A strong argument is being made in comments on the previous three posts that the modern hymn 'In Christ Alone' should either not be sung, or sung with the line 'The wrath of God was satisfied' changed to 'The love of God was satisfied', or only sung after sufficient explanation is given of what 'The wrath of God was satisfied' means.
As a matter of fact the last of those options could mean some occasions for singing the hymn, because any sermon on passages such as Isaiah 52-53, Romans 1-8, Ephesians 2, or Revelation 1, 15-19 should touch on the theme of God's wrath and its satisfaction!
I am not without sympathy to the argument being mounted because we live in an age conscious of the dangerous combination of anger and abuse, to which the word 'wrath' relates in respect of human experiences of angry authority figures abusing their power.
Nevertheless 'wrath' remains a word used on several occasions in the New Testament, even by as sensitive a translation as the NRSV. In particular it plays a role in the unfolding of Paul's argument through the early chapters of Romans.
In Romans 2:5-10, for example, we find,
"But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath, when God's righteous judgment will be revealed. For he will repay according to each one's deeds: to those who by patiently doing good seek for glory and honour and immortality, he will give eternal life; while for those who are self-seeking and who obey not the truth but wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be anguish and distress for everyone who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honour and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek."
Then in Romans 3:5-6 we find:
"But if our injustice serves to confirm the justice of God, what should we say? That God is unjust to inflict wrath one us? (I speak in a human way.) By no means! For then how could God judge the world?"
In these passages 'wrath' relates clearly and directly to justice and the judgment justice requires, namely, that at some point in the history of humanity there will be a day of accountability or judgment for how lives have been lived, with good living rewarded and bad living receiving 'wrath and fury'. In this context 'wrath' has nothing to do with an emotive response and everything to do with justice applied impartially.
Is there a way out for sinners from the imposition of God's wrath? Paul's argument as it keeps unfolding in Romans yields the summary answer, 'Yes'. Thus we find familiar and beloved texts affirming,
"Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." (5:1)
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." (6:23)
"There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." (8:1)
But what secures this way out? By what means are we justified, what action enables the free gift to supplant the wages of death, and what removes condemnation from sinners?
I suggest the turning point is in Romans 3:25 where Paul states that Christ Jesus who justifies and redeems us (3:24) has been put forward by God as a hilasterion ('sacrifice of atonement', NRSV; 'expiation' or 'propitiation', so other translations).
I do not think it is rocket science level of understanding to conclude that God's justice is 'satisfied' through Christ's sacrificial death. In particular that God's wrath, which is both his just disposition towards sinful living and the applied response of God to sinful living on the day of judgement, is satisfied. There is now no case to answer: the sinner has been justified through Christ, no condemnation is warranted, the application of 'wrath and fury' is not required.
God's justice is upheld through God's justifying action in Christ Jesus. That is the message of the cross. It is, in fact, a message of love as much as it is of justice, because without justice there is no love. (My disagreement with singing 'The love of God was satisfied' rather than 'The wrath of God was satisfied' is that doing so replaces a difficult word, 'wrath', in need of explanation, with a feel good word, 'love' which nevertheless also needs explanation, that is, in terms of justice)!
Briefly, without justice there is no love, because unjust treatment of one person by another is a denial of love. If I cheat someone I do not love them. But if I show mercy to, say, a burglar, without requiring repayment of what is stolen, I also fail to demonstrate love to the one who was burgled. Effectively I have cheated the one who was burgled. In all sorts of ways I the sinner act unjustly and therefore unlovingly. A wrathful response, whether by God, or by other people, is a loving response to my unjust actions to the extent that it is a powerful concern to end my unjust actions so that people may be properly loved instead.
If God in Christ on the cross was not acting justly then God was not acting lovingly.The miracle of the cross is that God in his omniscience sees everything, including the myriad ways in which sin infects the world with injustice permeating all relationships, and in one decisive action cleans up the infection and rights the injustice. It is also a mystery how this one action 'satisfies' the requirements of justice. But it does. That is our Christian confession.
Perhaps I should stop. I am not an expert on talking about justice, just relations, and that kind of thing. Back to the song.
I do not think my posts will have much effect on the many congregations around the world which cheerfully, and perhaps unreflectingly sing "The wrath of God was satisfied." But the posts are, along with helpful comments - thank you - helping me to think better.
So I conclude:
Theologically, 'The wrath of God was satisfied' is a reasonable summary of a complex argument by Paul unfolded through Romans which falls within the parameters of orthodoxy, but it is also controversial.
Pastorally, 'The wrath of God was satisfied' is unhelpful. I agree, it does require explanation. Notwithstanding the non-brevity of these posts, I think it could be given fairly succinctly.
My suggested alternative, which does not scan, is this: 'The justice of God was satisfied'.
But perhaps that is the key explanation which could be given each time before singing the song: 'The wrath of God was satisfied' means 'The justice of God was satisfied'.