If God asks us to not let the sun go down on our anger how come he stores his up for a day of vengeance?
This video got me thinking. Is God wrathful? Angry? In particular did he turn his face away from his son on the cross because of the sin placed on him? Was that a discontinuity in a loving delighting relationship? Was Jesus punished by God in our place? Key questions.
I’m never really quite sure why people don’t agree with the song lyrics “the father turned his face away”. Yet when I read surgeons sermon on psalm 22 my poor subjective heart soars.
I hope its ok to repeat his intro in full here. It is an example of masterful exegetical preaching at its best.
Verse 1. “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” This was the startling cry of Golgotha: Eloi, Eloi, lama sabacthani. The Jews mocked, but the angels adored when Jesus cried this exceeding bitter cry. Nailed to the tree we behold our great Redeemer in extremities, and what see we? Having ears to hear let us hear, and having eyes to see let us see! Let us gaze with holy wonder, and mark the flashes of light amid the awful darkness of that midday-midnight. First, our Lord’s faith beams forth and deserves our reverent imitation; he keeps his hold upon his God with both hands and cries twice, “My God, my God!” The spirit of adoption was strong within the suffering Son of Man, and he felt no doubt about his interest in his God. Oh that we could imitate this cleaving to an afflicting God! Nor does the sufferer distrust the power of God to sustain him, for the title used —“El”—signifies strength, and is the name of the Mighty God. He knows the Lord to be the all-sufficient support and succour of his spirit, and therefore appeals to him in the agony of grief, but not in the misery of doubt. He would fain know why he is left, he raises that question and repeats it, but neither the power nor the faithfulness of God does he mistrust. What an enquiry is this before us! “Why hast thou forsaken me?” We must lay the emphasis on every word of this saddest of all utterances. “Why?” what is the great cause of such a strange fact as for God to leave his own Son at such a time and in such a plight? There was no cause in him, why then was he deserted? “Hast:“ it is done, and the Saviour is feeling its dread effect as he asks the question; it is surely true, but how mysterious! It was no threatening of forsaking which made the great Surety cry aloud, he endured that forsaking in very deed. “Thou:“ I can understand why traitorous Judas and timid Peter should be gone, but thou, my God, my faithful friend, how canst thou leave me? This is worst of all, yea, worse than all put together. Hell itself has for its fiercest flame the separation of the soul from God. “Forsaken:” if thou hadst chastened I might bear it, for thy face would shine; but to forsake me utterly, ah! why is this? “Me:“ thine innocent, obedient, suffering Son, why leavest thou me to perish? A sight of self seen by penitence, and of Jesus on the cross seen by faith will best expound this question. Jesus is forsaken because our sins had separated between us and our God.
If the recoded words leap of the page and make me too excited to sleep, what must it have been like to hear the prince of preachers boldly proclaim them.
So was Jesus forsaken by God on the cross? Did the Father turn his face away?
The person who wrote the Psalm originally was expressing that they felt God had forsaken them. It looked like he had but as it turned out he had not. The Psalm goes on to say in verse 24 “he has not hidden his face from him, but has listened to his cry for help”. Yet then opening of the Psalm does say “why have you forsaken me”. Like lots of Old Testament prophecy there is an immediate application, a principle that can be applied to other situations, and a final culminating fulfilment in the person of Jesus.
Old Testament prophecies often seem too big for their boots. They are two large to be squeezed into just some current context. They are like a river that threatens to flood and burst its banks filling the surrounding fields. It’s like when you fill a glass so full of water that it bulges out from the top only just held in place by the flimsy force of surface tension. One jerky movement and it will spill over the sides.
The opening verse of this psalm seems to do just that. It does seem to give the impression that there has been some sort of actual forsaking, not just a subjective impression of one. And the fact that Jesus takes this verse on his lips on the cross means that his experience is the fulfilment of this psalm.
But is it just a “I feel like God has forsaken me” or is there an actual forsaking going on. It seems to me that there is an actual forsaking. Spurgeon thinks so too:
the hiding was but temporary, and was soon removed; it was not final and eternal.
There was a temporary forsaking as sin was dealt with but it was not the final word. It was not forever. God’s love was the context all the way through, even as judgement was poured out. The greater purposes of God were to glorify his son and raise him up. Jesus’ trust was ultimately shown to be well placed. Even though it felt like his father had abandoned him, even though it seemed like his father did not love him, even though it felt like help was not coming, he had not been, he did and it was.
Of course Jesus at some level must have known why he was suffering on the cross and why he was being forsaken for moment, but the experience is a real one and the cry is real too. Knowing in your head is different to experiencing something for real. This may be slightly mysterious but isn’t it so helpful too? Don’t we experience this ourselves? We know God loves us and will work all things for our good. Its written in black and white in our bibles and in blood red at the cross. Yet when it comes to it isn’t it a battle of faith to keep trusting God through suffering? Doesn’t everything feel and seem different then? We cry and God seems not to answer. His help does not seem to come. We know in our heads that God works all things for the good of those who love him but we still feel forsaken by God and cry out “God, where are you? Why have you forsaken us?”.
Of course a Christian is not abandoned in the same way that Jesus was in his sin bearing. But there is a helpful analogy here I think. Any pain and suffering we face will turn out to be in the context of God’s greater plans for our good. Any lack of God’s immediate help and protection will one day be shown to be for our far greater good.
BTW all four debates/discussions between Andrew Wilson and Steve Chalk can be found here.
And the Christianity Today articles on how to read the bible from both Steve and Andrew is here.
Basically Steve says we need to interpret the bible through the lens of Jesus. For example, if in the bible it says “God did X”, and X does not line up with his view of Jesus, then “God did X” must have be the writers faulty imperfect perspective and not actually fully representative of what took place.
Andrew makes an interesting point that if church history has been pretty unanimous on some some (major?) issue then our starting point should be that that is true, unless there is a strong case to overturn 2000 years of thought and scholarship. I think that’s a pretty reasonable rule of thumb. I would need to be pretty sure of something to think that me or a small group of us in the 21th century have been clear sighted enough to finally see something that others have not. It does not seem that sensible or practical to ignore all the thinking that has been done before and just read the bible yourself without any help from others. That is not saying that the bible is not final and authoritative, its just recognising that reading it is best done, not just individually, but together with others. Of course there are heretics but God does give teachers to the church and has done over the years.
So why does God tell us to daily let go of our anger and forgive while he stores up his for millennia? Well, for one we are not God. We are like him but we are not him. Second, God has not stored up all his anger. He dealt with it in the person of Jesus his son, punishing him in our place. Third, holding on to anger is harmful for us and he does not want us to be damaged by it. Fourth, when we forgive, and don’t hold something against someone, we are in fact giving it to God to make sure justice is done. God is where the buck stops and if he were to overlook evil, it would be saying it was actually ok. It isn’t ok when people mistreat you and it’s not ok when people dishonour God. God must express his anger and wrath against evil but wonderfully he has done so on the cross. I for one would rather trust Jesus and receive God’s loving forgiveness now, than face God in the day of his wrath and accuse him of being less forgiving than me.