In the past few years it has been said that the crucifixion is an example of divine child abuse. In his new release, Christ Crucified: Understanding the Atonement, Donald Macleod tackles this head on. I appreciated what he had to say. I quote him here at length.
“But what of the more specific claim that the cross is an example of ‘child abuse’ (the adjective ‘cosmic’ is quite redundant here, since it was not the cosmos, but God the Father, who was allegedly guilty of the abuse). The charge is completely inept, because it isolates the story of the crucifixion from the total New Testament witness to Jesus.
It ignores, for example, the fact that for most of his life Jesus enjoyed the love, protection and encouragement of his heavenly Father. This is why he was able to live free from anxiety, confident that he was never alone (John 8:16) but that God was always within earshot; and this is why, too, he could say it was his meat and drink to do the will of the one who sent him (John 4:34). An abused and damaged child he was not.
Similarly, the charge willfully ignores the obvious fact that at the time of the alleged ‘abuse’ Jesus was not a child, but a mature adult, able to make his own free choices and willing to take responsibility for them. From this point of view, and even at its grimmest, the cross no more amounts to child abuse than did the action of the British government in dropping grown men and women behind enemy lines as agents of the Special Operations Executive during the Second World War. Like them, Jesus was a volunteer. Once in the world, he had freely chosen the path that led to Calvary (Phil. 2:8), and, equally freely, he had resolved to lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13). In accordance with this, he made no attempt to escape when the arresting party approached, even though he had often evaded his enemies before. He says simply, ‘Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?’ (John 18:11).
Even more glaringly, the child-abuse charge ignores the clear New Testament witness to the unique identity of Jesus. Not only was he not a child; he was not a mere human. He was God: the eternal Logos, the divine Son, the Lord before whom every knee shall one day bow (Phil. 2:10). This is no helpless victim. This is the Father’s equal. This is one who in the most profound sense is one with God; and in who God judges himself, one in whom God condemns himself, one in whom God lets himself be abused. The critics cannot be allowed the luxury of a selective use of the New Testament. It is the very same scriptures which portray the cross as an act of God the Father which also portray the sufferer as God the Son, and the resulting doctrine cannot be wrenched from its setting in the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. The ‘abused child’ is ‘very God of very God’. It is divine blood that is shed at Calvary (Acts 20:28) as God surrenders himself to the worst that man can do and bears the whole cost of saving the world.
Yet Jesus is never, not even for a moment, man’s helpless victim. He is indomitable in his Spirit-filled humanity; and when he contemplates his mission by giving up his Spirit, God, the allegedly ‘abusive’ Father, exalts him to the highest place, commands every knee to bow and orders the entire universe to confess him Lord of all (Phil. 2:9-11)” (63-64)
Christ Crucified is from IVP Academic. It is a paperback with 272 pages and sells for $22.00.
Donald Macleod, now retired, was professor of systematic theology at the Free Church of Scotland College in Edinburgh, Scotland, from 1978 to 2011.