Nothing damaged my trust in God as my father more than this mystery. I simply could not reconcile the idea of Him as a good father with the reality that he sent His Son to suffer and die when He could have come instead. After all, if God the Son can become incarnate for the sake of dying in our place, why couldn’t God the Father? And if He could, then why didn’t He? Was He unwilling? Was He selfish? More to the point, how can I trust Him in my life if He calls me His son, yet treated His Only Begotten in that way?
Intellectually, I knew that God is incapable of that kind of—there’s no other word for it—betrayal. But I lacked the key that would cause it all to make sense. I kept this question on a spiritual back burner of sorts, waiting until God brought clarity to the issue. When He did, it completely changed the way I think about Him.
Here’s some background for the thinking that led to this mystery: I had been taught that God’s purpose for mankind was to bring Himself glory. I was told that in anyone else, this would be disingenuous and self-seeking, but because God is truly worthy, there is no moral dilemma when we say this about Him. His worthiness makes it okay for Him to make all things about Himself.
I know. It doesn’t sound right to you and it never did to me either. Maybe it technically makes sense, but it doesn’t sound right. But that’s what I was taught, and by some very brilliant minds in Bible college. Here’s the problem with that theory and where it began to unravel for me:
God is love (1 John 4:16), and love is not self-seeking (1 Corinthians 13:5). If God is love then His very being is defined by unselfishness. He cannot seek His own benefit or He betrays the nature of His very existence!
Moreover, Ezekiel 28:12-17 says, “‘Thus says the Lord GOD… “You were an anointed guardian cherub. I placed you; you were on the holy mountain of God…Your heart was proud because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor”‘” (Ezekiel 28:11-17). God is addressing Lucifer in this passage, lamenting over him, actually. What stood out to me here is the very last thing He says: “You corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor.” In other words, when Lucifer’s wisdom sought the benefit of others, it was pure, but when he turned his wisdom to seek his own benefit, it became corrupted. It may sound reasonable at first to say, “God can do things that look selfish to our finite human minds and it’s okay because He’s worthy,” but then I find that this kind of self-seeking is Satan’s very nature. I cannot possibly say that God can act like Satan and it’s okay because He’s worthy and Satan’s not.
This much helped reassure my confidence that God is not selfish or malevolent, but it didn’t help me understand why a good father, the best Father, would send His Son to die instead of going Himself. That answer came from Philippians 2:5-11, which says:
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow…and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
These verses wrap the whole thing together, showing the perfect nature of God in the humility, sacrifice, and love of Jesus Christ. Yet because of His humility, God the Father exalted Him so that Jesus is exalted above everyone else. Jesus didn’t exalt Himself. His Father exalted Him, and there—right there—is where God gave me my answer.
God the Father knew that whoever went to save the Earth would also receive the greatest name and become the most exalted over everyone else. God the Father knew He could do that horrible task, and that He could receive the exaltation that would come with it. But that would have been self-seeking, so that’s not what He did. Instead, He set aside His rights to be the most highly exalted for the sake of letting His Son surpass Him. He asked His Son, Jesus, to suffer and die for us, not to spare Himself the pain, but so that His Son would be more highly exalted than He was.
That is the nature of a father, which is why this is the way God the Father is glorified. Look at the last line of the passage; God the Father is glorified when all creation is worshiping the Son. God the Father was nowhere to be seen through all those verses until the very end! He is far from center stage, yet while the spotlight is on the Son, the Father is glorified.
I finally had the answer to the mystery. This answer proved to me, once and for all, I also had a Father I could trust.