God Punished Jesus

April 16, 2009

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Edward John Carnell has a very strong doctrine of God’s wrath and its correlate, penal substitutionary atonement. His approach is unique and further highlights, in my opinion, the essential nature of this doctrine. He focuses on the effect of sin to cause a breaking of fellowship, because sin is a loss in the dignities — capacity for love and trust — which makes a man a man. Malice, lies, adultery, pride, etc. break the bond uniting friends and lovers. The necessary and proper result is hatred against the sin(s) which break the bond, which hinder fellowship. A person who does not hate and condemn the evil, that breaks the fellowship of love and trust, is not a person who truly valued the fellowship.

But, much more does God value the fellowship between himself and his creatures, and much more does God hate the evil that disrupts the mutual communion of love and trust that should exist between God and man. On man’s side, sin elicits a profound sorrow and grief once he realizes — and to the extent that he can realize — the holy God, the Father of Jesus Christ. Christ himself was the one who wholly bore this sorrow and grief, because he was the one who wholly bore the sin and evil that breaks fellowship.

That sets the stage for Professor Carnell’s exposition. This is some strong language, but rightly so:

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It was this type of sorrow which Jesus Christ passed through as he bore the pains of the second death. When the sins of the world were laid on the Son, the Father obliged to turn away, crying, “You are morally blameworthy; I cannot look upon you.” For this reason the Son cried out in agony, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” The loss of the Father’s fellowship was infinitely painful to the heart of the Son.

The Son, who from everlasting was the object of the Father’s supreme pleasure, empirically felt what it meant to have that fellowship cut off on the ground of the guilt which he had taken upon himself as the Second Adam. As in the Old Testament, where the priest laid his hands upon the head of the goat, making it the scapegoat for the sins of Israil (Lev. 16: 21-22), so “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (II Cor. 5:21)

The spirit within man quivers at even the thought of the Son of God passing through the agony of hell, that he might redeem a holy church unto himself. We must put our hands over our eyes to keep from being blinded by this sacrificial splendor. At the moment Christ endured the second death, the only person the Father could see on the cross was one full of sin — sin which was not Christ’s own, but of which nonetheless he had become the vicarious agent. The sword in the heart of the Son was the withdrawal of the Father’s fellowship. In the instant when the guilt and transgressions of the world were transferred to his cross, the Son (as it were) beheld the tears in the eyes of the Father. There was guilt in the heavenly family.

Abraham had raised the knife to slay Isaac, but he was spared the grief of the lad’s death because God supplied the ram. But in the case of Christ, the Father was pleased to sacrifice his Son, for love knew that only through Christ’s taking sin upon his cross could justice flow from God to the race of sinful men.

It was with a loud cry that Christ released the agony of his heart, not just a mild registration of uneasiness. He bore the scourging with equanimity; the spitting and the nailing were taken in course; but when the Father withdrew fellowship on the grounds of the Son’s guilt, the pain was too great to be contained. The Son of God shrieked in sorrow.

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Edward John Carnell, A Philosophy of the Christian Religion (Eerdmans, 1952; Baker, 1980; Wipf & Stock, 2007), pp. 382-3.