Moltmann Monday: What Happens to the Trinity on the cross?

Happy Moltmann Monday, fellow theology nerds! Today I’m sharing some thoughts from The Crucified God about what it means for the trinity when Jesus dies on the cross. This came up in a discussion last night, as it often does when discussing the terrifying notion that God died (stop dancing around it- if you claim Jesus as God, then in some way you have to confess that God died on the cross). Because this happened, we have to question a lot of what we think about God. And we start wondering about what this means not just for Jesus but for God and Spirit, too. So, here you go:

To understand what happened between Jesus and his God and Father on the cross, it is necessary to talk in Trinitarian terms. The Son suffers dying, the Father suffers the death of the Son. The grief of the Father here is just as important as 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 his Son…

In the cross, Father and Son are most deeply separated in forsakenness and at the same time are most inwardly one in their surrender. What proceeds from this event between Father and Son is the Spirit which justifies the godless, fills the forsaken with love and even brings the dead alive, since even the fact that they are dead cannot exclude them from this event on the cross; the death in God also includes them…

What happened on the cross was an event between God and God. It was a deep division in God himself, in so far as God abandoned God and contradicted himself, and at the same time a unity in God, in so far as God was at one with God and corresponded to himself.

I find this to be so much more helpful and honest and real than the idea of a Father God who demands payment from a Son who doesn’t really have a choice in the matter. That creates weird and problematic power dynamics, and it does so at the expense of the story of the cross itself. The cross is the symbol of God’s rejection of all earthly power, of all human might. God literally dies to that.┬áSo it hardly makes sense for us to use it to explain what is happening on the cross. The cross is an act of self-giving love by God, not only in the way Jesus turns his face toward Jerusalem like flint, but also in how God enters into the grief of a father who loses his son. At the cross, God enters into the very depths of human experience. For Jesus, that means becoming the kind of human we are terrified of being- rejected, abandoned, god-forsaken. For God, that means experiencing grief and loss that is profound and unfathomable, as certainly the death of a child always is. God does not hide from this pain and suffering, but enters into it.

God brings death and grief and even god-forsakenness into God’s own life. And somehow in doing so, the Spirit of Life who is God transforms even this into new creation, even this into abundant life. The Spirit looks upon all of that human suffering and covers it with love. The Spirit looks upon all that death, even the death of the Son of God, and brings life. The Spirit gazes at the godless and grants pardon. This is how the terrifying act of Jesus dying on the cross somehow becomes for us the good news.

In this radically relational way of viewing the cross, we just can’t be abstract about how we talk about it. Or, we shouldn’t, if we’re paying attention. We become instead people who mourn alongside, or empathize, or become humbled in the face of a love bigger than we can imagine. We can only gape in awe of a force of life that powerful.

And we can only ponder this mystery, that when God was most divided, God was also most unified. Jesus willed to give himself up and God willed to the giving up and it pulled them to the very farthest reaches of their relationship to each other, so much so that Jesus cries out, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? And somehow still, somehow even then, they carried within them the kind of wholeness that leads to life, the kind of unity that upholds love even in the midst of rejection, abandonment and death.

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