March 4: How Deep the Father’s Love for Us
Many years ago, when I served as Director of Music at a church in Illinois, I shared my very first “Worship Song of the Month” article with our church family there. I reached out to Stuart Townend for his thoughts on his hymn “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us,” and he graciously responded. Of course, this was long before the proliferation of “stories-behind-the-songs” videos and blogs on church websites and YouTube.
As our church at Parkminster continues a Journey through Matthew’s Gospel, and as we approach our remembrance of Jesus’s death on Good Friday and our celebration of his resurrection on Easter, I think it’s appropriate for us to again sing this hymn—which is now more than 25 years old! For our “Worship Song of the Month” devotionals, we will reflect together on Jesus’s death, with a focus on the Father, Jesus, and me.
When I sing the first verse of How Deep the Father’s Love for Us, several questions about the Father come to my mind. What was the Father feeling when Jesus was suffering on the cross? Did the Father experience loss when Jesus died? Did he turn his face away from the Son?
What we do know is that the Father sent the Son to earth for the purpose of death on the cross. This is a theme of John’s gospel, with Jesus repeatedly declaring that he had been sent by God (John 6:29, 8:42, 10:36, and 17:3). Galatians 4:4-5 asserts that Jesus’s death was always part of the Father’s plan: “But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law.”
I can’t imagine what it must have been like for the Father to purposefully send his Son to his execution. Jesus’s flogging and crucifixion were excruciating, and the Father knew it would be that way. As his death drew agonizingly near, Jesus prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39). But the Father was not deterred in his purposes: “It was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer” (Isaiah 53:10). Did the Father suffer as he saw his Son suffer, even as he was pleased with Jesus’s obedience and redemptive act?
I don’t know whether the Father turned his face away as Jesus suffered on the cross, as Stuart Townend’s lyrics poetically state. I imagine these lyrics could express some of the suffering the Father may have experienced as he witnessed his suffering Son. Or the isolation Jesus might have felt on the cross. Or it’s possible that, when Jesus cried out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46), there was a physical separation—a distance between the holy Father and his Son, who, on the cross, had the sin of the entire world piled upon him (Isaiah 53:6, 1 John 2:2). Some people who are smarter and more qualified than I reject that idea, speaking about the eternal, unbroken relationship of the Trinity. But in any case, the Father certainly planned for, initiated, and brought to fulfillment his Son’s death. He didn’t “rescue” Jesus from the cross. And, though much of the Psalm 22 that Jesus quoted in his tumultuous prayer proclaims trust in God’s ultimate deliverance, the suffering was immediate and real. “We considered [Jesus] punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted” (Isaiah 53:4).
Of course, the Father did not abandon Jesus permanently (Acts 2:31-32). But unlike Jesus, who lived and died in perfect obedience to the Father, our sin has the potential to separate us fully and permanently from God. It is only because of Jesus’s sacrifice that the Father will no longer turn his face away from us (Isaiah 59:1-2) in our sinfulness. Because of Jesus’s death on the cross, the Father’s wrath is satiated (Romans 5:8-9). The penalty for sin is death (Romans 6:23)—but Jesus has received our punishment.
Even as I try to imagine what the Father may have been feeling at the death of his Son, what is clear in Scripture is that he felt great love—love for us! “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10). The Father sent his one and only beloved Son to die, in order that many sons (and daughters) might be brought to glory (Hebrews 2:9-11). He sent his Son to his death to make wretches into treasures, slaves into sons. “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1).
How great the Father’s love for us!