Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Loving Wrath of God

I by no means have a complete handle on this… God’s wrath in some ways is still a conundrum to me, but more and more I have struggled with the Penal Substitution model of atonement. This theory revolves around the wrath of God being pleased by Jesus dying on the cross. To get started, here are a few verses on God’s wrath in the New Testament.

“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.” -Romans 1:18-19

“Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God's kindness is intended to lead you to repentance? But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God's wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.” -Romans 2:4-5

“Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him!” -Romans 5:9

“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on them.” -John 3:36

Penal Substitution
The Penal Substitution theory is understood in a couple different ways. 1)Jesus paid the penalty for our sins, taking the consequences of sin that we deserved.  That is defined a step further by saying that  2) The penalty of sin is that it turns God against us, making Him angry and needing justice through punishing us for our disobedience. In other words, the Father took it out on Jesus instead of us… so now we’re all good..hopefully!

There is no question that God’s wrath is a real thing, it is all over the bible! The issue, in my opinion, is how we understand God’s wrath. The Penal Substitution Model depicts God being angry at humankind for our unrighteousness. Since God is holy and just He can't deal with sinners until justice is met. However, this theory becomes a little obscure when we see the person of Jesus as coming to reveal the true nature and character of His father. We need to start with Jesus, and define God's wrath there, rather than taking our experience of anger and wrath and projecting it onto God. I am coming to believe that the incorrect way of viewing God’s wrath is to understand that He is personally offended, pissed off, or indignant that his people would be so stupid as to disobey him. This wrath makes sense to broken humanity and our sense of justice and shame, but it is hard to reconcile that understanding with who Jesus reveals the Father to be.

Jesus came to reveal the true nature of the Father to a world that was very very confused about who God was and what He was about. Jesus goes so far as to say that nobody knows the Father but the son, and that when we see Him we see the Father. We need to start with Jesus, and when we do I think we get a different picture about God’s wrath, and it contradicts what our shame and guilt make us think to be true about God.

When a parent sees one of their children make bad decisions that are really destructive to them… they will probably get very angry! If they are truly loving, they will not be pissed at their own child as if the child wronged them in some way, but because of their love they will have a ferocious wrath against the things that are destroying and harming them. They will be angry at the attitudes, thoughts, and beliefs their child holds. They will be angry at the negative influences, the way their choices negatively affect their lives, and the way they are choosing to live in contradiction to what their parents desire for them. This anger only makes sense from the vantage point of loving their children. It is a parent who is insecure and immature that get's personally offended by their children's behavior! A loving parent will do anything to free their beloved son or daughter from what's hurting them, and to convince them to live the life that would truly be good for them. They would want to completely eliminate any threat to their lives because they deeply care for their well being. This isn’t selfish wrath, but other centered wrath. It isn’t wrath against people, but for them! This is a huge distinction and one that I think is not only important, but revolutionary for how we understand what Jesus came to do. When we see Jesus, I think He confronts the way we project our own offense and indignation onto God. Jesus shows us that everything the Father does, including His wrath, is about His love for us.

A Different Picture of Appeasement
I do think there is a way to understand how Jesus appeases the wrath of God, without us compromising the truth of God’s loving nature. Romans 5:9 is one of the verses that gives us a strong picture that God is angry with us and that we need to be saved from him. Jesus coming to Earth, dying, and rising, is motivated by God’s loving wrath against the powers that trap and destroy His people. Jesus is the story of God coming to our aid out of His passionate purpose. His love is so strong, He is righteously angry against anything that hurts us. God’s wrath was satisfied when He accomplished what He needed to in order to reconcile us to Himself. His wrath is the driving energy and purpose to reach us in our lost state…which He did in Jesus. Therefore His wrath is now satisfied, because of what Jesus has done. He fulfilled His purpose, reached us, destroyed the powers that bound us, and reconciled us to Himself. His loving wrath was satisfied as he entered into the darkness in this world, submitting Himself to our pain and angst, He satisfied his anger by going to the greatest lengths to save us.

This doesn’t mean that He is controlling us though… He will never force anything on us. We can still not ‘repent’, not change our minds. We can still align ourselves with sin, shame, and/or pride. Doing so is really silly and unnecessary, but we don’t need to accept our redemption. If we don’t.. Then I can see how ‘God’s’ wrath will still be on us. He will still be wanting to remove all those things from us while we cling to them. We could ultimately choose our identity in our brokenness and not in Jesus, and God's wrath would painfully harass us as we turn from it.

What Happened on the Cross?
When you have the Father wrathfully beating Jesus we get a really twisted picture of love… and it separates the trinity, making Jesus and the Father opposed to one another. This is directly opposite of what Jesus is trying to convince us about when He says things like, “When you see me you see the Father”.... Or… “I and the Father are one.” Jesus isn't doing something that the Father isn't able to. Jesus hangs out with sinners, and reacts lovingly to those who make poor choices. He isn't being different then the Father, but is His exact image. If Jesus is loving, while the Father is wrathful, then we will forever live hiding behind Jesus hoping that the Father stays in a good mood. When we see that Jesus and the Father are united in their loving wrath to save us and not condemn us, it gives us assurance of our place with Him, and we can be at peace and rest knowing the grace and love that our Father has for us. He would go so far as to die for us, taking our sin, the penalty for our destructive choices, destroying our shame through forgiveness, and uniting Himself to us at our worst!

Here are some scriptures that talk about what Jesus did on the cross, none of them have to do with satisfying God’s wrath:

"He himself bore our sins" in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; "by his wounds you have been healed." -1 Peter 2:24

“And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” -Colossians 2:15

“Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death--that is, the devil--and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” -Hebrews 2:14-15

“For if, while we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” -Romans 5:10-11

“He has saved us and called us to a holy life--not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” - 2 Timothy 1:9-10

“The meaning of the cross is not that God punished his Son in order to avoid punishing humanity, but that in Christ God himself took responsibility for the world’s evil and absorbed its consequences into itself.” -Unknown

On the cross Jesus was completely misunderstood, rejected, beaten, and murdered. He took all our sin, confusion, and wrath into Himself. He faced down our greatest betrayal of God, looked out on us, and said, “forgive them they know not what they do.” Jesus said this along with the Father and Spirit, for they cannot be separated. He reveals the true heart of the Father as loving, He does so at the place where we would expect the opposite response. Nothing deserves retribution more than our murder of God. Yet Jesus shows He has a Father so loving He will take the full force of our sin and not get angry, He will not act in personal frustration, offense, or retribution. He submits Himself to sin unto death, thereby undoing the powers of condemnation, performance, and a skewed vision of wrath. God’s loving wrath eradicates sin by judging it at the depth of our depravity with a universal, ‘forgive them’. God was in Christ reconciling the cosmos to Himself.

We are saved by believing in Jesus. He shows us our value to the Father, forgiving us so we don’t have to live with the the burden of shame and guilt. He included us in His death so now we have confidence we will share in His resurrection! This takes away our fear of death! He brought immortality to ‘light’, so now we have confidence in eternity. He destroyed the schemes of the devil, the accuser, by proclaiming our worth when our performance was at our worst! Pretty amazing!

God’s wrath, in the penal substitution model, makes sense to our broken shame filled consciences that say..”I deserve to be punished.” But, it doesn’t seem to offer much in terms of our salvation here and now. It doesn’t fully remove our fear, insecurity, shame, or pride. Jesus comes down to Earth to reveal the Father. “I did not come to condemn the World but to save it.” …. “Therefore there is no condemnation..” For me, this isn’t a minor difference, it is huge!! Makes a big difference for how we see God, and feel confident in our relationship with him. There is no room for insecurity, shame, or pride in believing in Jesus. Believing the good Father he reveals, the forgiveness He gives us, and the grace He lavishes on us is absolutely transformational! In other words, “perfect love casts out fear.” The Penal Substitution theory plays off of fear rather than casting it out…. a serious problem.  

I would love to hear your thoughts and questions. I am still working through these things and gratefully welcome your feedback!