The Shack... Jesus' cry on the cross

The Shack... Theological Feature: The Father did not separate from Jesus when he was on the cross.

On p. 96, Papa explains to Mack that when Jesus was on the cross and cried out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me," that did not mean the Father had left the Son. God the Father never left Jesus when he was dying on the cross. Papa states that even though Jesus felt that he had been abandoned, he had not.

Comments: The Scriptures present Jesus as being in deep agony, both at Gethsemane and Golgotha. His agony was not only physical but also emotional and spiritual. How many of us have travailed so deeply that we have broken blood vessels in our facial skin? Jesus felt the trauma of the cross more deeply than we can imagine.

The question is: What about Jesus’ cry on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” What does that mean? Many Christians put Jesus on such a different plane of existence that he uttered those words just to quote Psalm 22, not because he really felt them. But let’s look at it this way. Jesus was drinking from the cup of God’s wrath. In order to defeat sin and death, he took sin and death upon himself. In those moments on the cross, his agony reflected what he was doing: suffering in our place.

He was also suffering along with us. When God the Son became incarnate, he set out on a journey that placed him square in the middle of human suffering. The biblical God does not talk about suffering from a distance; he overcomes it by entering into it. He expresses his compassion to humanity by entering into the human struggle.

So, then, Jesus’ agony on the cross was as real as it gets. What about his cry of separation from the Father? That is what Papa is commenting on in The Shack. The Trinity cannot come apart in the sense that two Persons (the Father and the Spirit) can separate from the other Person (the Son). On the cross, the separation was experientially real – Jesus experienced the Father as having abandoned him in his greatest moment of vulnerability. He was drinking of the cup of the wrath of God. However, the theological truth is that the Father was as close to Jesus in that moment as he ever was. Sometimes the presence of God feels to us like the absence of God. Jesus experienced this in full measure.

Therefore, although the Scriptures do not tell us exactly what was going on in Jesus' mind when he cried out in forsakenness, we do know that his suffering was real. And we believe, based on what we know of the Trinity, that the persons of the Godhead do not separate. Rather, their mutual love for one another carries them into the suffering of the other. Therefore, I believe Young is right. The Father did not separate from Jesus on the cross, even though Jesus indicates that was what he was experiencing.

I particularly like this quote. Papa points out, “Don’t forget, the story didn’t end in his sense of forsakenness. He found his way through it to put himself completely into my hands. Oh, what a moment that was!” (p. 96). This portrays a very real struggle for a very human Jesus that ends in Jesus' victorious words, "Into your hands I commit my spirit."

Connection with postmodern culture: In current culture, people want to know whether God is far off or near. In response, we are able to highlight the scriptural story of a God who loves us, has compassion on us, has suffered with us, and is always near. This is the picture of the Father that Young is painting. He was not far off from Jesus. If he was, he could be far off from us. But the God of the Bible is not far off. He is nearby. The Father was present with Jesus in the midst of his suffering. As theologian Jurgen Moltmann has pointed out, in his identification with the Son, God the Father suffered immensely when his Son hung on the cross.

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