Friday, March 28, 2014

Protestant apologetics site GotQuestions? says Jesus "spiritually died" on the Cross.

Sorry to annoy you dear readers, but I'm going to have to post a third post this week, after finding yet another big name Protestant apologist making it clear that God the Father damned His Son Jesus in place of damning us. This time it's the website GotQuestions?, a popular online source where Protestants can get their theological questions answered from a conservative Protestant viewpoint. I'll try to make this brief since I mostly just want it to be a "for the record" type post.

The following quotes about what kind of suffering Jesus endured come from various Question & Answer posts on the GotQuestions? website, so I'll quote and provide the link to each (quotes are trimmed down for brevity).
  • A physical death is the separation of the soul from the body. Spiritual death, which is of greater significance, is the separation of the soul from God. When Adam and Eve heard the voice of the Lord, they “hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God.” The fellowship had been broken. They were spiritually dead. When Jesus was hanging on the cross, He paid the price for us by dying on our behalf. Even though He is God, He still had to suffer the agony of a temporary separation from the Father due to the sin of the world He was carrying on the cross. After three hours of supernatural darkness, He cried, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” (Mark 15:33-34). This spiritual separation from the Father was the result of the Son’s taking our sins upon Himself. That’s the impact of sin. Sin is the exact opposite of God, and God had to turn away from His own Son at that point in time. (Question: "What is spiritual death?")
  • In those awful moments, Jesus was expressing His feelings of abandonment as God placed the sins of the world on Him – and because of that had to “turn away” from Jesus. As Jesus was feeling that weight of sin, He was experiencing separation from God for the only time in all of eternity. (Question: Why did Jesus say, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?") 
  • As horrible as His physical suffering was, it was nothing compared to the spiritual suffering He went through. It was sin that caused Jesus to cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). So, as brutal as Jesus' physical suffering was, it was nothing compared to His having to bear our sins and die to pay the penalty for them (Romans 5:8). Some think that Jesus' physical torture was part of His punishment for our sins. To some extent, this is true. At the same time, the torture Jesus underwent speaks more of the hatred and cruelty of humanity than it does of God's punishment for sin. (Question: Why did Jesus have to experience so much suffering?
What we see here is the usual Protestant approach, quote Psalm 22 and jump to all kinds of horrendous conclusions: conclude Jesus spiritually died, conclude the eternal fellowship between Jesus and the Father was broken, and conclude that the physical sufferings of Jesus were basically irrelevant. The way the last response is worded, it suggests that Jesus underwent two forms of suffering, a physical suffering at the hands of men, and a spiritual suffering at the hands of God the Father. The physical sufferings are completely downplayed and even suggest that the physical suffering wasn't technically part of Jesus' suffering for our sins. What is astonishing though is how GotQuestions? addresses the passage of Psalm 22 in another answer they gave:
In Psalm 22, we hear David’s anguish: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?” It remains a mystery to David why God does not intervene and end his suffering and pain. Did God ever answer David? Yes, many centuries later, David received his answer. Roughly one millennium later, a descendant of David named Jesus was killed on a hill called Calvary. On the cross, Jesus endured the suffering and shame of his forefather. Christ’s hands and feet were pierced. Christ’s garments were divided among his enemies. Christ was stared at and derided. In fact, Christ uttered the words with which David opens this psalm: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” thus identifying Himself with the suffering of David. The cross of Christ can be regarded as the ultimate manifestation of God’s justice. When asked how much God cares about the problem of evil and suffering, the Christian God can point to the cross and say, “That much.” Christ experienced rejection from God, saying, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Question: "What does the Bible say about suffering?") 
What is astonishing about this response is that it tells us what David meant by "forsaken"! The very next words of David's mouth are "Why are you so far from rescuing me?" God did not intervene to end David's suffering of persecution. Was David undergoing spiritual death when he said those words? No! Was the fellowship between God and David broken when David said those words? No! So why, all of the sudden, do Protestants read these outrageous ideas into the text when Jesus speaks these same words?

Jesus quoting Psalm 22 from the Cross was for our benefit, Jesus was telling us to pull out our Bible and look up Psalm 22 and see what it says - "despised by the people" (22:6); "all who see me mock me" (22:7); "they have pierced my hands and feet" (22:16); "for my clothing they cast lots" (22:18); "God has not hidden his face from me" (22:24) - Jesus wanted the Jews at the time (and us today) to have their jaws drop as they saw a Messianic prophecy fulfilled before their very eyes!


guy fawkes said...

Nick, No apologies necessary for bothering us readers. We hate it when you go for days at a time without posting.
You are the only Catholic out there in the blogosphere that hones in on Penal Substitution. I think this cuts the snakes head off.

Joey Henry said...

Hi Nick,

Since I am currently travelling anf waiting for my plane, I will interact with your posts regarding Psub not particularly on this post.

The RC church has never, in her official teachings, declared heresy the Psub view. In a way, it seems like you are going beyond your ultimate authority.

The modren CCC can accomodate the Psub view:

602 Man’s sins, following on original sin, are punishable by death. By sending his own Son in the form of a slave, in the form of a fallen humanity, on account of sin, God “made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

603 Jesus did not experience reprobation as if he himself had sinned. But in the redeeming love that always united him to the Father, he assumed us in the state of our waywardness of sin, to the point that he could say in our name from the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Having thus established him in solidarity with us sinners, God “did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all”, so that we might be “reconciled to God by the death of his Son”.

Although many claimed that the catechism is not infallible, it portrays a strand of catholic belief that is acceptable and widely affirmed. Read also Ludwig Ott’s, Fundamental Of Catholic Dogma, section explaining original sin as well as the section under vicarious atonement. Further, one should read the Apostolic Letter Novo Millenio Inuente. In this letter the Pope says,

“He alone, who sees the Father and rejoices fully in him, can understand completely what it means to resist the Father’s love by sin. More than an experience of physical pain, his Passion is an agonizing suffering of the soul. Theological tradition has not failed to ask how Jesus could possibly experience at one and the same time his profound unity with the Father, by its very nature a source of joy and happiness, and an agony that goes all the way to his final cry of abandonment. The simultaneous presence of these two seemingly irreconcilable aspects is rooted in the fathomless depths of the hypostatic union.”

In this commentary, we know that Christ’s passion is not just physical but an agony of the soul. An agony the Pope calls as the “final cry of abandonment”. This we know should have been the cry of guilty sinners but not the sinless Christ. But the Pope explains clearly, “Jesus not only had to take on the face of man, but he had to burden himself with the “face” of sin. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21).”"

Part 1

Joey Henry said...

Part 2

Here's a response I also I gave to Jason and Prejan who utilised some the views espoused here:

In the course of my study I have read many works of Roman Catholic theologians on this matter. The fact of the matter is that there is no official stance in the RC world about Psub. The theological opinion that you espouse about the nature of the atonement is merely an opinion and is not the Catholic position. The RC has refused to canonize a single view of the atonement. It had the chance to do it during Vatican II but the it was dropped. The surprising thing is that Psub should have been dogmatize as the official view. Bishop Butler, OSB, in his Vatican II The Voice of the Church wrote,

“Together with this text the commission slipped in another, ‘On Guarding the Deposit of Faith in its Purity’ which aimed to raise to the level of dogmatic anathemas some criticisms of theological trends expressed in the encyclical Humani generis of Pius XII (1950), and to define as dogma a ‘penal substitution’ theory of the Atonement, a mystery on which Catholic tradition has always declined to canonize one theory.”

I have often advised you also that your leadership has written materials that are espousing the Psub theory. I need not repeat Benedict’s Apostolic Letter under the Face of Sorrow section. Now I will add one more Pope, who is the well beloved John Paul II. In his General Audience Nov 30, 1998, the Pope explained the meaning of the cry of dereliction. I would quote from his sermon the very passage that seems to represent the Catholic thought in this matter:

“Therefore, though arising from the memory of the Psalm read or recited in the synagogue, the question contained a theological significance in regard to the sacrifice whereby Christ, in full solidarity with sinful humanity, had to experience in himself abandonment by God. Under the influence of this tremendous interior experience, the dying Jesus found the energy to utter that cry!”

“Here one can sketch a summary of Jesus’ psychological situation in relationship to God. The external events seemed to manifest the absence of the Father who permitted the crucifixion of his Son, though having at his disposal “legions of angels” (cf. Mt 26:53), without intervening to prevent his condemnation to death and execution. In Gethsemane Simon Peter had drawn a sword in Jesus’ defense, but was immediately blocked by Jesus himself (cf. Jn 18:10 f.). In the praetorium Pilate had repeatedly tried wily maneuvers to save him (cf. Jn 18:31, 38 f.; 19:4-6, 12-15); but the Father was silent. That silence of God weighed on the dying Jesus as the heaviest pain of all, so much so that his enemies interpreted that silence as a sign of his reprobation: “He trusted in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him; for he said, ‘I am the Son of God’” (Mt 27:43).

"In the sphere of feelings and affection this sense of the absence and abandonment by God was the most acute pain for the soul of Jesus who drew his strength and joy from union with the Father. This pain rendered all the other sufferings more intense. That lack of interior consolation was Jesus’ greatest agony."

"However, Jesus knew that by this ultimate phase of his sacrifice, reaching the intimate core of his being, he completed the work of reparation which was the purpose of his sacrifice for the expiation of sins. If sin is separation from God, Jesus had to experience in the crisis of his union with the Father a suffering proportionate to that separation.”

If you can read that last sentence then you would by all means rethink what you think as the Catholic position. It is clear as daylight that even the most gifted theologian in your church sees things almost the same way as reformed thinkers do. And this is rooted in what Ott would say as the Vicarious nature of the atonement in that Christ is truly our substitute based on his “solidarity with sinful man” and that includes bearing our punishment and experiencing what we sinners deserve on order to justify us.

Joey Henry

Joey Henry said...

You can look at my interactions with Bryan and Jason and Jonathan in:

Joey Henry

Nick said...


The Protestant understanding of the Cross is contrary to many Catholic teachings, so even if the Catholic Church has not condemned Psub by name, it is incompatible with the Catholic Faith on many points. The Church doesn't have to come out and condemn every specific point and ever specific heresy that comes up, especially if the errors have been addressed elsewhere.

First and foremost, the Cross is never described in Catholic theology as the Father pouring out His wrath on Jesus or that Jesus was spiritually cut-off from the Father. Basic Christology recognizes these concepts are directly contrary to the early Ecumenical Councils. The Problem is, most of Protestantism lacks the philosophical tools to realize what they're saying when they say Jesus was "damned".

Passages such as "forsaken me" and the Creed saying Jesus descended into hell have never been interpreted to mean Jesus endured spiritual wrath from the Father. Such erroneous interpretations have been explicitly rejected in the Fathers and great theologians.

Quoting the CCC doesn't help your case, because it is not speaking in Protestant categories. For example, in CCC#615 it says: "Jesus atoned for our faults and made satisfaction for our sins to the Father." The concepts of "atoning" and "satisfaction" have never referred to taking someone's guilt and punishment, especially in the sense of eternal wrath. Look at the Summa of St Thomas on these points.

And CCC#616 says: "It is love to the end that confers on Christ's sacrifice its value as redemption and reparation, as atonement and satisfaction." So it was Christ's act of love that makes atonement, not his receiving of God's Wrath.

The very notion of "satisfaction" is also understood in how the the Church applies this term to the Sacrament of Confession, where after absolution the penitent must do acts of penance/satisfaction. These are charitable acts that make reparation, not about receiving divine wrath. Christ made the supreme Satisfaction, which had nothing to do with undergoing divine wrath.

The quote from the Apostolic Letter you gave plainly says: "Theological tradition has not failed to ask" meaning the Church's great minds have addressed these issues and said what is orthodox and what isn't. In fact, a cursory reading of the quotes you provide show a butchering of the context and the Pope's lesson. The Pope addresses the "forsaken me" and doesn't give the slightest hint that it meant Jesus was enduring a divine cutting off or fellowship broken or spiritual death. The Pope's lesson you're quoting is the exact opposite meaning that the Reformed folks I'm quoting are intending to convey. Look at the very next paragraph where the Pope says the Saints have experienced the same paradox of being simultaneously in bliss and in affliction - and this is because the affliction has nothing to do with imputed guilt and the Father's wrath.

Your long quote in your second post is even more astonishing, for it confirms what I and others have been saying about "forsaken". No mention of the Father's wrath, no mention of spiritual death, no mention of cutting off, because that's out of the question of possible meaning.

Your post demonstrates a supreme failure to understand what the Catholic Church means by key terms such as sacrifice and reparation. I've NEVER seen any mention of Jesus enduring the Father's wrath in any Catholic document, Church Father, or Great Theologian. Catholics don't talk like that, they don't talk about Jesus being damned. Catholics see the Cross as a prayer going up, not wrath raining down.

Joey Henry said...

Hi Nick,

Since you wrote a post regarding my comments, I will just briefly respond there. However, I suggest though that you stop employing an old tactic of accusing your interlocutors that they are morons. For example, writing that what I posted above showed "supreme failure" to understand catholic theology of sacrifice and reparation is not cordial and respectful. I take it that you are merely a layman of your church and has no authority to teach and that even your opinions on what catholic theology is have no impramatur by your bishop. Thus, your reader should be made aware that your opinions and understanding of what is and what is not catholic theology has the same legitimate opinion as when I opined using your own authorities' writings. With this in mind, I will craft some basic response to your new post.


Nick said...


I wasn't accusing you or anyone of being a moron. What I was trying to convey is that if you don't know what the Church means by certain terms, then you'll fail (to various degrees, depending on the issue) to understand what the Church is saying. Going around presenting quotes and referring sources with the high confidence level you are displaying would demand, in fairness, that you're really up to speed on key details and terminology of this debate. Otherwise, yes, there will be a supreme failure to understand what Trent, Aquinas, Ott, and other Catholic sources are saying.

Joey Henry said...


Yes sure. Sometimes, it is presumptous for a lay person to claim that your understanding of some Catholic terms is the right one compared to others who have more authority than you do.

In the same manner, I would demand from you the same scrutiny of the quotes you are presenting and the terminologies and nuances that protestant theologians use in talking about Psub. It seems that, by your own standards, you also would not mind if I tell you up front that you have a 'supreme failure' to understand the protestant paradigm.


Boniface said...

I would also point out that John Paul II's comments from that address were far from authoritative. John Paul was not one of our "most gifted theologians"; in this realm he was under the regrettable influence of the pseudo-Protestant "Cardinal" Hans urs Von Balthasar. To put it plainly, John Paul could have been just wrong here if he was understanding Jesus' sufferings in the Balthasarian sense.

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