb of God – Chapter 5 – who’s called the Lamb all the way through to Chapter 22 who’s sharing, now, the throne with the Father. But He is worshipped by all heaven and Earth and all existence by the fact that He – by His blood propitiated the wrath of God against sin.
So I wish we had answers. I wish I did. [Laughs] I think, however, that as we have glorified bodies – and we’ll see a little bit more clearly than we do today – that there is the fact that 10,000 years from now or 100,000, there are these complex mysteries of God that are both astonishing and beautiful. And yet, we don’t have the full answer. The Lord will reveal a little more and a little more. We won’t all have it done, you know, in the first while in heaven. But mysteries lead us to worship, I think. And this is one that I would put in there with the other ones that don’t quite have a final answer.
- Kymberli Cook
- So we are very close to running out of time. So just to summarize our basic conversation, with regard to what happen to the Trinity on the Cross and the tensions that those questions create – particularly around the verse, “My God, my God, Why have you forsaken me” – there are a variety of interpretations. Some of them take us outside of what we would consider to be Christian. Those interpretations would be those that would deny any kind of substitutionary atonement and that there would be some serious questions about that interpretation. There would also be serious interpretations about serious questions about an interpretation that established or asserted that the Trinity itself was broken – that also, I think, we can all agree [laughs] would be outside of bounds.
So those are interpretations that would be off-limits. However, two interpretations we’ve specifically talked about today would be really, probably more of an emphasis on considering, “My God. My God. Why have you forsaken me,” as a reiteration of Psalm 22 and thinking through it as, God has just not delivered Jesus, but there was not any kind of [laughs] …it’s so technical; that God delivering – not delivering Jesus. And then, the other side would be that – like Dr. Horrell, like you said; that there would be a darkening of the fellowship between the Father and the Son. Those would be two interpretations that are driven by, again, research and interpretation as specific passages.
But really, the values would be wanting to emphasize and make sure that you are – in your interpretation, you’re representing the justice and satisfaction of the Lord, of the Father, in that act on the cross. And then, the other interpretation might be really highlighting and trying to defend the loving character of the Father. So both are valid and really, probably just have different emphases more than anything else. But they definitely are a place for conversation and for contemplation. And I just want to thank you all so much, Dr. Horrell and Dr. Kreider, for joining us today and for kind of wading into these weighty waters with us and being willing to just talk through something that is really tough. And like we have all agreed and said, at the end of all of this is a giant mystery.
Like you said, Dr. Horrell, it’s a giant precipice, and we’re not quite sure exactly what happened. And we knew that that was going to be the conclusion of this podcast, but [laughs] but at least it’s worth talking about. One of the other professors we used to have at DTS – he’s no longer there. But I’ll never forget sitting there, and he said, “But you can’t punt to mystery too quickly. Don’t let yourself punt to mystery too quickly. We’ll have to go there eventually.” And so, I really appreciate you all and your time working with us and not letting us punt too quickly. So thank you again for joining us, and thank you – those of you who are listening – for joining us. And we just encourage you to come back next week when we will discuss issues of God and culture.
About the Contributors
Prior to teaching at DTS, Dr. Kreider served as Director of Christian Education and then as Senior Pastor in Cedar Hill, TX. His research and writing interests include Jonathan Edwards, theological method, theology and popular culture, and our eschatological hope. Dr. Kreider believes that grace really is amazing; it is a thought that will change the world. He is married to his best friend, Janice, and they have two grown children, a son-in-law, and one granddaughter, Marlo Grace. He and Janice enjoy live music, good stories, bold coffee, and their five rescue dogs—two pugs, a chihuahua, a terrier named Chloe, and a black lab, Carlile.
Dr. Horrell has been a missionary and theologian in various world cultures, in addition to evangelism and church-planting with World Team, InterVarsity, and Youth with a Mission (YWAM). Along with cofounding and editing a leading Latin American theological journal, he has written several books in Portuguese and English. He especially loves to orient students to a global understanding of Christian faith and the implications of the triune God for all of life.