Monday, November 13, 2006

The Darkest Day

Cheryl begins:
"I believe that what separates humanity from everything else in this world - spaghetti, binder paper, deap-sea creatures, edelweiss and Mount McKinley - is that humanity alone has the capacity at any given moment to commit all possible sins. Even those of us who try to live a good and true life remain as far away from grace as the Hillside Strangler or any demon who ever tried to poison the village well. What happened that morning only confirms this.
She writes in reflection upon a High School Shooting in Douglas Coupland's Hey Nostradamus! She could as well be refering to the darkest day in history. Not a human atrocity but the day Jesus died. That day showed the great depth of human sin more clearly than any other day. Not in our capacity to kill the Son of God - though that was an act of great evil committed by man. But rather by the very necessity of the day. The necessity of the Father striking down his Son as a substitute for our sin, under his perfect wrath. That was the darkest day of all.

In his book of good news about Jesus Mark portrays Jesus dying under the cloud of God's judgement. Darkness covers the land declaring the wrath and curse of God. But it is the cry of Jesus that speaks loudest: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" as Jesus is cut off from his Father. The perfect Son abandoned by his Father - the Trinity torn apart as Jesus drinks dry the cup of his Father's wrath.

Why? So that humanity, sinful to the core, could be welcomed into relationship with that same Trinity God. The curtain of the temple torn apart to open the way. A new day would follow. A day when sin-scarred bearers of God's image would drink God's other cup. The cup of life - the cup of Jesus' blood, of life and the sure promise of life. Death dies and a new life is made possible. Life forgiven, to be lived in union with Christ with a new heart, a renewed image, washed clean, made new.
"This the power of the cross:
Son of God, slain for us.
What a love! What a cost!
We stand forgiven at the cross"
-- The Power of the Cross, Getty/Townend, 2005

11 comments:

  1. Thanks Dave

    Hey Nostrodamus was the last book to make me cry when I read it. The theme of sin and hopelessness seemed so strong. Perhaps I should be more often moved like that at the cross and at those aroun with me without him.

    btw, really not sure one little bit about saying the trinity was torn apart at the cross. Needs major nuancing methinks, specially since it's one of the charges levelled by some against that 'nasty old penal substitution' doctrine.

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  2. Point taken. Surely there is some tearing apart there.... Jesus is abandoned.... but it clearly the will of the Father and the Son that this happen.... One to think about.

    Some of the nuance I guess somes in the build up, part of which I'm preparing to preach this Thursday from Mark 14v1-31... and then I get to do Mark 15 in a couple of weeks.

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  3. I need to think more for definite on this one. The divine person of the Son experiences abandonment in his human nature, but not in his divine nature. Therefore the union of persons in the divine nature is undamaged by the cross (otherwise how else could the Son still be God at that moment?), the Father and Son are still mutually indwell one another (the Spirit also) whilst the cross is going on. Otherwise we have a God who changes. And that's not a good thing.

    Hope that makes a little bit of sense and I'm not just waffling! :)

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  4. While I see the problems you identify Pete, I'm not sure about the statement: 'The divine person of the Son experiences abandonment in his human nature, but not in his divine nature.'. Can you really provide any biblical basis for this? Can you provide any basis for considering the two natures post-incarnation as ever being separate? If God wasn't abandoned then what's the big deal... surely the doctrine of the atonement is going to start falling apart if it was only the sinless human Jesus who was judged.

    Of course logical problems are going to arise, but that is to be expected, and is no reason to start extrapolating ideas like Jesus as human, apart from Jesus as divine.

    On the God who changes thing I can also see the problem you are concerned with there but... when we talk about propitiation we are talking about change in God, and the bible doesn't shrink from talking about God changing his mind. You could argue that what we are talking about here is more fundamental, but I think you would have a hard time without falling into a heresy regarding the nature of the Godhead. I think perhaps you are already thinking of the three persons as three parts of the Godhead, which means that God would not be the same if one part was not in 'union' (whatever you mean by that) with the other two.

    I am probably being too harsh, and typing too fast without thinking. They are just my thoughts and they aren't sophisticated.

    It's a whole lot of mystery.

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  5. The sacrifice is that god allowed his son to suffer over a 24 hour period and then die on the cross. Jesus always knew that once he died he would be reunited with his father in heaven. And Jesus allowed himself to suffer like this so that all men for all time would be forgiven of their sins (provided they recognise Jesus) and can then live in the best of all possible places for all time. Is that correct?

    That doesn't sound like much of a sacrifice to me. Plenty of women suffer comparable agonies during childbirth, and some die. Plenty of people also suffer torture around the world every day.

    I just don't see how god's and Jesus's sacrifice is so huge, especially considering what the reward is. Now, if Jesus had allowed himself to suffer like he had for all eternity in exchange for forgiveness of all humanities sins, that would be a sacrifice I could understand.

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  6. My language was probably not the most helpful - but Stott does talk about separation between the Father and Son.

    David - it's worse than childbirth (on a thread where we're all men) becausse in the space of a few hours Jesus bears the wrath that all humanity has deserved... and that is a lot, a lot more than we'd imagine. We can talk about that if you'd like.

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  7. Dave K et al

    Pants, just typed a really long response. too late now. Ok, chek out the link below, it answrs some of the question raised a little. Then check out the nicene creed and Athanasian creed. then think about a couple of questions

    a. Can God ever bee less than the union of the three persons? (could the trinity evere really be torn apart and God still be God, or is the Father realting to the Son and Spirit and so on an eseential part of God's 'Godness'?)
    b. Also read the first four verses of Hebrews too and ask - was the Son still sustaining the universe by his powerful word when he died on the cross? If he wasn't, who was, and why aren't they eternally God the Son instead of him? or, If he was, then doesn't that mean he only died in his human nature an not his divine nature?

    In other words, this is not heresy, it's orthodoxy. And I'm not being patronising cos I had no clue about this for most of my life. There is much mystery in the Trinity but at the same time there are lots of things we really can't say and other things we must say very very carefully so as not to be misunderstood and/or leave the gate open to naughty theology.

    http://www.thirdmill.org/answers/answer.asp/file/99824.qna/category/th/page/questions/site/iiim

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  8. Just seen the terrible spelling/typing on that last post. sorry everyone, hopefully u can just about figure out what I meant to out. It's probably 66% the sticky keyboard's fault and 34% just my ham-fistedness. :)

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  9. Here is my long rambling response, hope I haven’t misunderstood you too much....

    Although the first paragraph of your link is helpful, I’m not sure about the rest. I simply do not believe that a perfect human is sufficient sacrifice for our sin (which is what the link implies in only mentioning the divine nature of Jesus as a means to this end). Obviously he had to become human to represent humanity but I think he had to be divine too, and suffer in his divinity.

    I don’t like the term ‘separation’ as a description of how Christ suffered because I don’t see it in the bible, and this is dangerous ground we are wandering. But I do think it necessary to think of God the Son as crucified, dead and buried. I don’t see anything in the creeds that makes me think this is wrong. You say:

    Can God ever bee less than the union of the three persons? (could the trinity evere really be torn apart and God still be God, or is the Father realting to the Son and Spirit and so on an eseential part of God's 'Godness'?)

    But that seems to be forgetting that, in the words of the Athanasian Creed, ‘the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God’. The Trinity is God, but that does not imply that it takes all three to make God, because that is considering them as three ‘parts’ that are only God as they are ‘united’ together.

    Your second question assumes that Jesus upholds the world by continually doing something in human time (a bit like the people in the hatch in Lost who have to keep on inputting the numbers or the world will end). By saying that Jesus upholds the world the writer to the Hebrews is not being so literalistic, there are numerous ways in which you could conceive of Jesus upholding the world when you remember he is not bound by time.
    Also important to consider in this discussion is that Jesus experienced God’s abandonment not just for 3 days while he was in ‘Hades’ but for the entirety of his earthly ministry where he was unjustly rejected and despised - a wrong judgment by the Jews/world/God which finds it’s culmination in the cross. It was the Son of God that suffered the humiliation that was God’s abandonment. At the moment of his ultimate abandonment the centurion recognises him as the Son of God – a title which, while more a messianic term than a divine one, had taken on a little of the Trinitarian understanding we have by the time the gospels were written.
    We must not start out with a doctrine of the Trinity and then fit the bible to it, but work the other way round.
    I don’t want to walk the path to ‘naughty theology’, but as I have thought about this in conversation with you Pete I am more convinced than I was. The fact that God was judged/abandoned by God and died is far too central to the atonement IMHO to be abandoned in search of logical coherence.
    The cross is after all foolishness to the Greeks.

    In thinking about this subject I have been flicking through Bolt’s Cross from a distance. Here are a couple of quotes which I quite liked which relate to our discussion:
    The experience of Christ is an experience of Godforsakenness, a Godforsakenness given its unique depth because of the experience of the union between Jesus Christ and God the Father, an experience of union which forms the eternal backdrop against which the drama of the cross is played out. At the cross we glimpse the mystery of God’s differentiation in union and union in differentiation. [actually a quote from someone else that he cites]
    And an important qualification to all that I’ve said so far is:

    Even in Gethsemane, as the hour of apocalyptic darkness began to fall, the Son accepted the Father’s will (14:36), strengthened by the Spirit, who was ever willing (14:38). Now at the death of the servant, the persons of the one God, Father, Son and Spirit, have all reached their united goal. The cross is an act of divine partnership between Father, Son and Spirit.

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  10. Thanks so much for your kind and thoughtful responses Dave K. I suspect some of what we are saying is actually more similar than we think, and perhaps I'm not explaining myself all that well.

    I think you (one) can hold to a distinction (though not separation) of person and nature as in the nicene creed and say that therefore the Son of God did die. But he died in his human nature, whilst continuing to live and operate in his divine nature. Hence a divine person died on the cross. Hence I fully agree with all that you say about God the Son dying and that 'it was the Son of God who suffered the humiliation that was God's abandonment'. God the Son is a (divine)person, and in the incarnation he took up on himself another nature, in which he experienced death. However, this is not the same as saying that the trinity was torn apart at the cross, since the eternal Son continued to live in his divine nature.

    I wonder if your reading of the athanasian creed potentially confuses the persons of the Godhead? The tension in thinking of our three-in-one God is always between stressing the threeness to the exclusion of the oneness on the one hand, and stressing the oneness to the exclusion of the threeness on the other. The persons of the trinity are inseperable, but they are also distinct. But because they are inseperable the Father can never be 'without' the Son, which of course would be the case if the Son experienced death in his divine nature.

    I'm not sure what you quote from Bolt disagrees with any of this.

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  11. thanks for that dave, really hit home afresh. I love that song as well!

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