Was Christ's Death Divine Child Abuse?
He in our place. "He has borne our griefs" (Is. 53:4). "He was wounded for our transgressions" (Is. 53: 5). "He was crushed for our iniquities" (Is. 53:4). "Upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace and with his stripes we are healed" (Is. 53:5). He was our substitute. It has been argued that this is unjust; it isn't right. Some enemies of the gospel have gone so far as to say that Christ being our substitute was some sort of divine child-abuse. However, that is far from the case. As Jesus said in Luke 22, quoting Isaiah 53:12, "He had to be numbered with the transgressors." He had to be. It was the only way to save sinful men. "For our sake, He made Him to be sin, who knew no sin, that we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor. 5:21). He became sin for us. And because He took what was ours we are absolved from the necessity of enduring that same punishment. Justice has been upheld. He received wrath and death that we might receive grace and life. Our debt has been paid by another—in full. And this is anything but divine child abuse. Let me give you four reasons why.
First, an assertion along these lines assumes that we have a better view of all things than God. It suggests that we can determine what is right, just, and righteous to a greater degree than God. How do we know that anything is right? How do we know if something is righteous or just? Paul says in Romans 7, “Yet, if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, "Thou shall not covet."” We know what sin is, what good is, what is right, what is wrong, what is just, and what unjustice is, because of the Law of God. God, Himself, is the standard for holiness, righteousness, and justice. Furthermore, He has established what is righteous and what is just and what is right. Therefore, how silly it is for those who wouldn't know what is right apart from the Law to say that the Lawgiver Himself, who established, defines, and gives very meaning to that Law, is in contradiction with that same Law.
Second, from all of eternity, He established that He would do this very thing (1 Cor. 2:7). Even before the world was created or the Fall occurred, God in eternity past had determined, planned, and ordained that the second person of the Triune Godhead, the Son, would become flesh and willingly die to purchase a people for the glory of God (Eph. 1:4-5). He predetermined and decreed that the Son would come into this world to bear the penalty of sin for sinners. He did not come to only uphold the Law, but to fulfill it. Christ's substitutionary death in our place was no plan B. This is the sovereign decree and plan of an omnipotent, omniscient, and merciful God. This is His world. This was His decree. It is His Law. And it is His right and generosity to provide for fallen sinners in such a merciful way. Third, Christ's substitution for us was anything but divine child abuse as is clear from the fact that the Son willingly suffered in our place. Hebrews says, that Jesus, "for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God" (Heb. 12:2). Jesus said, "For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45). Jesus knows that He must die as a substitute for sinners and He willingly chooses this path. He says in Luke 9, "The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised" (vs. 22). In Luke 17 He says, "But first (the Son of Man) must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation" (vs. 25). In Luke 18 He says, "For (the Son of Man) will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise" (vv. 32-33). He willingly, humbly, and knowingly became a substitute for us.
And that leads to our final point. Some may argue, "But even if Christ knew and willingly offered Himself, in our penal system, we would say it isn't right for one man to bear the penalty of death for another." That is true, because no mere man owns himself. Therefore, we don't have the right to substitute our own lives in the place of another, enduring the justice that is their due. No man can justly offer Himself for another, because he is not his own. He was created by God and so he belongs to God. But Christ is His own. He is the owner of His own life. He is the Creator and He may choose to die for others if He so chooses, because it is His life. He is wholly unique as the Godman. He said, "I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again" (John 10:17-18).
He willingly bore our griefs and carried our sorrows, was wounded for our transgressions, and was crushed for our iniquities. Upon him was laid the chastisement that brought us peace. And with His stripes we are healed. He was our substitute and this was no divine child abuse. It was a gift—a gift of infinite and eternal value.
Jonathan Edwards sermon "The Wisdom of God, Displayed in the Way of Salvation" (see esp. section 1)
Steve Jeffery, Michael Ovey and Andrew Sach, Pierced for our Transgressions (Crossway, 2011)
Richard Phillips What is the Atonement? (P&R, 2010)
Charles E. Hill ed. The Glory of the Atonement (InterVarsity Press, 2004)