The anguish that God the Father and the Holy Spirit also endured as they had to watch Jesus suffer and die without intervening to stop it.

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From “How to become a Christian”: Chapter 10 – Jesus’s death on the cross

It would be wrong to finish this chapter on what Jesus suffered on our behalf on the cross without referring in more detail to what God the Father and the Holy Spirit also suffered for our sake.  We rightly focus on the heroic feat of endurance, courage and unselfishness that Jesus displayed when He died on the cross for us.  However, consider for a moment what torment God the Father and the Holy Spirit were also going through as they watched Jesus suffering and being tortured, abused, and ridiculed. 

Try to imagine yourself for a moment as a parent, wife or sibling of a person you love very deeply who is being put to death.  Imagine however, that you knew that it was necessary for them to give up their life, to save the lives of a much larger group of people.

Picture yourself, therefore, looking on as your own son, brother or husband is dying on behalf of the people of your town or nation.  Perhaps it could be in Nazi occupied France in World War Two and he is being tortured to death by the Gestapo.  They could be trying to get him to reveal vital information and/or the names of his fellow agents in the French Resistance.

However, he is refusing to do so, for the sake of his comrades, and for the sake of the wider war-effort.  Let’s imagine that if he reveals what the Gestapo want to know then his own life will be spared, but possibly hundreds of his comrades will die.  They too have families.  Moreover, perhaps the very success or failure of the Allied invasion of Normandy is at stake.

If you were that young man’s father, brother or wife can you imagine the mental and emotional anguish you would be going through?  What if the torture was being done nearby, so that you could hear his screams?  It would be indescribably harrowing for you.  But let’s take it further. 

What if you yourself also had the secret information or knew the names of the people that the Gestapo wanted?  What if you knew that you could go forward yourself, in private, and hand over the very facts or names that he is withholding?  By doing so you could, by your own actions, prevent his death and end his suffering.

Would you go to the Gestapo and hand over the secret information?  Or, would you be capable of restraining yourself and doing nothing?  Would you stand aside and allow your own son, brother or husband to die in order to save the lives of the others and to safeguard the Normandy invasion?  Isn’t that similar in some ways to the agonising dilemma which God the Father and the Holy Spirit faced?  They both knew that there was no other way for us to be saved except through Jesus giving His life on the cross.

But they both also knew that, just like Jesus, they had the power to stop the crucifixion.  Like Him, they could have sent 12 legions of angels to deal with the Roman soldiers.  They could have stopped the torment at any moment, both for Jesus and for themselves.  But they didn’t.  They exercised infinite self-control and endured the slow ordeal of watching Jesus die without ever intervening. 

We rightly praise and thank Jesus for His courage and restraint in not putting a stop to His own suffering by removing Himself from the cross. But how many of us have ever even considered what God the Father and the Holy Spirit also did for us, and the equivalent restraint they showed, as they watched and suffered in silence as He was being crucified?

Moreover, we have seen how Jesus cried out on the cross when God the Father and the Holy Spirit separated themselves from Him and forsook Him while our sin was upon Him.  That abandonment and separation was what, in the end, broke Jesus’ heart, probably more than any other thing He suffered. 

But doesn’t it follow that it must have felt very similar for God the Father and the Holy Spirit?  They too had to endure being separated from the Son of God, just as He had to endure being separated from them.  None of us can really grasp how terrible that was for each of them too, and how grieved they must have felt about it.

Even so, it was Jesus alone who saved us

The suffering and anguish of God the Father and the Holy Spirit were harrowing, but it was not redemptive as Jesus’ suffering was.  What they endured did not save us.  Jesus was the only One being sacrificed to pay for our sin.  It was Jesus alone who paid our penalty, not the Father or the Holy Spirit. 

But, even so, we still owe them a huge debt of gratitude, not for saving us as such, but for co-operating and holding themselves back from intervening while Jesus was suffering for us.  So, it is very right and proper that we should also give heartfelt thanks to God the Father, and to the Holy Spirit, for what they endured, as well as thanking Jesus for dying for us. 

Moreover, in case you ever doubt God’s love and concern for you, as multitudes of people do, remember what God the Father personally was willing to go through when He allowed the crucifixion to continue in order to bring about your salvation.  Then realise that if He was willing to do all that, He can certainly also be trusted to care for all your other needs:

He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things with him?

Romans 8:32 (RSV)
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