Did the Father turn his face away in sorrow from the Cross?

This is another in the series, “The Songs we shouldn’t sing in church.”

Thomas Aquinas is purported to have said, “Love takes up where knowledge leaves off.” I describe what can happen when love, or anything, takes off, and knowledge takes a holiday.

Mother Teresa said the following in the ”Decree of Erection” for her congregation:

To quench the thirst of Our Lord Jesus Christ for the salvation of souls by the observance of the three Vows of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience …” (Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light, the Private Writings of the “Saint of Calcutta”, edited and with commentary by Brian Kolodiejchuk, M. C. (USA: Doubleday, 2007, p. 20). Where does Mother Teresa get the idea that Jesus is constantly “thirsting for souls?” I think the constant sacrifice of the Mass has much to do with it. In Roman Catholic theology the sacrifice is never over. This constant thirst idea is an aberration, because there is nothing in the Bible says that Jesus is thirsting in heaven. (See ”The constant thirst and constant sacrifice of Jesus Christ: The Charism of Mother Teresa”).

What about God from a Unitarian (non-Trinitarian) view. According to the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, “ Whenever God faced with anyone who appealed and prayed to Him with such a grieving heart, He related to that person with a sorrow welling up in His heart.” (Let Us Become the Ones Who Can Understand God’s Sorrow”).There is nothing about this in the Bible.

What about God the Father (from a Trinitarian point of view). Did the Father turn his face away in sorrow from the crucifixion of His Son? I examine this question here. There is a very moving song called “How deep the father’s love for us.”

How deep the Father’s love for us,

How vast beyond all measure

That He should give His only Son

To make a wretch His treasure

How great the pain of searing loss,

The Father turns His face away

As wounds which mar the chosen One,

Bring many sons to glory

Behold the Man upon a cross,

My sin upon His shoulders

Ashamed I hear my mocking voice,

Call out among the scoffers

It was my sin that left Him there

Until it was accomplished

His dying breath has brought me life

I know that it is finished

I will not boast in anything

No gifts, no power, no wisdom

But I will boast in Jesus Christ

His death and resurrection

Why should I gain from His reward?

I cannot give an answer

But this I know with all my heart

His wounds have paid my ransom

(REPEAT)

There are about two dozen comments on this song to be found here. The following two are representative:

1. What great inspiration!what a deep song on the love of God. again and again,i listen to this piece and i get broken in my spirit. this is one of the best xtian [sic] songs ever written in history to reveal the great love of a sinless Christ for a sinful human race.

2. The song is really amazing! It makes me feel as if we’ve just entered heaven and the song is played as we approach the face of God, getting to meet Jesus face to face. I love it!

The words are moving, but more important, mostly biblically on the button, except for this verse, (and perhaps “Why should I gain from His reward”) about the Father turning his face away in sorrow.

How great the pain of searing loss,

The Father turns His face away

As wounds which mar the chosen One,

Bring many sons to glory.

Before I speak of sorrow, I need to begin with wrath. Ben Trigg (“Did the Father turn His face away”) presents a good case that the Bible never talks of God turning his face away in wrath, or for any reason. “No doubt, says Trigg, the wrath of God is visible at the cross.” However, in spite of “My God my God why have you forsaken me” (Jesus voicing Psalm 22:1, this does not mean that the Father turned his face away, for we read in Psalm 22:24 : “He has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; nor has He hidden His face from him; but when he cried to Him for help, He heard.” Jesus’s cry in Psalm 22:1 should not be truncated from the rest of Psalm 22.

The problem I have with this verse of the song is not, as in Trigg, that the Father turns His face from the Son as a sign of his wrath against sinners. This is the problem: there is a strong allusion, I would say assertion, that the reason why the Father turned his face away was because of the great pain he felt at crucifying his son. But who knows that other than the Father?

(In Christian theology, patripassianism is the view that God the Father suffers (from Latin patri– “father” and passio “suffering”). Its adherents believe that God the Father was incarnate and suffered on the cross and that whatever happened to the Son happened to the Father and so the Father co-suffered with the human Jesus on the cross. This view is opposed to the classical theological doctrine of divine apathy. According to classical theology it is possible for Christ to suffer only in virtue of his human nature. The divine nature is incapable of suffering. There is no consensus that the early church considered this a heresy or not – Wikipedia).

What we do know – which we get from the Bible; that’s all we’ve got, and it’s sufficient – is that at the cross, the Father’s full wrath that should have fallen on sinners, He unleashed on His Son. But then, who wants to sing songs, or preach, on the wrath of God in church “worship” (the songs part of church). It makes a person feel bad, and makes God look really bad.

Except for the contentious patripassianism bit,  the song “How deep the Father’s love for us,” is, as someone said, “One of my favourite songs… Fantastic song, it truly speaks to me how truly deep our heavenly Father loves us, even when our voices are among the scoffers.” Here are the words put to music.

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12 thoughts on “Did the Father turn his face away in sorrow from the Cross?

  1. I’ve always like that song and never noticed the point you made. You’re right. Definitely makes me realize I need to be more conscious of what I’m singing and ask the question if it’s biblical.
    What a razor sharp ending

  2. SlimJim, no matter how biblically profound the rest of the song, we shouldn’t sing it. It’s like a Christian theologian who holds many sound doctrines but then is so very wrong on other doctrines. Should we separate the good from the bad and the ugly, and focus on the good (ugly is also ok) stuff, and ignore the bad? Nope. That is why I only pay attention to Calvinist Armenians.

    LOV(ery)L

    • The pain is felt by the Son. The Father turning his face away is an allusion to Christ bearing the sin of the world and how that relates to, for example, Habbakuk 1:13. The Son who enjoyed eternal fellowship with the Father endured the Father not being able to look upon him due to his bearing the sin/becoming sin/becoming a sin offering.
      There are plenty of terrible songs to go after. It might be a better use of time to critique them as opposed to going after good songs.

  3. That is an interesting thought. I have always thought that the implication was God turning His face away in an act of wrath and that the “searing loss” was Christ feeling forsaken by the Father (loss of divine fellowship).

    • Mom,

      I didn’t delineate the versification of the song. The first two verses are these, which are about the Father. The rest is about the son:

      About the Father

      How deep the Father’s love for us

      How vast beyond all measure

      That He should give His only Son

      To make a wretch His treasure

      —–

      How great the pain of searing loss,

      The Father turns His face away

      As wounds which mar the chosen One,

      Bring many sons to glory

      If the songwriter meant what you thought, it becomes confusing. Besides, as I argued, it’s also theologically wrong. That is not to say that wrong thoughts don’t have the power to pull aet the heart strings. 

  4. I know this is a little late, but could the verse be an allusion to Psalm 51:9. If Christ, who knew no sin, became sin on the cross, then when did God the Father turn His face away from sin? Ultimately and finally – for believers – when Jesus bore the wrath on the cross. Just a thought. I wonder what the author of the song intended. At the very least, maybe you can take this song off the “don’t sing” list.

    • Psalms 51:8-9
      8 Make me to hear joy and gladness, That the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice.

      9 Hide thy face from my sins, And blot out all mine iniquities.

      Verse 9 is asking God to put the psalmist’s sins behind him (God), to regard them as if they never were. Verse 9 cannot be a typology of Jesus because verse 8 says it is about someone whose bones have been broken. Even if the broken bones here is metaphorical, such a metaphor cannot later refer to Jesus because it would confuse the metaphor with the literal fact that Jesus did not have his bones broken.

      The song says “How great the pain of searing loss, The Father turns His face away.”

      There is nothing in the Bible that says the Father turned his face away because of the great pain he felt at “losing” his Son. Also, at the death of Jesus on the cross, the Father did not lose his Son; such a severance between the Father and the Son is (ontologically) impossible.

      So, this song should either omit the sentimental verse (I suppose one could hum it instead) or crossed off the list.

      Beautiful tune though.

      • Thanks for the reply. Not to belabor the point – for I feel no need to be an apologist for this song – but I do want to push back slightly regarding Psalm 51. I was not suggesting a typological connection between the Psalmist (David) and Jesus in my interpretation. While there is certainly a type/anti-type relationship between David and his Greater Son, in this case I am suggesting that Jesus LITERALLY became David’s sin on the cross; just as He became our sin on the cross (2 Corinthians 5:21).

        As far as the crucifixion of the Son of God severing the ontological unity of the Triune God – as far as I can tell, we are in agreement.

        Blessings.

        • When you say literally became (our) sin, I think you are referring to

          2 Cor 21 For our sake he made him to be (become) sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness.

          As sin and holiness are mutually exclusive, and Jesus never loses his divine attribute of absolute holiness, I don’t see how Jesus can literally become sin.

          In the above verse, a better and linguistically legitimate translation is “became a sin OFFERING.”

          I found this article useful:

          http://theologica.ning.com/profiles/blogs/did-jesus-become-sin

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