Saturday, May 4, 2013

"THE WRATH OF GOD WAS SATISFIED?"

Bosco Peters' post at Liturgy, titled "the wrath of God was satisfied?", has received over 70 comments.  The entire discussion is worth reading.
At our recent synod meeting, one of the songs was Stuart Townend and Keith Getty’s In Christ alone with the words:
“Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied”
Those words as understood by many (if not most) in that room are heresy. The understanding of those words by many (most) who enthusiastically sing this in services around the planet is heretical.

The understanding is that God (The Father) was angry at us in our sinfulness. And that God took out this rage on Christ instead of on us. And that this now enables God (The Father) to love us.

This understanding is heresy. 
My comment at Bosco's blog is rather long, and I thought it worth quoting here, even out of context, because the words reflect some thoughts of mine on atonement theology. 
 Bosco, the hymn you mention is not in the 1982 hymnal of the Episcopal Church in the US. In all good conscience, I could not sing the words about God’s wrath being satisfied by Jesus’ death on the cross.

What an interesting discussion. I’m reminded of my words to a friend who is in deep depression. I doubt whether my friend is able to take hold of the idea in a way that will help lift the depression, but, after I read my words over, I thought to myself that they express well my living experience of God’s salvation day by day. So. The words may or may not have been helpful to my friend, but they were helpful to me.

“Do you have inside yourself a sense that you are a person of worth? You are, if for no other reason than you are God’s wonderful creation, and God declared you to be good – not for your accomplishments, nor for the work you do, nor whether you’re crazy or sane, but simply for who you are before God, who loves you. I know I’m sermonizing, and maybe because of depression, or for some other reason, what I say doesn’t seem right, and you can’t or won’t take hold of the concept, but I believe it to be true, and it’s what gives meaning to my life. When there seems to be nothing left, I hang on to the knowledge of God’s abiding love, which rescues me time after time and is my salvation.”

My theological starting point is God is love. God loves God’s own creation unconditionally. God created us with the gift to choose, which means we can choose good, or evil, or make choices that are neutral – like what color clothing to wear. When God gave us the ability to chose, did God not know that we humans would make wrong choices? The allegory of Adam and Eve tells us God knew. Humans did sin, and God sent the Beloved Son to save us by his Incarnation, the example of his life, his teachings, his crucifixion, his death, and his Resurrection. God came down and became incarnate, fully human, like us in every way. By doing so, through all of his life on earth until after the Resurrection, Jesus’s words and actions, his whole life, are efficacious in drawing us into the very life of the Trinity and saving us.

God’s will cannot be divided. Jesus freely chose to become one with us and do the Father’s will here on earth. He was obedient to the Father in the manner in which he lived his life and in what he taught his followers, with the result that the powers of the day feared insurrection, and eventually put him to death. Jesus did not need to die the horrible death to satisfy the wrath of God for our sins to be forgiven. Humans put Jesus to death, not the Father.

There is no wrath in God’s love for us. God loves us without conditions.
...

The Incarnation is the biggie for me, that God came down to be one of us to catch us up in the life of the Trinity. I was taught that the greatest feast of the life of Jesus is the Resurrection, but I’m now inclined to think the children had it right all along to see Christmas as the great feast.

Let me add that I think we all make up our own theology, to one degree or another, after reading and prayerful reflection on the Scriptures, the writings of the Fathers of the church, and the writings of the great Christian theologians and philosophers throughout the history of Christianity. Now my idea may, in itself, be considered heretical, but there it is.

30 comments:

  1. June, I'm with you. I am repulsed by the concept of the angry, vengeful god in need of appeasement that seems to be so appealing to many evangelicals. I honestly don't understand how that kind of fear could inspire any kind of worship or faith and it has no connection to my God and my Jesus whom I know and talk to several times a day. Of course many would say that makes me crazy too but I'd rather be crazy in love with God than crazy afraid!

    Blessings to you and yours!

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    1. Thanks, Brian. I grew up with the warped view that God watched me, waiting for me to make a misstep, so he could pounce. I'm sure I heard that God loved me, too, but somehow the concept didn't take root. It was a great blessing when I was able to let go of the image of a god poised to smite.

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  2. Gore Vidal, a disbeliever, referred to the Judaeo-Christian God as a "Bronze-Age Sky God". In this particular, at least, he got it right.

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    1. Roger, some of your acquaintances posted comments on Bosco's thread.

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    2. Guess I need to go look. Will it up my blood pressure? Sending you an email on a totally different, anecdotal, matter.

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    3. Oops, I hope you don't mind that I didn't use your nom de blog. Probably won't get your blood pressure up, but it may get your dander up.

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    4. Blood pressure fine. D Ould mustn't have much to do nowadays.

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    5. Yes, he's all over. Bosco ain't having none of it.

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  3. "Now my idea may, in itself, be considered heretical, but there it is."

    And a lovely heresy it is. I have a hard time grasping this need some folks have for an angry, vengeful God. Maybe it's because they hope he'll turn his wrath toward people that don't agree with them. A bit of comeuppance, if you will, for failing to toe the fundamentalist line. In any event I have come the much the same conclusion as you.

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    1. palford3, thank you. I've made up my theology of salvation with a little help from my friends, living and dead, and I am at peace.

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  4. It would appear that I am alone in dissenting. But then what Bosco understands by wrath is not what I understand by it.

    Wrath is God ensuring you get exactly what you deserve, and since the traditional view of Christianity is that nothing short of absolute 100% perfection is good enough, we all deserve the undifferentiated punishment for failure.

    Wrath is not about anger: wrath is about consequences. It is, in fact, the polar opposite of grace, where we get exactly what we do not deserve as a gift.

    (It's another of those cases where people pick the wrong opposite - so (as is perenially discussed a week or two after Easter) the opposite of faith is disbelief, not doubt.)

    By refusing to talk about God's wrath and stressing God's love, Bosco and others lay themselves open to the accusation that they think God doesn't really care about sin - that She's prepared to sweep it under the carpet and pretend it's not there. But that is not the way of the Christian God: sin and imperfection and evil are real, and they have to be dealt with.

    (I'd have to add that I live in a place where a great deal of pretending that there is nothing under the carpet goes on - the usual things: corruption, injustice, racism, endemic child abuse - and the place is not the better for it.)

    In electing to deal with sin once and for all in the person of Jesus (who, let's remember, was fully God as well as fully human), God as near as is possible kills God such that humanity should avoid wrath, the consequences of their actions. I see that as something to be celebrated, and consequently I fail to see what the problem is.

    One of the side points raised is whether the cross is actually the demonstration that wrath was satisfied - shouldn't it be the resurrection? To which I'd have to ask: why would the veil of the temple be torn top to bottom when Jesus died, rather than at the resurrection? And why the triumphant cry of, "It is finished" from the cross, rather than after the resurrection?

    Oh, and the obvious point remains that of course you won't find In Christ Alone in your 1982 hymnbook, given that it was written in 2001...

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    1. Oh James! If we got what we deserved.... I have to get ready for church now, but I'll address your comment later.

      I don't know quite what your point is in stressing the date of the hymn. I didn't know when the hymn was written when I looked for it, but now that I know, I hope it never finds a place in an Episcopal Church hymnal.

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    2. James, if you read Bosco's post, you see you are not alone there. First of all, there are various views of atonement theology within the Christian faith, and, so far as I know, no one particular view of our salvation by Jesus Christ is doctrinal, only the doctrine that Jesus does, indeed, save.

      Second, it is a mistake to attribute human emotions to God. We can say God grieves over sin, becomes angry by sin, but we see through a glass darkly when we speak of emotions with respect to God. Theologians, (which I am not) may speak of God's wrath or anger in ways that the ordinary person in the pew would not be aware of at all. The words of the hymn to certain members of the congregation, and that's not to speak of a first-time visitor to a church, might suggest an angry, smiting God who had to have revenge for our sinfulness, so he put Jesus in our place to be punished for our sins, because that was the only way the wrathful God could be placated.

      You say:

      "By refusing to talk about God's wrath and stressing God's love, Bosco and others lay themselves open to the accusation that they think God doesn't really care about sin - that She's prepared to sweep it under the carpet and pretend it's not there."

      No, that's not what I say. I have no doubt that God is deeply concerned about sin and in no way sweeps sin under the carpet. The best way I know to figure out what God is like is through Jesus in the accounts of his time on earth, who is the living revelation of God to us. Look at Jesus, how he lived, his actions, his words. "Whoever has seen me has seen the Father."

      You say:

      "One of the side points raised is whether the cross is actually the demonstration that wrath was satisfied - shouldn't it be the resurrection?"

      Shouldn't it be the Incarnation? None of the rest of the Jesus story would have happened without God Incarnate. To me what saves us is the entirety of Jesus' life on earth, his Incarnation through his Resurrection, all of it. Oh, and I do celebrate our salvation every single day.

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    3. OK, let's go on from here:

      The question of attributing human emotions to God is interesting - one could argue that if we shouldn't do it, half the Bible needs to be rewritten! But wrath is not an emotion.

      It is not in any way subjective, any more than if you touch a powered-up electric fence the fence will display a range of responses depending on how it feels, or it will hold back the voltage because it's you. If you touch the wire, you get 250V through you, and it hurts, and if you're sensible you don't do it again.

      You are right about the technical use of theological terminology being potentially very misleading to people. But how people choose to interpret any text is ultimately up to them.

      If it is fair to argue that people understand wrath as anger and the fact that I interpret it differently is not relevant, it equally applies that the fact that you don't regard the emphasis on love as meaning sin doesn't matter is not relevant - people can (and I believe will) interpret it that way.

      You say: "One of the side points raised is whether the cross is actually the demonstration that wrath was satisfied - shouldn't it be the resurrection?"

      No, I don't: this is a side point raised from Bosco's posting. From what I have seen, one of the people Bosco talks with thinks the Resurrection is the demonstration that the wrath of God is satisfied. I think that you can argue the same for the cross itself, before the resurrection - if not fully, then there are at least indications of how things might fall out.

      Your point about the incarnation doesn't work in those terms - the incarnation doesn't of itself satisfy the wrath of God. Take wrath out of the equation and yes, I can see you could make it work.

      Thank you for making me do this, by the way, and have a good Sunday.

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    4. James, not just the Incarnation, the whole of Jesus life on earth continuing after the Resurrection.

      It does not seem to me at all a good thing to risk frightening newcomers with such a hymn or instilling fear into members of the congregation, thus I would never choose the hymn if I had a say.

      I'm grateful to Bosco for starting the conversation and to all here for continuing the conversation, whether we agree or not, because I had to ponder and clarify my own thinking on salvation. In that way I have been enriched. Blessings.

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  5. Without wishing to disturb your personal serenity in the least, Mimi, James seems to raise a point worth considering. I mean, you say God . . . saves us; but from what is left unstated. Can you complete the thought there?

    There's also this anthem from the Burial of the Dead, I wonder what it means:

    In the midst of life we are in death;
    from whom can we seek help?
    From you alone, O Lord,
    who by our sins are justly angered.



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    1. " I mean, you say God . . . saves us; but from what is left unstated."

      The answer to your question is short, Russ. Jesus saves us from sin and death.

      I'll take up the matter of the language of hymns later.

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    2. Russ, regarding the words in hymns, not all writers of the words in hymns are theologians, and we are left with a very mixed bag. The fact is that often we sing the words with not much attention to the meaning of what we sing. Some of my favorite hymns contain what I consider dodgy theology, but I sing them anyway, but the words Bosco picked out from the hymn which I am very pleased that we do not sing are beyond the pale, and I could not sing them with any degree of integrity.

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  6. I have to say that this discussion has fascinated me. I never thought about it much before but it seems like there are numbers of people who enter Christianity out of a fear factor -- fear of God's wrath, fear of punishment for sin, fear of eternal suffering. I can see and understand a little better that particular conservative/evangelical belief that laws and punishments are needed to protect and prevent people from endangering themselves with free will and free thought that might contradict or question the once-delivered truths. Jesus suffered, died, and rose again so we "owe" him obeisance or we will be punished for being ungrateful. (?) I really don't understand it any other way.

    It's not the way I come to faith myself -- I come in need of acceptance, forgiveness, unconditional love, with faith in a God who loves all his creation and works to save it from its self-destructive tendencies. And that informs my own liberal, progressive thinking where I believe that we all should be free to choose (or not choose) the way we live our lives and how we see and understand the world -- my unchanging truth is that God loves me, is with me, and will forgive me and teach me but all the rest is negotiable and must be investigated and must make sense. After all He became one of us, suffered, died, and conquered death for us all. He gave us a will and a mind to understand and He cannot be imprisoned in a 2000 year old book.

    I'm having a hard time seeing how the two approaches can meet in the middle or how a fear-based faith doesn't breed resentment and secret hatred. How do you worship a God that holds a sword over your head? Compliance born in fear is something I've struggled to overcome my whole life. I don't want to enter into it again. Perhaps that means I'm damned but at least it's of my own free will and not compelled by fear. Thanks June for giving me something deep and profound to reflect on this Sunday.

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    1. Brian, thank you, and I don't believe you are damned. :-) I agree with what you say. Jesus came to bring Good News. I lived for years with the idea of a smiting God, and I would not go back to that ever. Before that happened, I fear I would lose my faith altogether. And what kind of loving God would demand the death of the Beloved Son to appease her wrath for our sins. I would not want you to suffer for my sins, so why would I accept that God Incarnate had to suffer for my sins?

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  7. PREACH IT! I agree with your view.

    Recently someone I know reminded me that God made us imperfect creatures so that we would always need him. This person reminded me that God showers us with His abounding grace and love. And THEN this person reminded me that we are God's beloved. I cried all over that person's carpet.

    Belonging to a living, loving God--I'll take that road.

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    1. Bonnie, my faithful friend, I knew we would think alike. Most people who seek out a church are already hurting in some way, and we need to tell them the Good News of God's love.

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    2. Honored to be considered a faithful friend.

      And may God help us always to sing to those hurting ones of His abounding grace and love.

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  8. Mimi, for some reason Blogger isn't offering me the ability to delete that last comment. Would you please do it for me, and replace with:

    De interpretationibus non est disputandum.

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    1. Done, Russ. I don't mean to say that Jesus lets us off the hook when we sin. More than once, Jesus sent those whom he healed and forgave off with the words, "Go and sin no more." And when we transgress again, God calls us to repentance and forgives us when we ask.

      St Augustine said, "Love God and do what you will." If our minds and hearts are truly set on loving God, then we will love our neighbors.

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    2. Russ--I didn't mean to imply that it is an easy road to take. That stuff about "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." (Shudder) Or how about "feed the hungry, clothe the naked" & etc. The call to discipleship is never easy for me. But I do believe that God showers us with his abounding grace, love and presence and forgiveness and humor--Good News that we can always share with others. Makes walking his road a lot easier.

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    3. The road is not easy at all. As I said in my post, I need rescuing every single day, but I've never been sorry for choosing to follow Jesus. With the help of God's grace, in the full knowledge that I often fall short, I pray I will continue.

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  9. This has been a fascinating discussion all round. I believe there is a lot of caricaturing going on, and I think that folks on all sides of this discussion (including myself) probably need to do a lot of careful listening to each other.

    Speaking for myself, I think the cross is a huge and multi-faceted mystery and the biblical authors use many illustrations to try to get at the reality of what was accomplished there. One question that I think is rarely asked is not 'why did Jesus die?" but 'why did they kill him?' When we understand that both Jewish leaders and Roman authorities killed him because he was a political threat to them, we understand how the Kingdom of God confronts the principalities and powers, and how faithful followers of God are called to take up their cross and follow Jesus without attempting to violently defeat their enemies. And of course how the victory of the resurrection means that love has the last word, not power.

    Nonetheless, I do think that there is wrath in God, by which I mean God's righteous opposition to all that is evil, and I do think that 'Jesus died for our sins', which I understand in the same sense as Aslan dying for Edmund's sins in the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. This I think, is what the 'wrath of God was satisfied' language in 'In Christ Alone' is trying to get at. There is no suggestion in the LWW that the 'Emperor-over-Sea' was itching to take a temper-tantrum out on Edmund and that Aslan prevented it - just that the entire land of Narnia was dependant upon the observance of the just laws that the emperor had put into it at the beginning, and that the death of Aslan in Edmund's place - an act of love and self-substitution - was a way of honouring those laws and yet also providing forgiveness and a fresh start for Edmund.

    That's how I understand it, but I fully admit it's a mystery, and the language can sometimes be misleading. That shouldn't surprise us - after all, Christian language about eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Christ was understood as describing cannibalism in the days of the early Church!

    Mimi, I apologize for the length of this reply, and I thank you for your last comment, about choosing to follow Jesus, which I found incredibly moving.

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    1. Mystery in the cross? Oh yes, Tim. And in the entire story of the life of Christ.

      The question why did the powers of the day kill Jesus is excellent. Jesus came to do the will of the Father, to preach an upside down world as we see in the words of Mary in the Magnificat, where those in the highest places would be brought low, and those is the lowest places raised up. It's not surprising that those in power concluded the message was dangerous. Fairly early on, Jesus knew his words were in opposition both to the Jewish and Roman rulers, but, in the face of the danger, Jesus chose to carry out his Father's will and continue to heal, forgive, and speak words of hope to all, especially to the downtrodden, the least of these. In the end, he was killed by the rulers, with the approval of certain of the populace. So we agree more than we disagree.

      Did Jesus have to die to save us from sin and death? Perhaps not, but his message was such that his death was nearly inevitable. Where we differ is that I view Jesus' entire life on earth, rather than just the cross, as efficacious in our salvation.

      With regard to the words of the hymn, I think people without vast knowledge of theology may think God's wrath means something different from "righteous opposition to all evil". Because they'd see God taking "satisfaction" in the death of Jesus, and, since we are all sinners, people may come to think of God as angry and punishing, rather than loving, so what's the Good News? I would not use the hymn.

      No need to apologize for your lengthy comment. As I've said, the entire conversation has been enriching.

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