I’m part of a Facebook community that is reading through the Bible chronologically. I’ve been following it for a few years, and every year, today’s reading and the accompanying podcast generates A LOT of discussion. Mainly because it has been driven into us for years that when Jesus cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”, it was because God withdrew from Jesus. The rationale is that when Christ became sin, God can’t be in the presence of sin, so He forsook His son.
The Bible teacher, Tara-Leigh Cobble, said,
…[I]f we believe in a God who can’t look at sin; who turns away from Himself [because the Trinity can’t be separated]; that will translate in the human heart to shame, which drives us from God when we sin, instead of encouraging us to run to God when we sin.The Bible Recap, Day 125
I’ve written on this in another blog post, so I won’t rehash those thoughts here. But this morning a member of the Facebook community was grappling with Tara-Leigh’s statement. She wrote,
…for the blood of Christ to cover us he had to assume our sins and that meant God had to remove His presence from Him, because He had to take the punishment for our sins or none of it matters. While [Tara-Leigh] has a point that we may misunderstand what Jesus meant; because all through the Bible we see God still loving and looking upon sinners, He also in every single instance starting with Adam and Eve removes His presence. Just because forsaken does not mean that He stopped caring or watching, does not open the door to a wrong so bad that it would sentence all humanity to hell. If Jesus did not suffer the punishment for our sins we are doomed.
Since I know a lot of you are probably grappling with the same thing, I want to share the response I gave in the Facebook group. Like TLC said, feel free to disagree, and we are still friends. But here’s what I wrote:
Hi L________. These are good questions. I’ll do my best to answer, but please keep studying and seeking understanding.
- The first part of your first statement is true: All of humanity for all time is sentenced to hell (Romans 3:23; 6:23a).
- The second part is partially true: “with no possibility of redemption” EXCEPT THROUGH the blood of Jesus (Hebrews 9:22). The wages of sin is death, BUT the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 6:23). I am sure that is what you meant, I just wanted to clarify.
After this, I am not sure I am tracking with you. Correct me on any point I’m misunderstanding you:
- “…because for the blood of Christ to cover us he had to assume our sins” Agree.
- “…and that meant God had to remove His presence from Him.” Why do you think God had to remove His presence from Jesus when Jesus took our sins upon Him? On what are you basing that?
Think about the Garden of Eden. Sin entered the world when Eve and Adam ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, right? (Genesis 3:6-7). In the very next verse, God comes looking for Adam. Do you think God didn’t already know Adam had sinned? Was he surprised when Adam and Eve told Him what they had done? That can’t be true for the omniscient God. Therefore, God sought out Adam knowing Adam had sinned. Later he took animal skins and covered their nakedness (foreshadowing the truth that for sin to be covered, blood has to be shed).
Yes, God sent Adam and Eve out of the garden. But was that separating them from His presence? Absolutely not. There is no place on earth where God isn’t. In fact, if God wanted to remove His presence from them, it would have been easier for Him to exit the Garden and lock Adam and Eve inside. That way, God would only have to withdraw from one tiny little piece of real estate instead of the entire universe! God removed them from Paradise, not from His presence.
For the rest of history, God has continued to make Himself known to sinful, fallen people. He knew what was in Cain’s heart before he killed Abel (Genesis 4:6-7), and immediately had a conversation with him after the murder (Genesis 4:9-11).
God made covenants— everlasting, unbreakable promises— with Noah and Abraham, even though neither one of them were sinless. He renewed the covenant he made with Abraham with Abraham’s sons Isaac and Jacob, and we KNOW Jacob wasn’t sinless!
So I don’t agree with your statement that God “in every single instance, beginning with Adam and Eve removes His presence.” We are only separated from God if we die without trusting in Christ for the forgiveness of our sins and receiving His free gift of eternal life through Him.
This may be a terrible analogy, so toss it if it doesn’t work for you. Let’s say a young man is sentenced to life in prison. His father could choose to cut off all contact. Never visit, never write, never ask anyone else how his son was doing. Remove every picture of his son from the family home and never speak his name again. That would be removing his presence from his guilty son.
Or, he could visit his guilty son at every opportunity. He could sell his house and buy one as close to the prison as he could so he could be closer to his son. He could write him everyday and remind his son how much he loves him. He could be his son’s advocate and work for a reduced sentence or even exoneration. And even if his son died in prison, he would know the freedom of a relationship with his father who never left him nor forsook him.
In other words (and to make it ridiculously “preacher-y”), the son would serve a sentence without suffering a separation.
As a result of the fall, we do not always feel God’s presence. We don’t experience the unbroken fellowship with him that we were created to have with him. But God is the father who has written his captive children every single day. He is the Son who left His home in heaven in order to move closer to our prison. He is the spirit who is wooing us back to himself with the message of reconciliation: Be reconciled to God.
“Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us. We plead on Christ’s behalf, “Be reconciled to God.” He made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Corinthians 5:20-21 CSB
When Jesus quoted Psalm 22:1 from the cross, I believe that he was experiencing, for the first time in eternity, the horror of not feeling God’s presence. A cloud of sin came between Him and His Heavenly Father, and He couldn’t see His Father through the fog. But that doesn’t mean the Father wasn’t there. On resurrection morning, the rising son burned away the fog, and all of us could see that He had been there the whole time.