The Dereliction of the Son

The dereliction presents us with an unthinkable scenario: the eternally beloved Son of God cries out to his Father, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” How ought this astonishing reality be understood? Has the divine nature suffered? Or might it be said that the person of the Logos himself did not suffer, but only the human nature which is associated with him? Did the Father—however briefly it may have been—turn his back on his eternally beloved Son and switch to hating him? As inconceivable as it may seem, in the dereliction the eternal Logos is experiencing, through his human nature and as a representative substitute, a sense of the withdrawal of the divine love and delight, and a sense of the divine judgment—and this so that the judgment and wrath hanging over sinful man would be taken away forever. First I will place the dereliction within the broader story of Scripture in order to cast light on its meaning and significance, then I will deal with some mistaken views of the dereliction.

In order to rightly understand the dereliction, it must be located within the story of Scripture and the overall structure of theology. We begin with the beginning of both theology and Scripture: God. “In the beginning, God . . .” (Gen 1:1).

The Triune God

The most fundamental thing about God that distinguishes him from all other so-called gods is his Triunity. There is no other God but the God who exists as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. From everlasting, the Father has begotten the Son, and the Father and Son have breathed out the Spirit. Each member of the Trinity is fully divine and coeternal, and no immanent distinction is to be made between them save only in relations of origin.[1] This means that their differences are not substantial ones, but relational ones. “The Father is not called the Father except in that He has a Son, and the Son is not called Son except in that He has a Father,”[2] and the Spirit is not called the Spirit except in that He is the one spirated by the Father and the Son. These are not each only one-third of God, but are each fully God, sharing in the one self-same divine essence. This Trinitarian reality points toward the doctrine of simplicity, which admits that God is not composed of parts nor does he have any accidental qualities, but that “His essence is His existence.”[3]

At the heart of reality is a holy, personal movement of life and love: the Father has a perfect image and representation of himself in the person of the Son or Logos, and the Father and the Son each love each other with a most pure and divine love, which is breathed out, as it were, in the person of the Holy Spirit.[4] God is in this way infinitely happy in the enjoyment of his own excellencies. He cannot suffer pain, nor in any way be dependent upon or affected by an outside reality, because he himself has fullness of life and love and being within himself, in the Triune fellowship. Aseity, simplicity, immutability, and impassibility are thus Trinitarian concepts. While it is perhaps possible to discuss these doctrines apart from any explicit tie back into God’s Triune life, it is much more valuable to make the link explicit. For “the doctrine of the Trinity shapes and structures Christian faith and practice in every way.”[5] The divine attributes have an irreducibly Trinitarian shape.

Creation and Fall

This God, out of total self-sufficiency, contentment, and freedom, chooses to create a world and fill it with creatures that would know and enjoy him. Created by God’s word and in his image, man exists in covenant relationship with his Maker. The terms of the first covenant with Adam were light and very generous: he was commanded to be fruitful and multiply, and to work and keep the garden. He was permitted to eat of every tree of the garden, with only one exception: the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And God made clear to Adam what the result would be if he disobeyed this prohibition: “In the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen 2:17). Given this covenantal framework, there is reason to believe that if Adam had persevered in the trial of his obedience, God would have granted him to eat of the tree of life.[6]

Redemption in Christ: the Last Adam

But in the face of God’s gracious and bountiful provision, our first father sinned, and “death spread to all men because all sinned” (Rom 5:12). Adam functioned as our covenant representative; when he fell, we all fell with him: “In Adam all die” (1 Cor 15:22). The judgment that hung over Adam now hangs over all of Adam’s children: “You shall surely die.” Louis Berkhof identifies three aspects to this judicial penalty of death: spiritual death, indicating the depravity of nature that we are born into; physical death, where the body deteriorates and the soul is separated from the body; and eternal death, everlasting torment in hell.[7] This punishment cannot be in anyway relaxed or altered: to do so would compromise God’s own faithfulness, justice, and love. It would compromise his faithfulness because he told Adam, “You shall surely die,” and to go back on his word would be to prove the Tempter right—that God’s word cannot really be trusted after all.[8] It would also call into question his justice, because it is by his justice that “He maintains Himself as the Holy One and necessarily demands holiness and righteousness in all His rational creatures.”[9] Finally it would even call into question his love, because God’s love is first and foremost his self-referential, intra-Trinitarian love whereby his values himself infinitely, and the form God’s self-love takes when it meets man’s sin is wrath. So then, because of who God is, man must be punished for his sins. If God did otherwise, he would be inconsistent with himself.

However, from the beginning God has revealed himself not just as the one who “will by no means clear the guilty,” but also as the one who is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin” (Ex 34:6). Throughout the Old Testament, God is not just the holy and just punisher of sin, but is one who “puts away” (2 Sam 2:12), “covers” (Ps 32:1), “forgets” (Isa 43:25), and “passes over” (Mic 7:18) sin. But how can God uphold his own faithfulness, justice, and love while leaving transgressions unpunished? The ultimate answer to this dilemma is in the coming Messiah who would be a New Adam, succeeding where the first Adam failed and bearing the punishment the first Adam merited. Of this fact John assures us: “The next day [John the Baptist] saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).

Who is this Lamb? The Apostle John answers in his prologue: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . . And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:1, 14). The Man of Sorrows, who is smitten by God, bearing the sin of his people, and offering himself as their substitutionary sacrifice, is the eternal Logos, the beloved Son. John Calvin comments on this passage: “We ought not to understand the statement that ‘the Word was made flesh’ [John 1:14] in the sense that the Word was turned into flesh or confusedly mingled with flesh”; rather, “his divinity so joined and united with his humanity that each retains its distinctive nature unimpaired, and yet these two natures constitute one Christ.”[10] Calvin’s words echo the Chalcedonian doctrine of the hypostatic union: the one person of the divine Son has both a fully human nature and a fully divine nature, “consubstantial with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood.”[11] How one person can have both a fully divine nature and a fully human nature remains, and shall ever remain, a mystery of the faith. “Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh . . .” (1 Tim 3:16).

The divine Son and eternal Logos, then, is the subject of man’s redemption, who comes incarnate as the new Adam to represent God’s people—not, like the old Adam, unto destruction, but unto salvation. By his active obedience Christ perfectly submits himself to God’s law, and thereby procures a perfect righteousness which entitles both him and God’s people in him to the reward of everlasting life. Sinners who are united to Christ by faith are thus clothed in his righteousness (Phil 3:9), are raised with him (Eph 2:5–6), and share in his justification (1 Tim 3:16; Rom 4:25). By his passive obedience Christ takes upon himself the punishment that we deserved, and thus satisfies God’s wrath against us, exempting us from the penalty that we would otherwise have to pay. This is how God can pass over sin without compromising his faithfulness, justice, and love. He does not remove the penalty: it is true—the one who sins must die. But the good news is that we can die in Christ. United to Christ by faith, the Apostle Paul tells us that we have “died with Christ” (Rom 6:8), we have “been crucified with Christ” (Gal 2:20), and our sins have been “condemned in [his] flesh” (Rom 8:3). In a word: Christ’s active obedience is how he provides for us the righteousness we need, and Christ’s passive obedience is how he takes away the punishment we deserve. While there is an important sense in which Christ’s final sufferings fall under the heading of “active obedience,” for the present purpose we will view his final sufferings largely in terms of his passive obedience.

The Passive Obedience of Christ

The author of Hebrews makes clear that the Son of God became man in order that he might die: “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil” (Heb 2:14). This gives further confirmation to the fact that the divine nature in itself is utterly incapable of death or suffering. According to the divine nature, the Son is “immortal” (1 Tim 1:17) and “God over all, blessed forever” (Rom 9:3). God has eternally existed as Father, Son, and Spirit in an infinitely loving and life-filled communion; he therefore cannot experience irrational passions or pain or mutability or change. Hence he became man that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death. As noted above, there is a threefold aspect to the death that sinful man is subject to: spiritual death, physical death, and eternal death. However, Christ did not experience “spiritual death,” taken as depravity of nature. It would, in fact, be of no benefit to us if he did, for we need a mediator who can not only sympathize with us in our weakness, but who is himself “without sin,” (Heb 4:15), “holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens” (Heb 7:26). But for the other two kinds of death—natural death and eternal death—the Son of God indeed took on flesh that he might suffer them, and in suffering them, defeat them. So on the one hand it was requisite that he should suffer an earthly, physical, natural death, and on the other hand it was requisite that he should suffer a hellish, spiritual,[12] eternal death.

Of these two deaths, it seems that Christ’s principle sufferings were with regard to the latter. Though it is true that in a broad sense “the penalty Christ bore in paying for our sins was suffering in both his body and soul throughout his [entire] life,”[13] yet in Scripture emphasis is always laid on Christ’s final sufferings, and of those final sufferings, on the cross. This is evident from the fact that the NT everywhere refers to Christ’s atoning work in terms of the cross: we have redemption “through his blood” (Eph 1:7), we are reconciled “in his body of flesh by his death” (Col 1:22), Paul determined to know nothing among the Corinthians except “Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2), and he will only ever boast “in the cross” (Gal 6:14). The cross obviously occupies a central place in Christianity and in the Messiah’s sufferings. What may be less obvious though is that there is an additional emphasis discernible in Scripture: that, of Christ’s sufferings on the cross, his spiritual sufferings—expressed by the cry of dereliction—are given more weight and emphasis.

This can be seen by looking at two places: Gethsemane and Golgotha. In Gethsemane Jesus enters into a deeply distressed, sorrowful, and troubled state. His soul is described as being very sorrowful, even “to the point of death” (Matt 26:38). He prays that the Father would let the cup pass from him, and in response an angel is sent to strengthen him. “And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:44). Whence comes this agony, distress, and inner turmoil? Turretin points out that if we do not admit that Christ’s principle sufferings were internal and spiritual, then we make out Christ to be “inferior to innumerable martyrs, who not only patiently and calmly, but also with joy and exultation endured bodily death and the most dreadful torments.”[14] Further, Christ speaks of “the cup,” which in prophetic literature refers to the cup of God’s wrath that is to be poured out upon the wicked in judgment.[15] All of this seems to point toward a much deeper, awful agony that he experienced in his soul during his final sufferings than merely the physical pains of crucifixion.

The circumstances of Jesus’ cry of dereliction at Golgotha seem to indicate that this is when the internal, spiritual sufferings of Christ became most acute. Christ is crucified at 9:00am (Mark 15:25) and he hangs on the cross until 3:00pm (Mark 15:33). During the first three hours Jesus asks his Father to forgive his tormentors (Luke 23:34), comforts the dying thief that he will soon be with Jesus in paradise (Luke 23:43), and entrusts his mother to the disciple whom Jesus loved (John 19:26–27).[16] But then the synoptics note that something strange happened: “Now from the sixth hour [noon] there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour [3:00pm]” (Matt 27:45). Luke’s wording is even more ominous: “It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun’s light failed” (Luke 23:44–45).[17] In all the synoptic accounts, Jesus is silent during these dark three hours. He who was once calling out to God and comforting the dying thief and entrusting Mary to John is now speechless. Then, after three long hours, Jesus breaks the silence with his cry: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Why the darkness at mid-day, culminating in this cry of abandonment? The concept of the darkening of the sun and heavenly lights is employed throughout Scripture to describe the judging presence of Yahweh.[18] This strongly suggests that these three hours leading up to and including the dereliction are when the hammer of God’s wrath came down, so to speak, and Christ experienced his most profound sufferings. Then was the time that Christ “paid a greater and more excellent price in suffering in his soul the terrible torments of a condemned and forsaken man.”[19] In Francis Turretin’s words, it was then that “God suspended for a little while the favorable presence of grace and the influx of consolation and happiness,” and Christ’s soul lacked “the sense of the divine love” and experienced rather “the sense of the divine wrath and vengeance resting upon him.”[20]

Three Misunderstandings

Undoubtedly this event is shrouded with much mystery, but from what has been said before about the doctrine of God and of the hypostatic union, we are able to reject three interpretations of this event as erroneous. Rejecting these misunderstandings will in turn cast more light on its true nature.


The first misunderstanding is that of theopaschitism, a heresy which holds that God (theos) suffered (pascho) on the cross. A related heresy is patripassianism, which holds that the Father suffered along with the Son in his final sufferings. Both of these heresies were originally bound up with deeper Trinitarian issues,[21] but on the surface they both involve a denial of the impassibility and immutability of God. Jürgen Moltmann has advocated for a version of theopaschitism in his influential book, The Crucified God. In this book, Moltmann advocates for taking the dereliction as our starting point in Christian theology. He views the dereliction as something “which took place between God [the Father] and God [the Son],” and asserts that the Father’s abandonment of the Son is something which “takes place within God himself; it is stasis within God—‘God against God.’”[22] He explicitly rejects the idea that Christ suffered in his human nature but not in his divine nature, claiming that it is not “a divine-human event,” but “a trinitarian event between the Son and the Father.”[23] He argues for this view on the basis of the doctrines of anhypostasis and enhypostasis: since the human nature does not have personhood in itself, but is given its personhood from the divine Logos, then we must affirm that both the divine person and the divine nature suffered and died.[24]

In response a few things may be said. First, if the divine nature is impassible, then Moltmann’s view must be rejected out of hand. I argued above that the doctrine of divine impassibility arises from the doctrine of the Trinity: God is highly exalted above all suffering and pain in his infinite enjoyment of himself within the Triune fellowship. This doctrine resurfaced in our consideration of Hebrews 2, where the Son takes on flesh and blood in order that he might suffer and die, implying that he could not suffer or die in his divine nature. So why does Moltmann reject this doctrine? Moltmann’s historical context here is revealing. He grew up in Nazi Germany and spent time as a POW during World War II. He writes: “Shattered and broken, the survivors of my generation were then returning from camps and hospitals to the lecture room. A theology which did not speak of God in the sight of the one who was abandoned and crucified would have had nothing to say to us then.”[25] Later on he notes that a doctrine of divine passibility is necessary in order for God to be loving, and that an impassible God is nothing other than “a cold heavenly power.”[26] From these comments it seems that his objection is largely an emotional one: there is so much profound suffering in the world that God must suffer along with the world or else he is not loving—indeed, he is not God. However, latent in this rejection there seems to be somewhat of a misunderstanding of divine impassibility. Derek Rishmawy notes that impassibility “does not mean impassivity anymore than immutability means immobility.”[27] The doctrine of impassibility does not mean that God does not have emotions or that God does not care about human suffering. This should be apparent from what was said earlier regarding God’s inter-Trinitarian life, in which there is an infinite fullness of life and love. The doctrine of impassibility simply means that God’s emotions are on a higher register than ours, that they are always in accordance with his understanding and wisdom,[28] and that his emotions do not bring suffering or pain upon himself. God does in fact care about human suffering—so much so that he stooped to take upon himself a passible human nature in his Son, so that he might come alongside us in our suffering and pay the price for our redemption.

Second, Moltmann’s view seems not only to break the Trinity but to obliterate it. Moltmann argues not only for a divine passivity, but even for a divine death: “The Son suffers dying, the Father suffers the death of the Son. . . . The Fatherlessness of the Son is matched by the Sonlessness of the Father, and if God has constituted himself as the Father of Jesus Christ, then he also suffers the death of his Fatherhood in the death of the Son.”[29] We noted above that the Father, Son, and Spirit are only differentiated from each other within the immanent Trinity by their relations to each other. But if the Father is differentiated as the one who has a Son, and the Son as the one who has a Father, then this means that Moltmann’s view would imply that the person of the Father vanishes along with the person of the Son. This would obliterate the Spirit as well, because he is differentiated as the one who proceeds from the Father and the Son. The whole Trinity, then, vanishes in the dereliction. He says elsewhere that “all disaster, forsakenness by God, absolute death, the infinite curse of damnation and sinking into nothingness is in God himself.”[30] But if absolute death, Fatherlessness, and Sonlessness are located in the inner life of God, it is hard to see how there would be any God left.

Third, Moltmann’s view misunderstands the hypostatic union. He rightly points out the importance of the doctrines of anhypostasis and enhypostasis, but he takes these doctrines to mean that since we must say that the one person of the divine Logos experiences suffering and death through his human nature, then we must also say that he experienced it in his divine nature. But this does not logically follow. It very well could be the case that the divine Logos cannot suffer in his divine nature, and that for this very reason he took upon himself a human nature which could suffer. The Son’s experience of suffering through this human nature would not imply that his divine nature suffers anymore than his experience of spatial limitation through that same human nature would imply that his divine nature somehow lost its omnipresence. As Pope Leo I put it in his Tome, “As the form of God does not take away the form of a servant, so the form of a servant does not impair the form of God.”[31] The passibility of the human nature does not take away from the impassibility of the divine nature. Moltmann accents the fact that there is only one divine person in Christ, but downplays the distinction between the two natures of Christ.


The second misunderstanding is in some ways the opposite danger of the first. In emphasizing, against Moltmann, that it is according to Christ’s human nature that he experienced a sense of forsakenness, we must guard ourselves from the ancient error of Nestorianism. Nestorius posited too sharp a distinction between the divine and human natures of Christ; he held that they were joined not in union but by association. This led Nestorius to object to calling Mary theotokos (“God-bearer”), opting instead for christotokos (“Christ-bearer”). His strong view of the impassibility of God led him to conclude that it was not the person of the Logos who suffered, but only Christ the man. Nestorius would point to the dereliction to substantiate his view: “This”—Christ the man, not the Logos—“is he who was encircled in the thorny Crown, this he who saith, My God, My God why forsookest Thou Me? this he who endured a three days’ death.”[32] Against this, Cyril of Alexandria emphasizes that it is the eternal Logos who takes on flesh and suffers through his human nature. Cyril directly counters Nestorius’ objection on the dereliction:

We will show him a wiser and truer Emmanuel, the whole world’s Savior and Redeemer. For the Word, as we have full often said, was made flesh, making His own a body which knew to suffer contumelies and death. He hath given [his body] for us and . . . endured the cross, despising the shame. . . . [T]his is He Who for us was encircled with the Thorny Crown—this, not another: He Who as Man is crucified and says, My God, My God why forsookest Thou Me? yet who restrains as God the Light of the sun, and makes it night in mid-day, in order that we should not confess Him Man, simply honoured with mere connection (according to thee) with the Word I mean—that is, out of God—but should believe rather that He is God, in likeness as we, and in servant’s form.[33]

Bearing in mind the doctrines of anhypostasis and enhypostasis, we are led to confess with Cyril and the Chalcedonian tradition that it is the eternal Logos who is the subject of the incarnation and who gives personality to the human nature of Christ.

Utter Rejection

The third and final misunderstanding of the dereliction is that the Father completely and wholly rejects, forsakes, and despises the Son. This view is attempting to get at something very true and essential to our understanding of the atonement: namely that Christ took our place as our representative and suffered the full punishment that we deserved. But this view would so emphasize Christ’s sin-bearing, wrath-averting work that it makes it seem as though the Father for a few hours ceased loving his Son, and utterly despised him. Against this we must say that Christ was indeed forsaken, but he was not utterly forsaken. God did not switch to hating his infinitely beloved Son, for however brief a time. According to his divine nature, this follows from what was said before with regard to the internal Triune fellowship. The Father’s love for the Son is an eternal love, which has its roots in a time before time; as such, it is absurd to suppose that it could ever cease, however briefly—this would posit a broken Trinity similar to Moltmann’s view. Additionally, even with regard to his human nature the rejection cannot be absolute. For Christ, in his very act of offering himself up as a sacrifice for sin, was performing the greatest act of obedience that was ever performed, and as such it was an act eminently pleasing to God. “For this reason the Father loves me,” Jesus says, “because I lay down my life that I may take it up again” (John 10:17). It is precisely on account of his obedience unto death, even death on a cross, that God has highly exalted Christ and given him the name that is above every name (Phil 2:6–11). So although he was then “made sin” (2 Cor 5:21) for us and “bore our sins in his body on the tree” (1 Pet 2:24), God did not forget that Christ himself “knew no sin” (2 Cor 5:21) and was himself “a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Pet 1:19). As paradoxical as it may seem, we must affirm with Calvin on the one hand that there is a sense in which Christ underwent “the severity of God’s vengeance,” suffered “all the punishments that [we] ought to have sustained,” and experienced “the terrible torments of a condemned and forsaken man.” But on the other hand we must also confess with Calvin that “we do not suggest that God was ever inimical or angry toward him. How could he be angry toward his beloved Son, ‘in whom his heart reposed’?”[34] Or as he put it elsewhere: “He could not cease to be the object of his Father’s love, and yet he endured his wrath.”[35]


In conclusion, it is only when we recognize with classical Christian theology that God is impassible and immutable within his Triune life that we can begin to grasp the significance of the Word made flesh. In the dereliction the eternal Logos experiences, through his human nature and as a representative substitute, a sense of the withdrawal of the divine love and delight, and a sense of the divine judgment—and this so that the judgment and wrath hanging over sinful man would be taken away forever. As Cyril put it, “We have paid in Christ himself the penalties for the charges of sin against us.”[36] This is the church’s great confession:

’Tis mystery all: the Immortal dies!

Who can explore his strange design?

In vain the firstborn seraph tries

To sound the depths of love divine.[37]

That last line is an apt description of the theologian’s task: to sound the depths of love divine. And in the sight of the one who cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” he discovers, to his astonishment and joy, that there really is no bottom.

[1] Stephen Holmes, The Quest for the Trinity (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2012), 116.

[2] Augustine, On the Trinity, accessed April 25, 2015,, V.1.6.

[3] Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica (Notre Dame, IN: Christian Classics, 1981), Ia. Q3. A4.

[4] Cf. Ibid., Ia. Q27. AA. 2–5.

[5] Michael Horton, Pilgrim Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 289.

[6] For arguments to this effect, see Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1992), I. Q6.

[7] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Cambridge, UK: Eerdmans, 1996), 258–261. Berkhof notes, however, that in Scripture these aspects are viewed as a synthetic whole. Nevertheless, so long as this is kept in mind, the distinctions remain useful.

[8] This point is brought out in Athanasius’ On the Incarnation: “It would, of course, have been unthinkable that God should go back upon His word and that man, having transgressed, should not die . . . It was unthinkable that God, the Father of Truth, should go back upon his word regarding death in order to ensure our continued existence. He could not falsify Himself” (quoted in Steve Jeffrey, Michael Ovey, and Andrew Sach, Pierced for Our Transgressions [Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2007], 170–171).

[9] Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 256. He quotes Turretin on the same page: “If there be such an attribute as justice belonging to God, then sin must have its due, which is punishment.”

[10] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006), II.14.1.

[11] “Chalcedonian Creed,” accessed April 23, 2015,

[12] Note: From now on I will be using “spiritual death” in the sense of inward agonies of the soul, not in Berkhof’s sense of depravity of nature.

[13] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000), 571.

[14] Turretin, Institutes, XIII. Q14. §4.

[15] E.g., Jer 25:15; Isa 51:17; Rev 14:9–10.

[16] John does not include the cry of dereliction in his account, but it seems that this conversation happened prior to it because he writes as though this discussion happened right after the soldiers began dividing Jesus’ garments, which all the gospels place immediately after Jesus’ crucifixion, well before the cry of dereliction.

[17] Emphasis mine.

[18] E.g., Ex 10:21–23; 1 Sam 2:9; Ps 107:10, 14; Isa 5:30; 8:22; 13:10; 24:11; 45:7; 47:5; Jer 4:28; 13:16; Lam 3:2, 6; Ezek 30:18; 32:7, 8; Joel 2:2, 10, 31; 3:15; Amos 5:18, 20; 8:9; Zeph 1:15; Mic 7:8; Matt 24:29; Mark 13:24; Rev 8:12.

[19] Calvin, Institutes, II.16.10. The same is expressed in John Owen (The Death of Death in the Death of Christ [East Peoria, IL: Versa Press, 2007], 60–61), Turretin (Institutes, XIII. Q14. A4), and Jonathan Edwards (“Christ’s Agony,” accessed April 23, 2015,, first paragraph).

[20] Turretin, Institutes, II. Q14. §6.

[21] Theopaschitism was intertwined with monophysitism and patripassianism with modalism (Kevin DeYoung, “Tis Mystery All, the Immortal Dies,” accessed April 23, 2015,

[22] Jürgen Moltmann, The Crucified God (New York, NY: Harper & Row, 1973), 151–152.

[23] Ibid., 245.

[24] See his second point on Ibid., 234.

[25] Ibid., 1.

[26] Ibid., 227.

[27] Derek Rishmawy, “The Beauty of the Impassible God (Or, Is God an Emotional Teenager?),” accessed April 24, 2015,

[28] Rishmawy explains a distinction Kevin Vanhoozer makes between cognitivist and non-cognitivist approaches to the emotions. Vanhoozer advocates for a cognitivist approach, and defines the sort of emotion that God experiences as “a concern-based, value-laden judgment about a state of affairs” (Ibid.).

[29] Moltmann, Crucified God, 243. On page 234 he explicitly says that the divine nature “suffered and died” along with the divine person of the Son.

[30] Ibid., 246.

[31] Leo I, The Tome of St. Leo, accessed April 24, 2015,

[32] Cyril of Alexandria, Against Nestorius, accessed April 25, 2015,

[33] Ibid., emphasis mine. For the sake of clarity, I made some minor punctuation, grammar, and spelling changes. It was pretty difficult to decipher in its original format.

[34] Calvin, Institutes, II.16.10, 11.

[35] John Calvin, Commentary on the Epistles of Paul to the Galatians and Ephesians, accessed April 24, 2015,

[36] Cited in Jeffrey, Pierced, 180.

[37] Charles Wesley, “And Can It Be That I Should Gain?” accessed April 25, 2015,

2 thoughts on “The Dereliction of the Son”

  1. Where to begin? I think Moltmann’s desire to show suffering within the trinity was born out of a lack of understanding regarding the knowledge held by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Father, Son, and Spirit have eternally possessed full factual and experiential knowledge of the entire pain and suffering of humanity, including the crucifixion. This is why in Genesis 3 God says, “they have become like us knowing good and evil.” The Son experiences that suffering temporally within the confines of a limited human nature but he does not gain some knowledge of suffering which he or the Father and Spirit did not possess before the incarnation. The suffering that the Son does experience is not due to his turning away from God, as much of ours is. His suffering is due to the actions of a hostile world that has turned it’s back on God. I also believe that the union of the divine and human nature deified the human nature in such a way that it would be impossible for the Son’s human will to turn away from God. Our salvation occurs when the deified human nature of Christ is swallowed by death and in the process destroys death itself. The Father does not “bring the hammer down” on the Son in any way, unless by that you mean the Father allowed his Son to experience the torments of scourging and crucifixion. But I think you mean, and correct me if I’m wrong, that the Father inflicted some type of supernatural punishment that was meant for you and I, onto the Son instead. I think it is going to be difficult for us to discuss different perspectives on particular points when we probably disagree broadly about the entire system. I hold to an Eastern Orthodox view and I’m, again assuming, you hold to a Reformed view. I suspect that many of our differences stem from a Reformed system’s over emphasis of God’s sovereignty to the point of negating the individual human will’s participation in inflicting the suffering onto the Son. I have thought about this response and worked on typing over the past few days but I am sure there are still many things that I have not expressed the way that I would have hoped, so for that please forgive me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the reply, Matt. I was in the middle of a semester so I was holding off on replying till the summer. Your Twitter post reminded me of this. “Where to begin” is a good question. We may have differences over some subterranean issues owing to Reformed-Eastern Orthodoxy differences, that are surfacing here. I’m not as fresh on my Eastern Orthodoxy as I’d like to be, so I’m not sure I can respond to your comment as meaningfully as I would like. I’ll try my best though.

      (1) I agree that God—Father, Son, and Spirit—eternally possessed exhaustive and perfect knowledge of all human pain and suffering. I would attribute this to the fact that God’s knowledge is infinite and encompasses all actualities and possibilities. I am not sure what you mean by “experiential knowledge,” though, and would not phrase it this way. God is infinitely exalted above all pain and suffering in the fullness of his Triune life and love. He is not subject to anything, and is thus not subject to passions or fits of emotion, and so does not “experience” things. To experience something is a creaturely category. I do not believe that God’s knowing good and evil in Gen 3 refers to experiential knowledge, but to taking on the role of a judge who discerns and declares upon good and evil in his judicial role (see here:

      There is a sense, then, in which I both agree and disagree with your claim that the incarnate Son does not gain any knowledge of suffering that the Father or Spirit did not possess. I agree, in that nothing can be quantitatively added to God’s infinite knowledge, which includes knowledge of human pain and suffering. I disagree, in that the incarnate Son’s knowledge of human pain is in a different manner or mode or way of knowing—i.e., by experience. It is in this sense that even the author to Hebrews can say that the Son “learned obedience through what he suffered” (Heb 5:8). He did not come to know something quantitatively that was not already known by the divine nature, but he did come to know it in a different way or manner, and this “coming to know” is described here as “learning.”

      (2) I agree that the union of the second person of the Trinity with the human nature of Christ implies that as man his will is necessarily kept from sin. If this is what you mean here by “deification,” then I agree with what you intend. (Language of divinization and deification, like one finds in the Fathers, can be appropriately utilized, so long as it is plainly not used in an ontological sense of man becoming God or sharing in God’s essence.) In this way I entirely agree that the Son’s suffering, unlike ours, is not due to his turning away from God.

      (3) You articulate the view that the Father does not “bruise” the Son (Isa 53) in any other way than by allowing him to suffer at the hands of men and the world. I understand your perspective and sympathize with what you are attempting to guard against. Like John Calvin above, you know that the Father cannot be said to be personally inimical or angry with his Son, with whom he is ever well-pleased. I can see how someone might take this to argue against any sort of “extra” supernatural punishment from the Father.

      With that said, I do indeed hold that we must affirm some sort of “extra” supernatural punishment from the Father, evidenced by Christ’s cry of dereliction. One massive problem with your view is that Christ’s agony in the garden, his sweating drops of blood, becomes inexplicable if the only thing he was afraid of and dreading was physical torment at the hands of man. Certainly he was dreading that, but many other martyrs in the Christian church endured similar physical torments and did not react in this way. If physical torments at the hands of persecutors, or even the psychological torment of being abandoned by his disciples, were all that Christ was dreading, then he shows himself less strong and able to bear up under suffering than some of his own followers. Turretin uses this line of argumentation, as I reference above.

      In his cry of dereliction, Christ says that the Father forsook him; I hold this to be true. There is a sense in which the Father forsook him, over and above defining “forsaking” as allowing him to suffer at the hands of men. I believe that the manner of this forsaking was at the level of Christ’s inward sense of God’s love and comforting presence. I believe that God suspended this inward strengthening of his soul with an assurance of God’s love. In this sense the Father forsook him, while not himself becoming angry toward him.

      Francis Turretin draws this out with particular rigor in his distinctions, drawing as he does on the scholastics: (it’s the tweet beginning with “2. I do think the Chalcedonian logic”). Turretin says that Christ’s loss of the sense of God’s love was also met with a sense of God’s wrath and vengeance resting upon him. I do not think this is best understood as saying that God’s wrath and vengeance actually and in reality were resting upon him. Turretin explicitly states that Christ’s loss of the sense of God’s love implies no real or actual withdrawing of God’s love. In the same way, I think Christ’s sense of God’s wrath resting upon him does not imply a real or actual wrath from God resting upon him (as though God were personally angry with him), but merely him sensing God as though he were angry with him. He was being treated in every way by God as a condemned and forsaken man, and as one with whom he was angry; therefore once his soul’s sense of God’s love was suspended, Christ sensed God as being angry and wrathful toward him, even though this was not really the case. This internal, spiritual torment is I think what is going on when Christ cries out that God has forsaken him, and I think it is the foretaste of this in the Garden that drove him to a bloody sweat and loud cries and tears.

      Any thoughts you have in response are welcome. Thanks for taking the time to share yours! Grace to you.


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