… we do well to keep our distance from the watered-down theories that, on the Cross, Jesus simply drew the final conclusion of his constant solidarity with sinners; just as he had shared meals with tax collectors and prostitutes, so now he let himself be crucified with two thieves. It is true, but by no means the whole truth.
Theories like this try to show that Jesus’ attitude to sinners was nothing other than a demonstration of the reconciled attitude God had already shown towards the world’s guilt. But what sense would this make of the many stern words of judgement in the mouth of Jesus? And what of the whole terrible drama, the tragedy of the Old Covenant between Yahweh and Israel? What of the departure of God’s glory from the Temple, and the angel, with fire from God’s throne, setting it in flames? Was all his a pure misunderstanding, corrected by Christ’s Father-God? Would not this bring us back to Marcion’s anti-Semitic gnosticism, in which the God of the Old Testament was an inferior demon? Surely the Bible is a unity? — especially in view of the continuity from the great prophets, Job and the “Servant” to the Cross of Christ.
Certainly the Cross is concerned with Jesus’ “solidarity” with sinners. But this word, so much in vogue today, is much too weak to express the whole depth of the identification taken on by Jesus. The truth of sin (particularly, when it is see as he lie) must be realized somewhere in the iron ruthlessness implied by the sinner’s “No” to God and God’s “No” to this refusal. And this could only be realised by someone who is so truthful in himself that he is able to acknowledge the full negativity of this “No”: someone who is able to experience it, to bear it, to suffer its deadly opposition and melt its rigidity through pain.
We must carefully avoid drawing false conclusions. We cannot say that Jesus, instead of the sinner, is “punished” by God. Nor can we say that he feels “damned” by God and placed in “hell.” For we associate the state of “hell” with a hatred of God. It would be meaningless to ascribe to the Crucified the slightest resentment toward God. But it is quite possible to speak of the Son of God suffering what the sinner deserved, i.e., separation from God, perhape even complete and final separation.
It can even be said that no one can suffer being forsaken by God more profoundly than the Son, whose whole life was unit with the Father, whose meat and drink it was to do His will. On the Cross he still does His will without realizing it anymore. With every fiber of his being he clings to God whose presence he no longer feels, because now, in the name of sinners, he is to experience what it means to have lost contact with God.
~ Hans Urs von Balthasar (Does Jesus Know Us? Do We Know Him?, pp. 34-36).
Excerpt from some Lenten reading.