Sunday, December 11, 2016

Did God Die on the Cross?

I was looking around on the Internet and came across this interesting blog post by R.C. Sproul on the Ligonier website titled, “Did God Die on the Cross?” Here is a quote (emphasis added):

“We believe that Jesus Christ was God incarnate. We also believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross. If we say that God died on the cross, and if by that we mean that the divine nature perished, we have stepped over the edge into serious heresy. . . .

“Some say, “It was the second person of the Trinity Who died.” That would be a mutation within the very being of God, because when we look at the Trinity we say that the three are one in essence, and that though there are personal distinctions among the persons of the Godhead, those distinctions are not essential in the sense that they are differences in being. Death is something that would involve a change in one’s being.

“We should shrink in horror from the idea that God actually died on the cross. The atonement was made by the human nature of Christ. Somehow people tend to think that this lessens the dignity or the value of the substitutionary act, as if we were somehow implicitly denying the deity of Christ. God forbid. It’s the God-man Who dies, but death is something that is experienced only by the human nature, because the divine nature isn’t capable of experiencing death.” [R.C. Sproul Mar 23, 2016 Category: Articles]

I see some theological and linguistic errors in that statement. To say that somebody or something “died,” is not to say that they were annihilated, became extinct, or ceased to exist, or that their “essential nature changed”. Nobody dies in that sense of the term, including man. When man dies, he doesn’t cease to exist. His body may cease to exist as a living organism, but his spirit, the most important part of him, lives on. Jesus was no different. When he died, his spirit lived on, “By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.” (1 Peter 3:19–20.) If Jesus was God at the time that he died, then it would be right to say that God had died; if he wasn’t, then it wouldn’t be. Since he was, then it is right to say that God died on the for our sins (or the Son of God did, which amounts to the same thing). It doesn’t mean that he ceased to exist, or his essential nature changed, or he ceased functioning as God.

The scriptures actually talk about another kind of death. It is referred to in the book of Revelation as the “second death” (Rev. 2:11; 20:6, 14; 21:8). This is a spiritual death, also known as damnation. It entails being cut off from the presence (and Spirit) of God. Jesus actually experienced both kinds of death on the cross. The Epistle to the Hebrews gives us a clue:

Hebrews 2:

9 But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.

In what sense did Jesus “taste death for every man?” We know that every man dies. If Jesus had “tasted death for every man,” that means that logically nobody else should die. But we know that they do. The answer is that he experienced spiritual death for us on the cross, as well as natural or physical death. We all die naturally (and get resurrected because of the Atonement), but we don’t all have to die spiritually, because Jesus has already paid that price for us—on condition of our faith and repentance.

So in a very real sense it is right to say that “God died” on the Cross for us. It doesn’t mean that he was annihilated, or ceased to exist, or that his essential nature changed. Nobody “dies” like that, including man. It means that he experienced the pains of physical as well as spiritual death on our behalf. And he experienced it as a Deity, not just as man. He experienced what it means to be damned—so that we might not be, on condition of faith and repentance. But he remained God all along. His divinity never changed in the process. He did not become less divine when he was having those painful experiences. In fact, only a divine being could have experienced such intense suffering and survive it. It was completely out of the power of mortal man to experience or accomplish it.

Mormons are lucky. They know all kinds of great stuff that Evangelicals theologians don’t. And guess where it all comes from. From the Book of Mormon of course—where else! 😇

No comments: