That God the Father sent his Son to absorb the Father’s justified wrath at sinful humanity, thereby getting us sinners off the hook, is a theology that needs to be retired. The world we inhabit needs saved in a different way– a way that sees humanity’s greatest brokenness being not guilt, but fear.
If our brokenness is fear, then salvation is in faith, or better (since faith is a tired word), in trust. I used to think courage was the opposite of fear, but the fear we have is all about isolation– about being cut off, and crying into a darkness so thick that the silence that meets our cry only deepens our anxious loneliness. Courage isn’t enough. Only the trust that gets shaped by compassion into a human form, a human face, can heal the fear. The embrace of a relationship, over time, is today’s salvation.
So what does that have to do with the Cross? Everything. It’s not that God the Father was so angry that he sent his Son to suffer in our place: such a theology is not faithful to the unity of God. Jesus is God– so if Jesus suffers, God suffers. It’s the suffering God (not the angry God) whom we can trust. He suffers with us, and so his Passion is a com-passion, a suffering-with.
This is not a god who makes everything okay– who prevents pain in the first place. This is the God whose very being contains suffering; the God whose divine essence includes vulnerability, even weakness.
The temptation is to think that the god of Power is the one who can save us from fear, much like the way a child turns to the idealized omnipotent father for protection. That god is a failure. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Only a suffering God can help.”