“His Robes for Mine” is one of my favorite modern hymns. It uses the biblical imagery of exchanging robes to illustrate imputation and substitution (Zech 3:1–5). It magnifies the active and passive obedience of Christ. It even uses the word propitiation—no small feat for a song written in 2008! 
Yet, for all of its obvious strengths, the chorus of the song has one line that gave me pause the first time I heard it: "I cling to Christ, and marvel at the cost: Jesus forsaken, God estranged from God."

This line draws on Christ’s cry from the cross, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matt 27:46; cf. Psalm 22) But, however we interpret this verse, is it correct to say that God the Son was estranged from God the Father? After all, the Father and the Son are essentially one (Deut 6:4; John 10:30). Can these two persons who are the same identical essence be “estranged” from one another? Doesn’t estrangement between the two entail some division in the divine essence?

We can answer these questions by simply looking to the ways in which Scripture itself speaks about the person of Christ in His two natures. 

A Biblical Way of Speaking 

Jesus is the only person who has ever existed in two natures. As such, Scripture speaks of Him in ways it can speak of no other person. Consider these verses:  

  • Acts 20:28, “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.”  
  • 1 Corinthians 2:8, “The wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.”
  • Zechariah 12:10, [Yahweh says] “I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him like the bitter weeping over a firstborn.” 

In each of these statements, something strictly human (blood, crucifixion, and death) is predicated of divinity (God, the Lord of Glory, and Yahweh). Does God, who is spirit (John 4:24) have blood? Can the Lord, who has life in Himself (John 5:26), be crucified? Can Yahweh be “pierced?” The only way any of these statements can be true is if they refer to a single person who is both God and man. 

John Walvoord summarizes our dilemma, 

One of the difficult aspects of the relationship of the two natures of Christ is that, while the attributes of one nature are never attributed to the other, the attributes of both natures are properly attributed to His person. This Christ at the same moment has seemingly contradictory qualities. He can be weak and omnipotent, increasing in knowledge and omniscient, finite and infinite.1 

So, the properties of both natures are predicated on the person. Yet, because both natures are united in the one person, Scripture seemingly attributes properties of one nature to the other. This biblical way of speaking has become known as the “communication of idioms” or “communication of properties.” 

Communication of Properties 

Christ’s two natures are united “inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably” as the Chalcedonian Creed states. The creed continues, “The distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person.” Because the two natures are unified in the person of Christ, anything said of either nature is true of the person (“concurring in one Person”) while remaining untrue of the other nature (“the property of each nature being preserved”). 

Concerning biblical passages like the ones listed above, Theodore Beza explains, 

In the first place, these statements are made by means of the communication of individual properties, which truly does not exist. For if it were really true—that is, if the properties of the divine nature in actual fact belonged to the human nature, or vice versa—there would be no union, but a confusion. But it is put like this so that the unity of the person might be understood.2 

When Beza says the statements like those from Acts 20:28 are not “really true,” he means that they are attributed verbally instead of ontologically. Put simply, it is not that God has blood, but the person who is God has blood as a man. Therefore, it is appropriate because of the unity of the person to say “God has blood.” John Calvin explains, “It very frequently happens, on account of the unity of the Person of Christ, that what properly belongs to one nature is applied to another.”  

Calvin gives us the Chalcedonian key here: The communication of properties is possible “on account of the unity of the Person of Christ.” And as Beza notes above, this close unity of the two natures in the one person teaches us about the person of Christ. We know that the natures are unified in the person by the very fact that both are predicated of Him—even to the point of verbally applying properties of one nature to the other. 

To Sing or Not to Sing? 

It would be easy to remove the mystery of the incarnation. All we have to do is ignore one of Christ’s natures or blend them together. It is far more taxing on our puny minds to accept that two natures are unified in one person while preserving the unique properties of each nature. This is especially true when we think of Christ’s sufferings on the cross. 

 Cyril of Alexandria embraces this difficulty by affirming that the Son suffered on the cross yet remained impassible as eternal God: “To the same one we attribute both the divine and human characteristics, and we also say that to the same one belongs the birth and the suffering on the cross since he appropriated everything that belonged to his own flesh, while ever remaining impassible in the nature of the Godhead.”3 

The One who is God suffered on the cross as a man. The One who is man upheld the universe while it happened (Col. 1:17). The one undivided person is the same in both cases. Instead of simplifying the mystery of the incarnation, we should allow it to increase our worship of Christ.

If God the Son had not become man, He could not have suffered on the cross in our place. The author of Hebrews explains, “He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people” (Heb. 2:17). The Son “Humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:8). 

Wilhelmus à Brakel writes, 

This person is God and man, who is over all, God blessed forever, very God, and the Lord of glory. He, in order that He would be able to suffer and die, assumed our human nature. . . . This is a miracle in the highest sense of the word, exceeding the creation of heaven and earth. Pause and reflect upon this until the greatness and magnificence of this Person may become evident to your heart, and you in all humility acknowledge Him as such. Then adoration will ravish your soul and you will exclaim, “Has such a Persons suffered and made atonement?”4 

So should we sing “God estranged from God?” Yes, but we should sing it with the understanding that such a statement is only possible because God the Son became a man. And we should not dull the edge of this lyrical razor. Instead, we should embrace it and, as the songwriter says, “Marvel at the cost.” 


Recommended Resources 

“‘God Crucified’ The Death of God and the Deity of Christ” by Joe Zhakevich 
God the Son Incarnate by Stephen J. Wellum 



[1] John F. Walvoord, Jesus Christ Our Lord (Chicago: Moody Press, 1969), 116–117. 

[2] Theodore Beza, A Clear and Simple Treatise on the Lord’s Supper, trans. David C. Noe (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2016), 67. 

[3] Cyril of Alexandria, On the Unity of Christ, trans. John Anthony McGuckin (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladamir’s Seminary Press, 1995), 133. 

[4] Wilhelmus à Brakel, Christian’s Reasonable Service 1:615–616. Emphasis original.