I was reading yesterday in my Shorter Catechism commentaries in preparation for Sunday, when I came across a rather old issue in Christology. What relationship does Christ’s divinity have to the suffering of Christ?
Some background on the question is necessary. We believe that Jesus has a full divine nature, and a full human nature (both body and soul), but united in (only) one person. The Reformed have believed (over against the Lutherans) that the properties of the human nature may be ascribed to the whole person, and that the properties of the divine nature may be ascribed to the person, but that the properties of the human nature may NOT be ascribed to the divine nature, or vice versa. In the Lord’s Supper, for instance, the Lutherans believe that Christ’s human nature is omnipresent in the Supper, whereas the Reformed believe that the human nature of Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father, and that Christ is rather present by the Holy Spirit (this is the so-called extra Calvinisticum, the “extra” ability that Christ’s divine nature has to be everywhere present over and above the limited physical presence of His human nature). Sometimes Jesus does or says something according to one nature, and sometimes according to the other nature.
So, when it comes to the suffering on the cross, what exactly was happening? Did God suffer on the cross? This is a common question asked to candidates for licensure and ordination. I believe that the answer is that His divine nature sustained His human nature, but did not itself suffer. This sustaining would not be limited to the physical suffering, but would also include the spiritual suffering, as well as the sin-bearing. This is not a communication of properties of the divine to the human, since God also sustains us without communicating Godness to us. The divine nature was therefore active in the suffering, but not as the direct recipient of the suffering. What do ya’ll think?