I am reading John R W Stott’s The Cross of Christ and he is arguing for a literal separation of Christ from God in that he commends us to take Christ’s words at face value, and while you my Catholic friends on here have disagreed with me in the past on the exact nature of the curse bearing servant, I think I would like discuss the “separation” itself if you are willing. Namely on two points;
Does it make sense to assert that anything in all creation could be truly separated from God?
If Christ’s death is the ultimate dereliction then why is it so clearly declared as the ultimate victory of God over sin and death and proof of His justifying love, grace and mercy?
Among the fundamental confessions about God given over the entire history of orthodox Christianity regardless of RCC, EO, or Reformed/ orthodox protestant churches is the clear affirmation of God’s eternal presence ruling over the entire scope of creation from its first moment to the last. If this is so then does it make sense to say that suddenly God stepped out for a smoke? I don’t think so and so the assertion fails on this point imo.
Two is Christ’s own assertion again and again that his hour, his moment, his purpose was tied to this ultimate act of love. If this is so then how on earth could he have failed? Especially given that Isaiah tells us that “he shall see the travail of his soul and be satisfied.” If that is true and God sent him for this purpose then the assertion that the travail of his soul and his purpose from God is that he should end in dereliction and failure seems absurd.
To that end wouldn’t it make more sense to take a second glance at the cross?
Christ is on the cross and about the sixth hour darkness descends. I think this darkness is not the absence of God but the presence thereof. Think about in Exodus when God comes down what happens; darkness descends and the mountain smokes. In Job when God descends a whirlwind appears and God speaks to Job. In Isaiah when he sees the Lord what happens; the temple shakes and Isaiah is filled with horror and dread. The OT repeatedly tells us that the presence of God is terrible to behold and human experience in it is always fear and trembling and despair. That being said wouldn’t it make more sense to say that the darkness and the associated dread which accompanied it is the presence rather than absence of the Father attending the sacrifice by which all men must be saved?
If that is so then isn’t the Lord’s cry of “Eloi Eloi lama sabachthani?” not an assertion of dereliction but rather a declaration of what is happening is the fulfillment of prophesy given in psalm 22? Remember that the Jews did not number the Psalms but rather recited them based oh the first line; so psalm 23 would be known as “The LORD is my shepherd,” and Psalm 51 would be “Have mercy on me oh God according to your unfailing love,” etc. That Christ is declaring the ultimate and final fulfillment of the suffering servant of God and by extension also Isaiah 53 I think is the point and not an actual separation.
Lastly is the notion of the descent into Hell. I do not personally know what to think of this except that I am sure in some way Christ suffered the punishment of Hell in that he paid the ransom for the sum of man’s sins. But even if that is so this still does not mean he was separated from God. After all do we believe that Satan, having rebelled against God directly in God’s presence and right to His face would then be given a realm to rule that he may punish the other rebels and thus escape punishment himself. Is not the cry of Milton’s Satan “Better to reign in Hell than to serve in Heaven,” not the ultimate assertion of the serpent’s vanity rather than a reflection of the actual Hell itself. The Bible tells us that Hell is a place of punishment for Satan and his angels, and if that is so Satan most definitely does not rule in Hell.
So who does?
I think the answer manifestly is God himself. It is God who punishes the unrepentant souls in Hell and he does so for the glory of His own Name in justice. The men and angels who have refused his mercy have done so because they hate Him (Romans 1) and as such God is right to punish them. As such even if Christ did descend into Hell rather to fulfill punishment or to free the captives from the power of death, then even in Hell Christ would never be separated from the Father.
“Where can I go to escape form you. If I ascend to the Heavens you are there. If I make my bed in Hell you are there.”
Of course a subject like this could not be covered exhaustively here but I really want to know what you all think. I have one request however, please keep this thread to the narrow question of the “separation” and not on the curse since I know that has been discussed elsewhere on these boards.