When Jesus Hung on the Cross, God Suffered Too

When Jesus Hung on the Cross, God Suffered Too August 18, 2016

I think the great untold secret about the God of the Bible is that he voluntarily suffers with his righteous people when they suffer. Yes, some people know and believe this. Martin Luther, who started the Reformation, taught this. But Christians do not know about it, as was the case with me. I was indoctrinated with Christian systematic theology, much of it having been taught by church fathers. But some of their teaching was heavily influenced by their Hellenistic environment.

Dr. Dennis Ngien is a professor of systematic theology at Tyndale University and Seminary in Toronto, Ontario, in Canada. His 1997 article in Christianity Today magazine, “The God Who Suffers,” is regarded as one of their best ever. In this article Dr. Ngien informs, “The early Christian theologians … accepted the Greek idea of divine impassibility, the notion that God cannot suffer since God stands outside the realm of human pain and sorrow…. Virtually all the early church fathers took it for granted, denying God any emotions because they might interrupt his tranquillity. The Council of Chalcedon (A.D. 451) declared as “vain babblings” the idea that the divine nature could suffer, and it condemned those who believed it.” (See my post, “The Christological Confusion at Chalcedon.”)

Thus, it was at Chalcedon that the Catholic Church officially decided that Jesus had two natures–divine and human–and that it was only his human nature that suffered on the cross. Dr. Ngien asserts, “The Greek idea of God obscured the fullness of God’s self-revelation in Jesus. One result was that the early church fathers concluded that Jesus suffered in his humanity, not in his divinity.” Unfortunately, Ngien has not rid himself of the unbiblical idea of Incarnation and that Jesus does have two natures. Yet he goes against church, orthodox Christology by asserting that both of Jesus’ two natures must have suffered. Ngien says, “Unlike Calvin,… Luther, who affirms that if God cannot really experience crucifixion, then ‘Christ would be too weak a savior.'”

Those who read my blog know that I was a Trinitarian for 22 years and that I read myself out of it in the Bible. Ever since, I have believed that Jesus did not have two natures, thus having preexisted, but that he was fully human like us, except for sin. As the writer of Hebrews says of him, “he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect” (Heb 2.17). So, this Chalcedonian, two-nature christology was established largely due to the influence of Greek philosophy.

Because of this Christian indoctrination, I used to wonder why God my Father sent his Son, my Lord Jesus Christ, to the cross while God himself was enjoying his peaceful life of tranquility in heaven, basking in his glory with his many angels. It just didn’t seem fair to me. And I even thought it made Jesus look greater than God even though Jesus once said, “The Father is greater than I” (John 14.28 NRSV and throughout unless otherwise noted).

Then I began to realize from my Bible reading that God does indeed feel the pain of his people when they suffer, especially for righteousness’ sake. Isaiah the Prophet says of God, “Truly, you are a God who hides himself” (Isaiah 45.15). So, I think God even hides his suffering for us and from us. That is why King David wrote, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” (Psalm 22.1). As Jesus hung upon the cross, he uttered these same words of David (Matt. 27.46/Mark 15.34/Luke23.46). Did God forsake Jesus. No! That’s just how Jesus felt as he was enduring such excruciating pain while nailed to the cross. And we learn this from David. For he says of God later in this psalm, “he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him” (Psalm 22.24). (See my post, “Did God Forsake Jesus on the Cross?“)

Dr. Ngien explains that a person cannot love without feeling the pain and suffering of those loved. He asks, “Of what help to wounded people is a God who knows nothing of pain himself? ‘Only the suffering God can help,’ Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote from his death cell” in Germany during WWII.

When Jesus and his apostles were traveling to Jerusalem for the Passover week in which Jesus was crucified, Mark records, “James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, ‘Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.’ And he said to them, ‘What is it you want me to do for you?’ And they said to him, ‘Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.’ But Jesus said to them, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?’ They replied, ‘We are able.’ Then Jesus said to them, ‘The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left hand is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared'” (Mark 10.35-40; cf. Matt. 20.20-23).

When Jesus here mentioned his “cup” and “baptism,” he meant them as metaphors for his imminent crucifixion and death. But notice that Jesus implied that those who will sit with him on his immediate right and left in his yet future, earthly kingdom must qualify to do so by undergoing similar suffering. It is the same in reverse. That is, those who will so sit with Jesus in glory will have suffered because their Lord, namely Jesus, had suffered. Now apply this to God and Jesus.

King David writes, “The LORD says to my lord, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool'” (Psalm 110.1). This Old Testament text is cited or alluded to in the New Testament (NT) more than any other, and it is always applied to Jesus. For, the NT repeatedly states that (forty days) after God raised Jesus from the dead, Jesus ascended into heaven and sat down with God on his throne at his right hand. Thus, what Jesus’ apostles James and John had asked of him–sitting with him in glory–God actually has already done with Jesus. And if Jesus required that those who sit with him in earthly glory must have suffered like he did, it must be the same way with God and Jesus. That is, God would not grant Jesus the honor of sitting with him on his heavenly throne unless God had suffered too. Somehow, mystically and mysteriously, this hidden God the Father suffered with his righteous Son and Servant when Jesus Christ suffered crucifixion on an old rugged cross.

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To see a list of titles of 130+ posts (2-3 pages) that are about Jesus not being God in the Bible, with a few about God not being a Trinity, at Kermit Zarley Blog click “Chistology” in the header bar. Most are condensations of my book, The Restitution of Jesus Christ. See my website servetustheevangelical.com, which is all about this book,  with reviews, etc. Learn about my books and purchase them at kermitzarley.com. I was a Trinitarian for 22 years before reading myself out of it in the Bible.


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