What if for Jesus, bearing the Wrath of God would have been far more bearable than taking the Absence of God?
Since Jesus is himself God, he can continue to exist out of any kind of relation with other things. So the Father and Spirit could separate themselves from him far more completely than they could from any other thing. If this line of thought is true, when Jesus hangs on the cross, he is not experiencing that full wrath of God, he is facing something infinitely more terrifying, the most absolute absence of God’s presence, power, and being. The emptying is rendered absolutely completely; God is rendered absolutely distant from God.
Let us not imagine that this would have bearable for the Father and the Spirit; for they do not observe the world dispassionately. The entirety of their being would have to recognize that this was the most absolutely (in some sense) unjust act in history; that a being whose very nature is eternal unity and communion in joy and peace, was rendered absolutely alone, absolutely separate from everything. The fullness of God’s being must have rejected this, must still be rejecting this with the greatest revulsion imaginable.
God never gets to leave something. It is always present for him. So that moment, of absolute injustice, absolute aloneness is always in God. And somehow, this moment where God was broken on the cross is where mercy flows from. It is incomprehensible (To me at least), it is glorious.
This is how I understand Penal Substitution. Christ bore something far worse than anything we could bear; he did not take the Wrath of God, this would require communion (however partial) with God. He took the full punishment for Sin, something that (at least on my picture, though this coheres very well with annihilationist picture as well) we could not bear as contingent creatures, the absolute absence of God.
Of course, I do not claim this is the fullness of what happened on the cross, but I do think this preserves the good parts of penal substitution without some of the more troubling aspects. It also explains why Jesus was so utterly terrified of the Cross. The Saints go to their deaths full of the Spirit, utterly aware of God’s presence. Jesus is the only martyr who dies experiencing the absolute absence of God.
To my more traditionalist followers, I’m not absolutely committed to this picture, but it does seem promising to me right now.
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