With just authority and omniscient discernment, a righteous Judge presides over humanity. As He looks into their hearts, He sees a deeply ingrained sin nature overwhelmed by deception, rebellion, theft, lust, fornication, idolatry, enmity, pride, murder, and every other wicked abomination under Heaven. None volitionally inquire after his holy name and none desire his presence or authority. Thus, with legitimate indignation, the gavel of his justice reverberates throughout his realm, requiring the everlasting damnation of their souls under his judgment. Yet, from among a select group, rises a man who also happens to be the Son of the Judge, equal in righteousness and holiness. He stands as an advocate for his followers, proclaiming that He has obediently made satisfaction for their sins by suffering the wrath of the Judge upon their behalf. He demands that their punishment may be annulled and requests that they may live in his kingdom for the duration of eternity.
This is the destiny that awaits all of humanity…to either stand protected by Christ before the justice of God or to stand naked and bare, completely exposed to his awesome anger. But the reason why anyone has a chance to stand with Christ is because Christ himself bore the brunt of God’s powerful fury so that those who follow Him do not have to do so. At first, the thought rings violently in our ears. How could a loving and merciful God wrack His son with the unspeakable tortures of His wrath and judgment? Did not God simply turn His face in great sorrow because He could not bear to look upon the sin and suffering that His son bore on the cross?
Ultimately these questions all lead us to the ultimate question: who (or what) was the source of Christ’s punishment on the cross?
In answering this question, we must be careful to cast aside emotional and unbiblical perceptions about God’s nature. We must be satisfied to look to the Scriptures for our answer, and using the gift of reason, derive an understanding of the Biblical answer to this question. It is only after Scripture and reason have established our position that we can then appreciate the overwhelming emotions and wonderful beauty that will result from a proper understanding of Christ’s glorious gospel.
Prior Objections Realized and Considered
Many will immediately react negatively to the idea that God actively punished His son on the cross. It does not fit with their preconceived notions of God as a completely loving and merciful God. William P. Young in The Shack argues that sin is a punishment in and of itself. God does not punish sin. On pg. 120 of The Shack , Papa (the figure representing God the Father) says, “I don’t need to punish people for sin. Sin is its own punishment, devouring from the inside. It’s not my purpose to punish it; it’s my joy to cure it.” Logically, it follows that if sin is a punishment in and of itself, then at least part of Christ’s punishment on the cross stemmed from the sins that He had to bear on the cross. Sin was what punished Christ on the cross. Moreover, as the character of God as portrayed in The Shack says, it is not God’s purpose to punish sin, it is only his joy to cure it.
Moreover, it has also been argued that men were the source of the agony felt by Christ on the cross. In a blog post, Baxter Kruger (friend and associate of William P. Young) argues that, “It was not the Father’s anger or the Holy Spirit’s that was poured out on Jesus; it was ours. We rejected him, cursed him, beat him and brutally murdered him. Either the Father, Son and Spirit were caught off guard by our horrific response to Jesus, or our bitter rejection of Jesus was clearly anticipated and deliberately used as the way of reconciliation.”
Essentially, Kruger argues that humans were the instigators who inflicted their wrath upon Christ. Moreover, it was not even caused by God, but only an event that was foreseen that God decided to turn into the means of redemption. Thus, men like Kruger and Young would argue that a combination of the self-destructive nature of sin and the pain inflicted by men was the source of the utter agony that pulverized his body and soul as He hung on the cross. God did not cause it, nor did he have control over whether or not it happened. Thus, according to Kruger, it could not have been God’s wrathful punishment because God is such a loving and relationally-stimulated God who simply decided to turn such a sad event into a happy means of redemption.
What does Scripture say?
To be sure, God is a loving and merciful God, but we must understand that within the context of Scripture and the knowledge of all of His other attributes. As believers, it is our duty to accept what God tells us about himself in Scripture rather than to demand that He should be in accordance with our notions of what we want him to be for us. As such, when trying to understand how and why Christ suffered, we must be sure to base our beliefs on Scripture, not on our personal feelings.
Thus, we arrive at the question: who was the source of Christ’s horrific punishment upon the cross? Nowhere in Scripture is this question more clearly answered than in Isaiah 53:10, which states: “But the LORD was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief” (New American Standard). In contrast to the decidedly heretical notions of Young and Krueger, Scripture teaches that it was God the Father who punished Christ by his just and furious wrath. Further, we see in 2 Corinthians 5:21 that it was God who made Christ to become sin so that we might inherit Christ’s righteousness: “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (New American Standard). This is significant because Psalm 5:4-6 makes it clear that evil cannot dwell with God, He hates those who do wickedness, and that He destroys those who speak falsehood. If God made Christ become sin (as 2 Corinthians 5:21 says), then this description in Psalm 5:4-6 is the description of God’s view of Christ during his sacrifice. Thus, it makes perfect sense that Isaiah 53:10 says that it please the Lord to crush Him, for in crushing Him, He was crushing sin, death, and evil. Moreover, it gives a deeper meaning to Christ’s chilling question as He suffered on the cross: “About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘ELI, ELI, LAMA SABACHTHANI?” that is, “MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?’ (New American Standard)”
Yet, nothing can sound more offensive and shocking to us than to know that it was God who pleased himself to punish Christ on the cross…and who will please himself to crush all who are not Christ’s followers. What happened to the God that is defined as “love” in 1 John 4:8 or the God that “so loved the world,” that he gave up Christ, his only son?
That God is the same God as the one that crushed Christ on the cross. If we overreact to the truth of the fact that Christ was punished God on the cross, we risk propping up our own emotional view of a merciful and loving God, but one who lacks justice, power, and authority. He’s a pathetic, frail, god (and yes, little “g” used purposefully in this context) that lacks the backbone to enforce his will, which is no longer inherently righteous. However, if we choose to accept the truth of the penal substitutionary atonement of Christ as clearly articulated in Scripture, then we can come to a true realization of just how loving and merciful God really is! As Frederick Douglass once said, “Benevolence with justice is harmonious and beautiful; but benevolence without justice is mockery.”
Christ’s sacrifice under God’s punishment is the most perfect picture of benevolence blended with justice in order to maintain the constancy of God’s unchanging nature. Original sin plunged mankind into depravity, causing all to exist in a state of sin from which they could not escape absent divinely authored redemption and salvation. God could have decided to thrust all of humanity forever into the pit of Hell, but yet He decided to save and redeem a number of them for his glory. However, He could not do so without forgetting that the requirements of his justice had to be met. The punishment for sin was (and always is) death (Romans 6:23) Therefore, the Son of God (who is himself, God) submitted Himself to be the propitiating sacrifice who would suffer the wrath of the Father in order that his love might be extended to lost, blind, disobedient, irreverent, sinful, and corrupted humans. Moreover, his punishment of Christ was not a permanent punishment that forever remains as a blot against the Son. Rather, because the Spirit (the third person in the trinity) raised the Son to life after death (Romans 8:11), we know that Christ’s sacrifice was enough to satisfy the wrath of God toward God’s elect and that God was pleased with His Son for seeing their divine mission through to its end. Now, “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).
At this point, it should be clear that it is simply undeniable that the Gospel retains true value so long as we understand it according to what Scripture actually teaches. Our distortions of the Gospel begin when we decide that what we feel about God is more important than what Scripture says. We become open to dangerous lies about God that are masked as truth, but that have no power to bring anyone to a knowledge of God’s redemption and grace. For if they do not understand the nature of God’s justice and wrath, they cannot understand from what they have been redeemed.
The rise of the emergent church, and of books like The Shack, with its false gospels, its poor theology, and its diluted view of God only reminds us of the words of Paul in his second letter to Timothy: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4; New American Standard).
What will prevent us from turning aside to these myths and embracing the sayings of false teachers? By evaluating every thought, every idea by the standard of Scripture and closing ourselves to the damaging effects of establishing our epistemology on the shifting sand of our ever-changing emotions. In doing so, we will open ourselves up to not only a more truthful understanding of our faith, but we will also have a much more infinite appreciation for its beauty.