I once heard a story about one of those old-fashioned drawbridge operators.  Before computers, before modern signaling devices, train drawbridges had to be operated manually.  This particular man operated the bridge from a little office built high up, alongside of it.  When a train was approaching in the distance, it would blow its horn.  That was his signal to begin the arduous process of lowering the bridge: pull the huge lever back that activated the gigantic, meshing, circular gears which moved the mammoth steel structure.  Slowly, the bridge would lower into position, right in time for the approaching train to pass over it.

This operator had a young son who happened to love trains.  Everyday, he would beg his dad to take him to work.  Finally, when he was old enough, his dad took him to work for the day.  When he heard the horn of the first train to approach that day, he practically burst with anticipation.  He watched in awe as his dad pulled the huge lever and the gigantic gears began to turn.  Slowly, the bridge lowered into position, just as a long train carrying over a thousand passengers passed safely over it. 

Carried away by the excitement of it all, he tugged on his dad’s shirt: “Dad!  Dad!  Can I do it next time?  Can I operate the bridge?’

His father smiled and said: “Sure son, sure.”

In another thirty minutes or so, the horn of an approaching train sounded.  The son ran to grab the huge lever that activated the gears.  With his father guiding his hand (and applying most of the force!) the boy pulled the lever back with all his might.  He watched in amazement as what he had done began to move the gigantic circular gears and slowly lowered the bridge just in time for the passing train.

It was the best day of his life; he couldn’t have been any happier!

The next train wasn’t due for a while.  So after raising the bridge again, the father went about his daily paperwork, letting let his son play around the office.  After a while, he heard the horn of the next train to approach.  Looking around to see where his son was, he was horrified.  Without his father noticing, the son had somehow gotten out of the office and was playing on one of the gears that lowered the bridge. 

He didn’t have time to grab his son—any delay activating the bridge and the hundreds of people on the train would be plunged into the water to their deaths.  But if he activated the bridge, he son would be crushed to death in the gears.

In the most excruciating agony a father could possibly feel, he reached out and began to pull the lever.

You might be relieved (and a little angry at me) to know that this isn’t a true story; it never happened. 

But…BUT, in order to save us, God the Father DID experience the excruciating agony of watching His Son crushed for our sins.

See, as this story illustrates, it completely misunderstands the Cross to think of the Father as a detached observer; to think of the Father as taking out His wrath on His Son; to think that this is what it takes to appease Him; to think this is what takes our sin away. 

Who could ever take such a petty, abusive, and vindictive God seriously anyway?!

In Divinity school, I had to read the works of a group of theologians who actually argued that the Cross is a case of divine child abuse: the traditional Christian understanding of the substitutionary sacrifice Jesus makes—taking the just punishment of our sins on Himself—means that the Father is unleashing unspeakable violence on His innocent Son.  As a result, they rejected this understanding—and rightly so.  I would too!

But, the true Christian understanding is that, on that cross, the Father suffered just as much as His Son.

On that cross, the entire Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—willingly absorbed all the pain our sins have caused throughout all of eternity.

On that cross, God took our sin upon Himself so that—in light of His perfect justice and His perfect mercy—He could forgive us.

The Cross is most certainly NOT a case of divine child abuse! 

It’s NOT some primitive type of sacrifice offered up to appease an angry god that no thinking person can take seriously. 

It is, rather, all of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, absorbing our sin so we can be reconciled to Him.

Several future blogs will address how this works.

Did you ever think of the Cross as being some twisted form of divine child abuse?  Why or why not?

Go to the “Contact E.J.” page of the Raising Jesus website and let me know what you think!  And if you’d like to read more articles like this one, please “Like” the Raising Jesus Facebook page so we can keep you updated on future blogs, videos, and announcements.  I’d love to hear from you!

About Me

E.J. Sweeney is a true skeptic. He needs to see to believe. Hard Evidence. Compelling Proof. Solid Logic. This is what he believes in. In college, he encountered questions that the superficial faith he was raised on couldn’t handle. So he began a quest for Truth, a quest for the answers to life’s ultimate questions.

EJ Sweeney

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