Imagine that you arrive at the scene of an accident, and find a smashed car at the bottom of the cliff on which you are standing. The car is green, and with very large wheels and tyres- the sort you’d only find on customised cars. At the cliff edge you see the green paint on many of the rocks, and the large distinctive tyre tracks leading over the edge of the cliff. The soil was disturbed, and rocks had fallen away. Directly below were the remains of the vehicle. Logically speaking the car had slipped over the cliff. Although you were not present, and do not necessarily understand how it had happened, all the evidence (secondary factors) points to one logical conclusion: the car went over the cliff.
‘Trinity’ is not a word found in scripture, but speaks of a truth seen throughout the Bible – that there are three persons co-existing in unity as one God. As with the illustration above, we shall look at secondary factors, which point us to a logical conclusion – that God is a plurality of persons in perfect unity as One. To attempt to understand everything about God is not possible, He being the supreme Creator. Yet to avoid issues just because they seem difficult is just as foolish.
In Genesis 1:1 we read of God in the plural, yet who creates in the singular – creating as one. Throughout the Old Testament ‘Elohim’ occurs 2312 times and the alternation of singulars and plurals of the divine names effectively safeguards against interpreting Elohim as signifying a plurality of gods, and yet at the same time also safeguards against the denial of a plurality of persons within the Godhead. Later, in Deuteronomy 6:4, we read: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.”(Shema Yisroel Adonai Elohenu Adonai Echad). The word that is used for ‘one’ in this passage is not ‘yachid’ speaking of absolute one-ness, but ‘echad’ speaking of a composite one – like one football team and so forth.
In the New Testament we read of Jesus saying “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30), which led the Jews to want to kill Him, they recognising what He was saying – that He is God. In Greek, the word ‘one’ is neuter (hen), not masculine (heis), which indicates that Jesus and God were one and the same in essence and power.
Shortly after the birth of Christianity we find people speaking of the word ‘Person’ and saying that in the one God there are three persona, equal yet unique, being together the One True God. This may seem impossible to us, but as we look at the meaning of ‘person’ things become clearer.
If you or I were locked in a prison cell it is obvious that we would not be able to escape – after all we cannot walk through walls. Yet, even though we are trapped bodily, our minds remain free. We could think of events that occurred in the past, create a future in our imagination, or even ‘travel’ around the world, so to speak, in our thoughts and so on. The mental abilities within man are vast and wonderful – each of us has millions of thoughts and millions of stories and millions of experiences. All of these are within us and so the term Person was used to speak of the place where I reside, the place where all that is ‘me’ is contained. Where ‘me’ resides there is self-consciousness, with the capability of free thought and action – this was termed full personality.
Personality cannot be measured in space or time, it can only be perceived in action, in relation with either the environment or other beings. Personality is clearly seen in the actions of the will, this being our capacity to make choices, commitments and decisions. Will is the outworking of who we are, our thoughts and beliefs. It is an expression of the choice made according to how we perceive others and ‘see’ life.
In this day and age our whole being - mentally, physically and spiritually is spoken of as being a Person – but this was not the original meaning of person. The original meaning of person did not contain the physical element, which confuses us today when we think of three persons, yet one God. Three physical beings seen as persona, are obviously not one God, yet when we realise that ‘person’ does not contain the physical element then things get a little clearer. God expressly prohibited man from making images of Him because the image then became ‘God’ for us. In other words our thoughts ‘made’ him, instead of letting him speak for Himself. For example, one of the simple reasons why many in the Jewish nation rejected Jesus is because He did not fit the image they had made concerning the Messiah. Pictures of a three-headed God, or three men as being one God do not depict the Trinity, since they fail to do justice to God’s revelation of Himself.
The Latin word ‘persona’ was originally derived from a mask through which an actor spoke, the word person actually being two words: ‘per’ meaning ‘through’ and ‘sono’ meaning ‘to sound.’ The mask gave an indication as to where and what the actor behind the mask was like, and of the one he was meant to depict. For example a red mask could have been used to speak of an angry man and a black mask to speak of a murderer and death and so forth. The mask was a ‘personification’ of the unseen person within, so to speak. The word soon came to be applied to the character of the actor, rather than the mask, and eventually came to mean the inner being – the thinking, rational, self-conscious being – the place where the sum total of a man’s thinking and being was to be found. Our physical frames are often thought as being the ‘person’ in the sense that a mask was originally described as ‘person,’ yet this fails to show how the idea developed, and apart from this you do not need to have a physical body to reveal personality. For example a phone call, or family videotape can directly communicate personality – the body does not have to be physically present. Hence ‘person’ speaks of that which does not belong to the realm of space or the region of the visible, as we have already said, instead speaking more of a spirituality in time. It is the true substance of being, in space and time, yet with a final destiny beyond what we now know.
As already stated, thinking of three persons yet one God is difficult for us since, when we look at a person, we see the whole person – body included, and seeing a material being causes us to arrive at 1+1+1= 3 when thinking of Trinity. Yet looking at things another way helps us see things in a different perspective, after all, one times one times one equals one.
We would not use a fishing-net to catch sunlight, and in looking at persona we should remember that we are not dealing with something that can be visibly seen in itself or, for example, held with our hands. This is why illustrations such as ice, water, and steam being used to reveal ‘three-as–oneness’, convey but a very weak picture of the reality. A slightly better attempt, though still clumsy, would be to say that air is made up of oxygen, hydrogen and nitrogen
God is a person. He is a being whom we can encounter because He has chosen to reveal Himself to us in ways whereby we can understand who He is and what He is like. He is a perfect being and so much more than an object to be observed and so much more than our best and most ‘perfect’ thoughts.
We begin to realise that God is ‘out there somewhere’ by looking at the design in creation, yet can only truly know Him because He has chosen to communicate with us, using the mediums of language, and action, to convey what He is like.
God is personal and for us, yet, due to sin, we are far from Him. However, God is a loving God who reaches out to us. Because of his grace, mercy and compassion, we are able to encounter Him through His actions and words in such a way that we ‘see’ and know the one who cannot otherwise be known For instance He presents us with pictures of Himself in the analogy of the human form. Just one example of this would be when God speaks of His arm reaching out to sustain man: -
“My righteousness draws near speedily, my salvation is on the way, and my arm will bring justice to the nations. The islands will look to me and wait in hope for my arm.” Isaiah 51:5.
We often think that such phrases as ‘my arm’ are given to show that God is like us, yet this is not so. Firstly scripture informs us that God is Spirit (John 4:24), and secondly God uses human terminology to reveal what He is like, and in doing so, shows that He is very different from us. For example, unlike humanity, who often takes up weapons against others in indiscriminate and irrational ways, God’s arm brings about His perfect justice. The one who has every right to destroy rebellious man ‘reaches forth His arm to help man’ instead. God always accomplishes what He sets out to do. He is far superior to us in every way, and comparison is not really possible. And yet He graciously uses anthropomorphic language so that we might see and understand who He is. God is a living being, much more than a function or conglomerate of worldly ideas reaching upwards. He is the Holy One, who stoops low in love, compassion and mercy, reaching out to those who deserve nothing, and giving Himself, giving everything.
In today’s society we often see a person as a physical being who sees his fellow man as a potential competitor in life; or he may see others as ‘stepping stones’ – no more than tools to be used and abused as one marches relentlessly on to some form of worldly success. One of our problems in this is that we don’t always look below the surface and therefore see ‘person’ as little more than an isolated individual who is complete in him/herself. In the light of all this, our rationalistic thinking often sees the idea of three persons in the one God as totally impossible. Yet to be a true person speaks of having perfect out-going relationships with those around us. God did not create us to compete with one another, compare ourselves with one another, or use and abuse one-another. We were created to inter-relate in deep and wonderful ways, whilst still retaining our individuality.
The word ‘person’ does not speak of that which is visible in itself, or measurable, but that which is present nonetheless and is revealed in its relation to others. The ‘person’ of the eternal Son of God, for example, whilst having his own identity, existed in inseparable union with the ‘persons’ of the Father and the Holy Spirit.
Speaking of God we find three ‘persons’ unique yet the same, giving out and receiving love, wrapped in absolute holiness; and so we begin to catch a glimpse of three in oneness. Let’s remind ourselves of this again: God is absolute perfection. He does not need to lean upon or rely upon anything to make Him who He is. He is the great ‘I AM’ and within the persons of the Trinity we find the binding essence of love – not a fleeting feeling, but an active willing love, which gives out and receives. There is one God and that God Triune: One God in three Persons. None of them can possibly be “the whole God,” and none of them can be God except in union with the other two Persons. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one and only one God, and each has a peculiarity incommunicable to the others. None of them is God without the other two; each of them with others is God.
Today we have people who are called schizophrenic because they display more than one personality. This has come about through the fall away from God, along with unknown additional factors, and yet, in a strange way this can help us as we look at ‘person.’ Within the one God we have three persons, perfectly loving, perfectly communicating, distinct, yet also the same – a powerful dynamic relationship characterised in love and holiness. The Father is the giver of unoriginated divine love, a pure source; the thinking, active, giving love of a transcendent father. The Incarnate Son is the receiver and communicator of this love – the word made flesh. He receives glory and power from the Father and empties Himself of it, whilst being continually filled, in giving out to others. He is the perfect Mediator – pure mediation, a thinking active person, and not just an object which something passes through. The Spirit is life given and life returning to God. He is a thinking active person, not a supply of power, but a giver of Himself pointing to the work of the Son and the love of Father and Son.
Therefore in the one God we see, through perfect relationship and intimacy, (which is not at the expense of unity) three persons – Father, Son and Spirit, each characterised by their selflessness and yet so much more.
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Matt 28:19.
In the above verse the word name is singular in the Greek. In using this word Jesus indicates that there is one God, but three distinct persons within the Godhead – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
The Word of God, and witness of the Apostles to Christ.
“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.” John 1:1-12
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, and made human beings with the ability to communicate with one another through language. Language is the bearer of meaning, since words help our minds to grasp what others are driving at. For example, if someone said, “Watch out, a car is coming up behind you,” we would make sure that we moved out of its way if necessary. Communication is possible through given language because all minds have at least some thoughts in common.
Scripture reveals that God communicates with us through the medium of language, helping us to see what He is like. He speaks in word and action throughout history and through His revelation we begin to realise that life, in the best meaning of the word, is only truly found in Him. God’s dealings with man, throughout history, along with His promises for the future, show us that He is more than willing to break into man’s dark closet of autonomy, so to speak, and ‘switch on the light,’ helping us to reach out to Him. Helen Keller, born blind and deaf, helps us capture something of the creative power, and enlightenment, that language brings. She writes of the effect that language had upon her mind in this way: -
“Someone was drawing water and my teacher placed my hand under the spout. As the cool stream gushed over my hand she spelled into the other the word ‘water’ first slowly, then rapidly. I stood still, my whole attention fixed upon the motion of her fingers. Suddenly I felt a misty consciousness as of something forgotten – a thrill of returning thought; and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me. I knew then that w-a-t-e-r meant the wonderful cool something that was flowing over my hand. The living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, joy, and set it free. There were barriers still, it is true, but barriers that in time could be swept away. I left the well-house eager to learn. Everything had a name and each name gave birth to a new thought. As we returned to the house, every object which I touched seemed to quiver with life that was because I saw everything with the strange new sight that had come to me.”
Quoted by Prof. A. Custance in ‘Who Taught Adam to Speak?’ pages 9-10.
John begins writing with: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” One of the reasons he does this is because in Jesus we see, in a unique way, what God is like. A word is an expression of a hidden thought, and if we do not verbalise thinking, then others will not be able to understand us. In Greek, the Word (Logos) speaks of both things in the mind, and the words by which they are expressed. It is, therefore, the outward form by which a thing is expressed, and yet also the inward thought itself. In Jesus we see one who clearly reveals the thinking of God. Yet Jesus is not merely the abstract product of thought as the use of the pronouns in John chapter one clearly reveal.
There are those who believe that John was greatly influenced by the Greek idea contained in ‘Word, ’ and, in the light of this, would see Jesus as no more than a lesser form of God, indeed, another god, or just a prophet. Three points can be made in reply to this: Firstly this claim does not take into account the fact that John is Jewish and (as are all Christians), a monotheist (believing in one God). He would hardly begin his gospel stating that there were two gods, with the second being inferior to the first! Neither would he be over-influenced in the first few verses of his writing, only to go back to a very Jewish approach afterwards; it would be inconsistent with his thinking.
Secondly, the Greek text does not warrant the use of the indefinite article “a” before “God.” The purpose of the Greek grammar is to emphasise the divine nature of the Word.
“The omission of the indefinite article is common with nouns in the predicative construction”
Prof. F.F. Bruce. Answers to Questions page 66.
Thirdly, as we shall now see, John is drawing upon his Jewish roots much more than anything else in speaking of Jesus as the ‘Word.’
The ‘Word’ (Logos) is a term that John takes from native Hebrew thought. The Hebrew word ‘to speak,’ or ‘to say’ is ‘Amar’ and from this root form was derived the noun ‘Memra,’ an Aramaic form which means ‘Word.’ (Barclay/John/page6)
At the time of Christ the average person spoke Aramaic, which belonged to the same language group as Hebrew. Many of the Old Testament scriptures were paraphrased into Aramaic, and they were called Targums. It is from the Targums, which were very familiar to the Jewish people, that John draws his usage of ‘Word.’ The usage of ‘Word’ in the Targums came about as follows: -
In the centuries leading up to the birth of Christ we have a time when the Jewish people were fascinated with the transcendence of God, being more focused on his distance and the differences between God and anything else. This was due, in part to the ‘silence’ of God from circa 400BC onwards; something the Jewish people could not adequately explain. Their view of God as being transcendent and powerful (which was not sufficiently balanced by seeing Him as one that communicates and reaches out to people) was also fuelled by their vulnerability. The Roman Empire dominated the Jewish people, and Greek culture and thought also posed a threat. Making their God so high and far away was a way of trying to prove their God was greater and more powerful than others, despite their ongoing oppression. Because of this prevalent thinking, Jewish leaders made every effort to avoid anthropomorphism (God being spoken of in human terms), and when they found the Old Testament speaking of God in this way they substituted the language of anthropomorphism with ‘the Word’ in the Targums. An example of this is as follows:
“My own hand laid the foundations of the earth, and my right hand spread out the heavens…”
“By My Word I have founded the earth, and by my strength I have hung up the heavens..”
Professor Custance, in his book ‘The Trinity in the Old Testament’ writes…
“In the Targums they used this noun (Word) in many places where it seemed to them that God was spoken of as having direct and concrete dealings with the physical world. In the Targum of Onkelos it is used, for example in Genesis 3:8,10, and 24. In verse eight, the text reads; “And they heard the voice of the Word (Memra) walking in the garden in the cool of the day.” Even more striking in this Targum is the rendering of Deuteronomy 33:27 in which the words “underneath are the everlasting arms,” are replaced by the words “and by His Word was the world created.” This is, of course exactly the thought in John 1:10….this term is substituted for the name of the Lord about 170 times in the Targum of Onkelos.”
From what has been related so far, it is easy to see that John knew exactly what he was saying when he called Jesus the ‘Word.’ In Jesus we see the Word of God made flesh – the Pre-Incarnate Son limiting Himself, humbling Himself and coming in the likeness of man so that we can have light and life instead of chaos and darkness.
“He was one with us because divine power was channelled into his human life through the mediation of the Spirit (c.f. Luke 4:13 and Ephesians 3:20). He was unlike us because the true source of this power was in his own divine being, while for us, the power of God is a gift of his grace, his favour, which we do not deserve (2 Corinthians 12). Incarnation (God becoming man) is the key to the first, indwelling (God living in man) the key to the second. This makes him truly human and yet truly divine.”
G. Grogan ‘What the Bible teaches about Jesus,” page 123.
Jesus came as a man under the Law, whilst retaining Deity, so that we could come out from under condemnation and exchange rags for riches. Through Jesus we turn away from sin, and towards a loving and benevolent God, and it is in Jesus that we see the love and compassion, and the power and life of God in action within the limitations of the flesh. He was birthed into this world to save us. He did not think His riches were a treasure to be held on to – no – He limited Himself and lived for the Father, enabling us to enter into fellowship with God when we place our trust in Him.
God reveals Himself to us through revelation, since His realm is not present to our immediate perception. Apart from this, man’s fall into sin means that (outside of Christ) we cannot approach God, who lives in unapproachable light (1 Tim 6:16). Yet because of God’s love for us, He chose to communicate with fallen mankind, and God is the perfect communicator.
“God is more than human, but since God is a person, God’s being overlaps with ours as human beings, so that talk of God’s ‘love’ and ‘wrath’ are true talk of God…God’s true revelation comes from out of itself to meet what we can say with our human words and make a selection from among them to which we have to attach ourselves in obedience.”
Prof J. Goldingay, Models for Scripture, page 319.
Realising that God conveys eternal truth through the medium of language, and uses examples from life around us to help us understand truth at time, helps avoid the mistake of taking absolutely everything He says in a purely literal sense. For example, we could give an idea of how big a person is, by saying that he is ‘as big as a house,’ yet no one would go around looking for a man with a roof on his head. Therefore, when Jesus says, “I am the Vine”, we understand that He does not mean He is literally a green plant bearing small round fruit. He is pointing out that, as the grapes are totally dependent on the Vine for sustenance, man’s true sustenance is found only in Him. He is the true Vine, (chiefly in contrast to the Judaism of the day, eg Psalm 80:8), and life is found in Him, not in any other religious leader, or form of religious belief.
Similarly, such language as ‘seated at the Father’s right hand’ (Heb 8:1, 10:12) should not be taken literally, as is done by some who would try to use it to prove that Jesus is ‘another god’, or even just a prophet, but not God.
“To say that Jesus is seated at God’s right hand takes up the fact that a human king’s son or regent would sit at the king’s right hand and the consequent fact that the King of Israel was described as metaphorically seated at God’s right. The image is then applied to God and Jesus. It does not mean that the Second Testament envisages two literal thrones in the sky with Quasi-human figures seated on them.”
Prof. J.Goldingay. Models for Scripture, page 322.
Another word that is worth looking at, in the light of what we have been saying is ‘Son,’ and we expand our vision as follows: -
Firstly we note that the word ‘Son,’ as applied to Jesus in relation to God, does not contain the physical meaning some assume it does. God is Spirit, (John 4:24) and therefore ‘Son’ cannot refer to any physical relationship having taken place between God and Mary. John’s first chapter clearly speaks of the pre-existence of Jesus (see also John 8:58). In coming to Mary (Luke 1:31-35) the Holy Spirit ‘Prepared a body’ for the Pre-Incarnate Son, and so Jesus was birthed through the then Virgin Mary, having no need of a human father.
“Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me.”
The word ‘prepared’ is from the Greek root ‘Katartizo’ meaning ‘to repair,’ ‘adjust,’ ‘mend,’ and the picture we gain is of God repairing the DNA structure of an egg in the womb of Mary, prior to Christ’s birth. Jesus did not put on flesh as one puts on a suit. He took flesh to Himself and became man, whilst retaining His Deity. He was man who did not need to die – the God-man, without even a hint of sin about Him. The belief that Jesus was a literal Son of God (through intercourse) comes from erroneous teaching circulating prior to the time of Mohammed. It was never a view that orthodox Christians held, and scripture shows that the Jews were not offended by the term ‘Son of God’ as if they thought it meant that God produced a Son. However, what did cause offence amongst many Jews was Jesus claim to be the Son of God in a unique sense. Both angels and believers are called ‘sons of God’ and Israel as a nation was called by God, ‘my Son’ (Gen 6:2; Ex 4:22,23; Job 1:6). However, Jesus claimed to be the Son of God in a unique sense (Mt 11:27; 21:37.38; 22:2; Mk 12:6; Jn 3:16; 5:19-23).
In John 1:18 Jesus is spoken of as “God, the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side,” and John 3:16 speaks of God’s ‘one and only Son.’ Here, in looking to the Greek, we find the words ‘one and only’ coming from the Greek word ‘Monogene,’ meaning ‘single of its kind only,’ ‘only begotten.’ The reason that John uses this particular word (Monogene) is because it implies that Jesus is not just a creature. A simple illustration helps us get the point.
When you make something, it can be very different from yourself – such as making a car or building a house. But the idea behind the word ‘Monogone,’ (one and only) is that of bringing about something which can only be the same as yourself. For example a man and a woman produce human children, and birds produce eggs, which turn into birds, and so on. Hence John conveys the deity of Christ in the word ‘Monogenee.’ We then combine this with John’s Jewish roots, and find that the Semitic and oriental ideas of likeness, or sameness of nature, and equality of being, are always implied in the usage of the terms Father and Son. The title ‘Son’ given to the Second Person of the Trinity, is not given to signify temporal derivation from the Father, but to signify His obedience to the will of the Father in becoming incarnate in our humanity. In doing this He is able to meet the claims of the Law and fulfil His purpose in redemption. The uniqueness of Jesus’ son-ship can also seen from such scriptures as Matthew 11:27: - “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No-one knows the Son except the Father, and no-one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”
Professor G. Clark, commenting on the above verse, points out that the knowledge that the Father has of the Son is complete, divine and eternal. Therefore the same must be said of the knowledge that the Son has of the Father, since Jesus puts His knowledge on the same level as His Father’s. (‘Trinity,’ page 14).
Jesus claimed equality with God (John 5:16-18) for which the Jews tried to stone Him, and yet, in speaking of the Father he says, “The Father is greater than I” since He willingly took a lower position for a season. Those who use ‘the Father is greater than I’ to disprove Deity fail to consider, at the very least, two points. Firstly, two brothers can work for a company in different positions, one a floor sweeper and the other an office manager. One may have a different position, but out of the work place one does not rule the other, and both are equal in essence. Jesus took a position for a season, and it is from this position of service that He speaks of the Father as ‘greater than I.’ Secondly, no prophet, would ever compare himself with God, suggesting quite clearly, that Jesus is far more than just a prophet.
On one occasion Jesus was called a ‘good teacher,’ (Mark 10:17-18) and in His reply to this Jesus says: “Why do you call me good? “No-one is good – except God alone.” In His reply we do not find the words “I am not good” which some opponents to His Deity would have us believe. Instead we have deity clearly implied. If no-one is good except God, and Jesus has just been called ‘good,’ maybe the young man, who had just spoken to him, should put two and two together! Let us also remember, at this point, that no-one could accuse Jesus of any sin, He even challenged those closest to Him, to find sin if they could.
Moving back to John 1:1 and drawing things to a conclusion, we now note a final point: The Word was not God independently of His union with the Father and the Holy Spirit. He is God, in union with Father and Spirit, just as the Father Himself is not God except in union with the Son and the Holy Spirit, and so on. This can lead to the question: “How can Christ be called ‘God’ when he was not God except in union with the Father and the Holy Spirit?” Again we need to look back to the usage of language. The answer is found in that God speaks to us in our own language and uses our idioms. Take the following as an example: You and I use the term ‘man’, when speaking only of his body, his soul, and his spirit, to indicate his species – that he is a human being, not an animal, an angel or a spirit. We say ‘he is a tall man’, speaking only of his body; ‘He is a clever man’ speaking only of his soul – and we say ‘he is a godly man’ with reference only to his spirit, his differentia from animals. Then again, with reference to food we say, ‘I have eaten a banana’, when we have only eaten a part of it, not the skin, and of an orange, when we have not eaten of the rind. It is in this sense of distinguishing the nature of His being, as divine, not a creature, that Christ as Son of God, is called ‘God.’ It is in this way that we would also call the Father ‘God,’ and the Holy Spirit ‘God.’ The title is given to them individually to reveal that they are not created Beings, but each share equally in the one Divine differentiated life. Thus the term ‘Father’, like ‘Son’ and ‘Spirit’ distinguishes them from each other, (as ‘spirit’, ‘soul’ and ‘body’ distinguishes each part of our being from each other), whilst speaking of the One God.
In Jesus we have the speech of eternity translated into the actions of time, dare we even say it; God made simple. In Jesus, God stoops low, to lift up those who deserve nothing but death. From what we have seen, one thing is certain. He is God Incarnate. He did not come in all glory and power, but within the limitations of humanity, this being the only way of bringing a lost people back to God. One day He will return – and then we shall see Him as He is whether we like it or not.
The Cry of Dereliction?
“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me.”
The above verse has often been put forward by those who wish to deny the Deity of Christ as ‘rock-solid’ proof that Jesus is not God. As shall now be seen, this verse proves nothing of the sort.
In both Gospels (Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34) the words “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me” are intentionally preserved in Aramaic and Hebrew to draw our attention to the fact that Christ is quoting a portion of the Old Testament in His cry. Jesus is not questioning God as if He needed an answer to His cry. If He had thought God had totally abandoned Him, He would not have used the word ‘My’ before ‘God,’ or later said “Father into your hands I commit my Spirit” (Luke 23:46). Instead of questioning God, Jesus is giving us an idea of what He is going through by quoting scriptures that furnish us with information.
In these words Jesus is quoting Psalm 22:1, which is a part of a Psalm speaking of a sufferer undergoing great opposition from those around him for no valid reason whatsoever. However the Psalmist’s trust in God does not fail – hence the words “MY God, MY God, why have you forsaken me.” He may feel alone and separated, but still knows that God is his God, and as the Psalm later reveals it is God who rescues Him – for he has done no wrong. Those steeped in the Hebrew Scriptures would understand that in quoting this Psalm, Jesus is revealing that it speaks of Him as an innocent man before His enemies. His cry therefore expresses something of the separation He was going through. However we must realise that this separation is not a separation of Being, but a cessation of fellowship and communication. Jesus was paying the price for our sins. It had always been His intention to give His life for us, and He willingly chose to walk that path (Luke 22:24). Jesus had made His decision, and it was impossible for Him to do anything but remain as a willing sacrifice for our sins.
There are those who state that Jesus’ cry proves that He is not God. Yet as already noted it was not a cry of despair, so much as a cry of communication, informing us of something of the horror of what was going on, yet also revealing His absolute control over the situation. As the following pale illustrations reveal, it is possible to become separated from most of the thinking that makes us us, whilst still being very much present. For example, if you or I were to see a man step out in front of us and slowly slit his throat with a large knife, the sight of it would ‘separate’ us from anything else we were thinking about at the time. Communion with self would cease, although all our thoughts were still within us. We may even be paralysed with fear, and the shock of that moment might suspend everything else so that we were, in a sense, isolated from all around and within us (save that which we faced), even if only for just a split second. Yet we are still all there. In a very pale way this helps us understand that Jesus is not saying that God is not present to him anymore, after all He is God Incarnate. But there is silence. The judgement time of sin had arrived and the forsaking of internal communication is spoken of, indicating the judgement of God (Father, Son and Spirit) on all sin. Yet the written word is held onto, indicating a powerful truth. All is not lost. Another pale illustration may be of help.
Imagine that you were going to climb in the Arctic. You plan your route meticulously, and mark your map and work out all the compass bearings. Then you begin to climb. The mist comes in and it begins to snow, and visibility decreases to just a few inches. Your mind totally focuses on your compass bearing and nothing else occupies your thoughts. The noise of the blizzard, the howling wind, lack of visibility and lack of feeling in parts of your body, make it seem as if you have abandoned your senses – as if the rest of you is not really there. However you are still very much present – body, soul and spirit. The single thought and focus of your mind – remembering the map and compass bearing – does not deny the existence, or presence, of the rest of you. Lack of interaction with the rest of your thinking processes does not make you think that the rest of you is not there!
Jesus had come to do a job. He had come to pay the price for our sins. There was no need for communication within Trinitarian unity at this time. Indeed there could be no communication because the wrath of God was upon the sacrifice. God does not look upon sin and there is no focus on it in any way – only judgement. Therefore at judgement, the one undergoing our penalty speaks the written word – recalling what had been recorded in the past, focusing upon truth, since there could be no focus on sin. The words communicate the agony and yet express the perfect truth – a trust in God, an awareness that the victim is innocent, and the certain hope which the Psalmists expressed, is translated into the words: “Father into your hands I commit my Spirit.”