Last week New Church Connection magazine published an article that I wrote on doubt. In it, I mention a few of the times that the Lord Himself expressed feelings of despair and doubt. When He was in the garden of Gethsemane, he prayed, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me! Nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will” (Matthew 26:39). And on the cross, He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46) In the article I mention these as evidence that doubt is not a sin: the Lord was without sin, and yet He Himself expressed doubt almost to the point of despair.
In the article, I didn’t have space to go into the details of how the Lord’s doubts about God’s presence square with the teaching that Jesus Himself is God – that He is not a separate person from the Father.
There have been Christians who believe that Jesus and the Father are one, who say that therefore it was the Father Himself who suffered on the cross. That belief is called “patripassianism,” from Latin patri- “father” and passio “suffering” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patripassianism). Even though we believe that the Father and the Son are one, the New Church does not teach patripassianism.
The New Church teaches that until His death and resurrection, Jesus had parts of Himself that He had inherited from his mother Mary, which were not yet Divine. This part of Himself is called in various places “the maternal human” and “merely human.” When His conscious mind was in the maternal human, He felt separate from God – even though He was God in His soul. Throughout His life, He gradually “put off” the maternal human and replaced it with a Divine Human. The temptation on the cross was the last temptation that He fought through; and at His resurrection, even the physical things of His body became completely Divine (see True Christian Religion 104-105, New Jerusalem and Its Heavenly Doctrine 302, Heaven and Hell 316). So when He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”, He was speaking from that lower level of His mind. We experience a similar thing in times of doubt and temptation: we can feel like there’s a cloud pushing down on us and we can’t raise our minds to a higher level, where we could sense God’s presence. We are not God in our souls, as Jesus was, but we have His life in our souls – and we feel absent from that in the same way that Jesus felt absent from the life in His soul, where He was God.