theology

How can it be that thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

In my last post, I addressed the orthodox notion of Mary as theotokos, or mother of God. I concluded that it is indeed right, even necessary, to say that Mary is the mother of God according to God’s human nature in the incarnation of the second Person of the holy Trinity. The basic reasoning is: If Jesus is God, and Mary was the mother of Jesus, then Mary was the mother of God according to His (God’s) human nature.

Some will say, “Only the human nature of Jesus experienced this mothering from Mary,” but we have to be careful not to assign properties of person to nature. Natures do not experience anything, persons experience things according to their natures. The divine Person of the Son experienced Mary as mother according only to His human nature.

It is this same language I would like to avoid when talking about the death of Christ on the cross. It is no mystery in Scripture that Jesus, the Son of God, suffered death on the cross (Phil. 2:8). Thus, when we consider my last post, and how Jesus is God who has taken to Himself a human nature, we must conclude that God died on the cross, according only to His human nature.

If Jesus is God, and if Jesus died on the cross, then God died on the cross.

However, as with the last post, we must qualify these words.

First, Jesus is God and this means that what is predicated about Jesus must also be predicated about God if indeed Jesus is God. Yet, what can be said about Jesus in His human nature cannot and should not be said about the Son according to His divine nature. For instance, it cannot be said that God sleeps if indeed we are speaking about the immutable divine essence. Yet, it can be said that God sleeps if we are talking about God incarnate, the Son according to His human nature.

Second, the experiences of Christ must be said to be God’s experiences, but these are God’s experiences only according to His human nature, not according to the immutable divine nature (remember, Jesus has two natures).

Third, we have to admit that our language has limits. The Son’s natures (divine and human) are not separate, but they are distinct. They are not confused as if they blend into one indistinguishable nature, but are harmoniously unified in the Person of the Son. Chapter 8.2 of the 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith (1689) puts it rightly:

This office the Lord Jesus did most willingly undertake, which that he might discharge he was made under the law, and did perfectly fulfil it, and underwent the punishment due to us, which we should have borne and suffered, being made sin and a curse for us; enduring most grievous sorrows in his soul, and most painful sufferings in his body; was crucified, and died, and remained in the state of the dead, yet saw no corruption: on the third day he arose from the dead with the same body in which he suffered, with which he also ascended into heaven, and there sitteth at the right hand of his Father making intercession, and shall return to judge men and angels at the end of the world.

A Word of Caution

I cannot, at this point, end this post without saying something of God, Who is a most simple and pure essence. The 2nd London (2.1) explains it this way:

The Lord our God is but one only living and true God; whose subsistence is in and of himself, infinite in being and perfection; whose essence cannot be comprehended by any but himself; a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; who is immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, every way infinite, most holy, most wise, most free, most absolute; working all things according to the counsel of his own immutable and most righteous will for his own glory; most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek him, and withal most just and terrible in his judgments, hating all sin, and who will by no means clear the guilty.

God, properly speaking, is incomprehensible to us. He is immediately and eternally comprehended only by Himself (1 Cor. 2:10). He is divinely simple, that is, not made up of that which is more basic than Himself. He is immutable or unchangeable. This is who God is according to the divine nature. The incommunicable attributes (i.e. omnipresence, omnipotence, simplicity, immutability, impassibility, etc) are not transferred, nor are they predicated of, the Son’s human nature.

We cannot, at any time, say God died according to His divine nature. That would be blasphemous. If God died according to His divine nature, then He’s not immutable, self-existent, simple, etc. To speak theologically we must speak precisely, and in speaking precisely we must be able and willing to affirm that which is proper to both natures in the Person of Christ.

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