A year or three back we had a good go at discussing the virtues or otherwise of the controversial line in the ubiquitous hymn, In Christ Alone, the line that goes:
"The wrath of God was satisfied"
One reason for continuing to discuss this line in this hymn is that, at least hereabouts, we are continuing to sing the hymn and that line in it. (And, as I recall, one part of previous discussion here was whether it is or isn't appropriate to change such a line if one does not like it. For slices of previous discussions on ADU, see here, here, and here.)
Actually, to be fair to that line, we should quote the line before and after:
'Til on that cross as Jesus died
The wrath of God was satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid
In other words, the question about whether satisfaction of the wrath of God is a worthy theology is a question of atonement theology. We are attempting to put into words what happened to God, to us, to our sin, when Jesus died.
The three lines of the song effectively follow a "scapegoat" form of atonement theology fused with a "paschal lamb" theology of voidance of wrath merged with a "sacrifice of atonement" theology in which the justice of God is satisfied:
- Jesus was a form of the scapegoat on whom sins were laid on the Jewish Day of Atonement
- our sins were laid on Jesus as he died on the cross*
- by taking "every sin" laid on Him, Jesus fulfils the paschal/scapegoat destiny spoken of him by John the Baptist, "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world."
- the doing of this is a Passover Lamb sacrifice (1 Corinthians 5:7; see also timing, according to John's Gospel of the crucifixion of Jesus as the same time as the sacrifice of the Passover lambs) and
- that sacrifice of Jesus is simultaneously the "sacrifice of atonement" (Romans 3:25), a sacrifice which could fairly be described in terms of Romans 3-5 as a sacrifice which "satisfied" the justice of God;
- *at this point the scapegoat imagery ends, because the scapegoat takes the sins into the desert; and the paschal lamb imagery comes to the fore: Jesus died at Passover, that festival celebrated the killing of lambs in order that their blood would mark the lintels of the doorways of the Israelites so that the angel of death visiting households in Egypt would avoid killing the firstborn sons of those households.
If, dear readers, you follow me thus far, we are not quite at the point of squaring the line "the wrath of God was satisfied" with this theological fusion of scapegoat, Passover and atoning sacrifices.
Notably, the New Testament does not speak of God's wrath being satisfied. At least not directly, in so many words.
It does get close, however. In particular I note two ways in which talk of the wrath of God comes close to talk of that wrath being satisfied.
(1) Paul's discourse on God's wrath in Romans 1 spills over into Romans 2:5-6 where we read:
"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:"
It is reasonable to talk about the avoidance of God's wrath on that day comes through the "repay" being made on our behalf by Jesus, that is, on the shortfall in our "account" with God being satisfied by the "payment" Jesus makes through his death on the cross.
(2) Speaking of what God has done for us in Christ, Paul writing in Ephesians, says that we "were dead through the trespasses and sins which [we] once lived" ... "by nature children of wrath" ... "But God, who is rich in mercy ... made us alive together with Christ" (2:1-5). What makes us alive when we are dead is the same as that which changes our status as "children of wrath": the "blood of Christ" (2:13) or Christ's sacrifice on the cross becomes the "gift of God" which saves us. God's wrath towards us changes into God's acceptance of us. In some sense - but much less implied than in Romans - God's wrath is satisfied and thus no longer determinative of our status before God.
So, I am as uneasy as ever about the line "the wrath of God was satisfied"! It is not completely wrongheaded but it places emphasis on the wrath of God driving Jesus to the cross rather than the justice of God, let alone the love of God. The line is, I argue here, less accurate than a line such as "the justice of God was satisfied."
But that alternative is pretty unsingable if substituted [!!] within the hymn.
Theologically accurate, lyrically smooth and rhythmically balanced ...!
UPDATE: (H/T Jonathan commenting below) Keith Getty, song writer, himself comments on the hymn here.