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Can God Die, and Did He Truly Die on the Cross?

  • Veronica Neffinger

    Veronica Neffinger wrote her first poem at age seven and went on to study English in college, focusing on 18th century literature. When she is not listening to baseball games, enjoying the…

  • Updated Mar 23, 2016
This week is Holy Week leading up to Easter, which means this Friday is good Friday, the day the Church commemorates the death of Christ on the cross for our sin.
Within Christianity and the Church we are familiar with saying Christ died on the cross for our sin; we understand that God took on human nature and was the perfect sacrifice required to pay the penalty for the sin we commit. What we may never have considered, however, is the question of “Can God, the Creator and Sustainer of the world, truly die?
This is a question that can easily get into the deep waters of theology, but it is also a question worth seeking an answer to.
In an article titled "Did God Die on the Cross?" on the Ligonier Ministries website, theologian, author, and pastor R.C. Sproul questions whether a line in the beloved hymn “And Can it Be?” is truly theologically accurate.
“How can it be that thou, my God, shouldst die for me?” says the chorus from the well-known hymn.
As Christians, we believe that Jesus is fully God, but also fully human. In one sense, says Sproul, the hymn is correct, because Jesus was fully God and a true death and sacrifice was truly required, so God, in Jesus, did die. “The atonement was made by the human nature of Christ,” says Sproul.
However, he continues, God upholds the whole world, so “If the being of God ceased for one second, the universe would disappear. It would pass out of existence, because nothing can exist apart from the sustaining power of God. If God dies, everything dies with Him. Obviously, then, God could not have perished on the cross.”
This discussion really comes down to the nature of the Trinity--something that even the greatest theologians don’t fully understand. In trying to reconcile this theological question, some say that it was Jesus who died on the cross, but not God. However, Sproul reminds us that this would be a “mutation within the very being of God.” The doctrine of the Trinity tells us that three separate and distinct persons make up the Godhead, and yet these persons are one.
At this point, some might wonder if all this theological pondering really is important. In “The Truth of the Cross” on, Sproul gets to the heart of why understanding sound theology is so important:
“If we are defective in understanding the character of God or understanding the nature of sin, it is inevitable that we will come to the conclusion that an atonement was not necessary.”
There are often no easy, straightforward answers to these deep theological questions, but a God who is bigger than our finite minds is a God who is big enough to be in control of world events, and of our fears, worries, and hopes. 
Hopefully, this deeper look at how God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself (2 Corinthians 5:19) will bring deeper joy this Easter.
“This message is so deep and profound that you could spend the rest of your life studying it and still not grasp its full significance,” says Greg Laurie, writing for “Yet it is so simple that even a child can understand it.  Still, many people do not understand the significance of what took place on that Roman cross 2,000 years ago.  Jesus died so that we might live.
If ever you are tempted to doubt God’s love for you, then take a long look at the cross.  It wasn’t the spikes that held Jesus there.  It was His love for you.”
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Publication date: March 23, 2016
Veronica Neffinger is the editor of