For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16
I’m going to toss a direct question out there for those of you who are outliving a child. Perhaps you have asked the question either silently or openly: Where was God when my loved one died?
Someone whispered in my ear at the time of my son’s death that God was with him when he drew his last breath. My first thought was ~ then he could have prevented it rather than allow it. You may have had similar thoughts. But there are always life lessons we may glean from scripture and perhaps we can gain understanding to apply to this very important question.
The story of the crucifixion of Jesus always saddens and yet fascinates me. Where was God the Father while God the Son, Jesus, was on the cross? Did He go fishing? Was He on a Cosmos Tour? Or was He present? Let’s glean some thoughts from scripture to capture what might have been and then see if perhaps there is a parallel application for our understanding.
If you are a believer and are familiar with the story of Jesus’ crucifixion, then you have probably read the story in the Gospels as relayed by some of his disciples. Luke describes events that transpired after Jesus died this way: Now it was about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour. Then the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was torn in two. Luke 23:44-45
Matthew adds a bit more detail: Jesus again gave a loud cry and breathed His last. Then the curtain hanging in the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split apart. Matthew 27:50-51
Around the time of Jesus’ death, the veil was torn in half. To rip the veil (which was about 40 cubits or 60 ft high) in the temple in half, someone needed to be there to tear it. And to tear it from top to bottom, one would have to be a very tall person. Also, there was darkness on the earth as the sun had disappeared. There was darkness at the events at Mount Sinai too, when God came near the people: Exodus 20:21 says, So the people stood afar off, but Moses drew near the thick darkness where God was. So God hid Himself in darkness at Mount Sinai. Did God hide himself in the darkness at the cross too? Did God himself tear the veil?
Note there were also earthquakes in connection with God’s presence: The mountains quake before Him, the hills melt, and the earth heaves at His presence, yes, the world and all who dwell in it. Nahum 1:5
But this still does not tell us for sure where God was when his Son died or does it? What about the story in the Old Testament when Abraham was instructed to sacrifice his son? Where was God then? Could it be a parallel to the crucifixion? Let’s review the high points of this story.
It had been a long day and Abraham was bone tired and sound asleep when his head touched the pillow, but suddenly he was wide awake. Was that God? Did I hear a command or was I dreaming? O, please, may I be dreaming! Abraham pinched himself. Ouch! That hurt! No, he was not asleep and that was a directive from a voice he had grown to know:
God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.” Genesis 22:2
Not my boy, God, not my boy! I am sure Abraham pleaded and argued in a one-sided conversation, but God spoke no more on the subject. Abraham had always obeyed God even when the request made no sense, but those was nothing compared to what God was telling him to do now. This was the ultimate test. Would he fail? Was it strange that God also pointed out the obvious ~ take your only son, whom you love?
It must have been the longest three days in history as father and son made their way to the place where God had instructed. I am sure there was conversation, perhaps even lighthearted boy talk on the part of Isaac. He had often taken part in sacrifices with his dad. It was a huge part of their way of life so this trip was not unusual . . . yet.
Finally the hard question that Abraham knew was coming: Dad, “The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Genesis 22:7
Scripture simply says that the father bound his son and laid him on the altar, but what a loaded sentence! Can you picture the scene? I’ve never been asked to point a gun toward my child and pull the trigger . . . but essentially this is what God asked Abraham to do. There would be fire and there would be death.
God was watching this drama unfold . . . no doubt about that. This was the severest test of Abraham’s life, the only one of its kind in Scripture and the relationship between God and Abraham hung in the balance ~ pass or fail. Give up your only son that you love and prayed for and thought he would never be born. You must kill him to serve Me. How crazy does this sound!
The Bible says that Abraham raised the knife high in the air with Isaac watching his father’s face in horror or did he have his eyes squeezed tightly shut anticipating the pain? I can’t imagine more . . . perhaps you can, but the picture in my mind is clear. The scene was horrific to be sure.
At that moment the Angel of God shouted to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”
“Yes, Lord!” he answered.
And He said, Do not lay your hand on the lad or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear and revere God, since you have not held back from Me or begrudged giving Me your son, your only son. Geneses 22:11-12
Can we combine these two stories from both Old and New Testament and apply them to our question for a possible view of God’s relationship to His children? I think we can. A parallel story to the crucifixion is the story of Abraham ordered to sacrifice Isaac. Father Abraham was with his son the whole time, even up to the point where Isaac was about to die. Likewise, isn’t it possible that the God was with his Son during his agony and death? There is an obvious difference in that once Abraham passed the test, God supplied the sacrifice, but there was no substitute sacrifice at the cross. Father was forced to watch the agony and death of his only Son, for it took Jesus’s blood to wash away our sins. What a heart-wrenching scene for God the Father to watch!
So how does this help me in my struggle? Here’s a possible angle: God loves each one of his kids. He hates the sin and cruelty we endure, but he gives us total freedom to choose. The enemy pushes and prods and goads us to sin. The more kids he kills, the more he hurts God’s heart. This planet is a war zone with spiritual consequences. Do you agree? There are bound to be casualties because we live with death and destruction all around us. But it is so entirely different and much worse when it happens too close to home, to our family.
God says all things will be made plain one day. It’s hard to wait. But when we are finally able to hug the ones we have loved and longed to see for so long ~ with all of us brand new ~ some questions may slip from mind.
God says he never changes. He’s always been loving and kind and good and has our best interest at heart. Just as he was with Abraham through the extreme test for his obedience, I have no doubt that God, the Father was by his only Son’s side as he suffered and died. You couldn’t part them, not even in the struggle to save humanity.
How priceless is your unfailing love, O God! Psalm 36:7, NIV