“That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?”

November 26, 2013

I learned in Systematic Theology class many years ago that, theologically speaking, it’s perfectly correct to say that on the cross God died. I did a double-take when I heard this, but there’s no way around it: Jesus is, as a human being, also fully God. Jesus died, and therefore God died.

If you’re a Protestant like me, you may feel discomfort, for example, with Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians talking about Mary as “the mother of God,” or (in Greek) theotokos (“God-bearer”). Fear not, for that is also an orthodox formulation (worked out in the sixth century at the Council of Chalcedon). Please note that we don’t, or shouldn’t, say that Mary is the mother of God in order to elevate Mary’s status (which I think is why Protestants are suspicious). Rather, we emphasize that Mary is the mother of God to elevate Jesus’ status: quite literally, Mary gave birth to God—in spite of the fact that she, like the rest of us, was a sinful human being.

Glenn Peoples has a nice blog post on this topic. This is my favorite paragraph:

Similarly, there is a natural reluctance on the part of some to say that on the cross God died because the statement can be (but should not be) construed to mean that everything that is God died. This would be heresy, for it would imply that the Father and the Holy Spirit died. But to deny that God died is the same kind of error as claiming that Mary did not give birth to God. Jesus is only one person, that person is truly God, and if anything at all died on the cross, it was a person. So God died.

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