Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Was the wrath of God satisfied?

It is Holy Week. Time to bring out a fruitful theme in past times for provocative discussion?

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.

Other alternatives?

Theologically accurate, lyrically smooth and rhythmically balanced ...!

UPDATE: (H/T Jonathan commenting below) Keith Getty, song writer, himself comments on the hymn here.





27 comments:

Jonathan said...

Tony Lane (who has written a very good, basic and thought provoking systematic theology) has written an article "The wrath of God as an aspect of the love of God." (Findable courtesy of google.) Given the broad sweep of topics within this hymn I think one line referring to wrath of God is balanced and theologically sound, and the debate is pretty well referred to on your other posts and responses to them. I wonder if the word "satisfied" having two distinct meanings (e.g. an enjoyable feeling having just competed well in sport or enjoyed a good meal; versus satisfying appropriate requirements order for something to happen) throws in some dissatisfaction for some with this hymn?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Jonathan
Interesting (and I agree that wrath is an aspect of love); and your thought re "satisfied" sparks me to muse thus: would my slight discomfort with "the wrath of God was satisfied" be removed if the line was "the wrath of God was turned away"?

Bryden Black said...

Naturally, there will always be those who shy away from the hard realities of divine revelation. For all that, if God who IS Love does not actually judge rebellious creatures, then I want nothing to do with such a God. Mercifully though, that very Love, which is also Light (1 Jn 1 comes before 1 Jn 2 and 1 Jn 4), comprehends much more ...! After all, that famous Jn 3:16 is better translated - "God loved the world in this way, that he gave ...", where "perishing" is an utterly basic alternative.

For my money, not only is Tim H wise to cite Graham Cole, I'd recommend also that classic study by another Aussie, Leon Morris, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross: A study of the significance of some NT terms (1965).

TrevDev said...

"Turned away" sounds good to me

Father Ron said...

If it were true that "The wrath of God" is satisfied - by the cruel and unjustifiable death of God's Only-Begotten Son; then this may be the god if ISIS, but not the loving God and Father of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ: "Who loved the world so much..that that He GAVE His Only-begotten Son, (so) that all who come to believe in Him will have eternal life".

This really is ISIS theology, not that of the Gospels!

Andrew White said...

Rom 5:9 and These 1:10 both talk about being rescued from God's wrath through Jesus, and Eph 2:3-5 makes the same claim indirectly, as does Heb 7:26-27 describing the alternative. Meanwhile, Old Testament links wrath with punishment for sin. Isaiah 26:20-21 talks about hiding until God's wrath passes by, bringing punishment for sin.

Numbers 25:4, Deut 13:15-17, Joshua 7:24-26, 2 Chron 29. all refer to Israel performing acts of judgement and repentance to turn away the Lord's "fierce anger". But none of these accounts use terms like "sated".

The NT images of escaping God's wrath feel more like the angels rescuing Lot from Sodom before the fire of the Lord burned against it than of offering up something equal in value. I don't think the expression is entirely unbiblical, but it does mix the imagery of judgement / payment with the imagery of being rescued from God's wrath against sin.

That said, if one were to (in the song) replace "satisfied" with "turned aside", something would be lost. I think the Gettys are trying to capture the theme of Christ being the complete sacrifice (Rom 3:25, Heb 7:27, 9:28, 10, 1 John 2:2, 4:10) and the rescue from God's wrath. On the cross, Jesus meets (satisfies) the righteous demands of God's law & justice (Rom 8:4), and thus rescues us from God's wrath (Rom 5:9, cf Rom 2:5). The song compresses this into a single claim, losing some theological precision in the process.

Jean said...

A dictionary definition of wrath; retributory punishment for an offense or a crime : divine chastisement

I do detect a tad of this in the Old Testament.... God chastising his flock to get them to turn from their wicked ways and at times in anger inflicting punishment in the hope of turning them from their ways.

Then the new covenant. The punishment that bought us peace was inflicted on Him, He was pierced for our transgressions.... The law fulfilled ... Punishment for sin satisfied once and for all?

Not at all that God was the author of sin that credit belongs to another.

So.. "Offences against God to Him applied?"

David Wilson said...

The relationship between the love and wrath of God was also explored by Kazoh Kitamori in his 'Theology of the Pain of God'. His thinking contributed, I believe, to Juergen Moltmann's theology in "The Curcified God".

Also, I agree with Jonathan that the use of the word 'satisfied' is, perhaps, unhelpful. I suspect that it might have roots in Anselm's 'Satisfaction' model, in which the honour of God has been offended, and so a 'satisfaction' must be presented. BTW, in Anselm's words this satisfaction is specifically not a punishment. This is reflected in Cranmer's words "a full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the world."

However, it is God's honour which is satisfied, not his wrath which is, rather, turned aside. It is language which we do not used. The line seems to say in our modern usage that God, in his anger is pleased to see Jesus suffer. Whereas Kitamori sees the pain of the Father as well as the Son in the cross.

Father Ron said...

I note that my disagreement with you all has not been published. Why, Peter? Is it too incendiary for the hellfire brigade, do you think?

Peter Carrell said...

Dear Ron
You will be judged by your Maker for:
(1) making the claim you have made re ISIS theology and the theology of the cross;
(2) your impatience which has caused you to (i) question my forbearance re your comments (ii) not allow for the possibility that I may have been on the road yesterday far from my laptop and relying on the sometimes unreliability of a mobile transmitting device conveying all comments to me!!

Bryden Black said...

Come come Peter! Telepathy, mate; telepathy ...

Jonathan said...

There is an interview with Keith Getty at https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/keith-getty-on-what-makes-in-christ-alone-beloved-and-contested, in which he outlines his views on the matter - as well as covering a couple of publications who wanted to ( or did) make a change to these lyrics. While I don't think there is anything deficient in this particular hymn it is heartening to think that people take seriously the lyrics that are being sung, and heartening to think that people would decline to sing lyrics they believe are untrue.

Father Ron said...

Dear Peter. I apologise most humbly for having misjudged you on the issue of the appearance of my comment on this thread. Mea culpa!!

However, I am concerned at the seeming vehemence which accompanies certain defenders of the theology that sees God's wrath as exceeding that of God's Love - especially when we remember that it was the self-righteous among the Scribes and Pharisees (upholders of the 'God's Wrath upon sinners' theology) in the Gospel accounts of Good Friday that precipitated Christ's death!

What moved me most at the recent Mass at St. Christopher's when the clergy renewed their priestly vows in the presence of our Bishop, was the singing of the charismatic song "There is a Redeemer, Jesus, God's own Son" wherein I, personally, was aware of God's great love for Sinners, not God's 'wrath'. Thanks be to God for God's 'unspeakable Gift'.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron
No prob!
Yes, my concern is when wrath becomes the tail which wags the dog (love).
Reading, for instance, this morning, in 2 Corinthians 5, where Paul goes to the core of the transaction on the cross (God made him who knew no sin to be sin), omits all talk of wrath, but fastens on the outcome of that transaction, reconciliation between God and ourselves.

Bryden Black said...

Years ago I was at a meeting where Michael Green was addressing the central Christian matter of the atonement through Jesus, Messiah of Israel. His title, "A many splendid thing", was also his point. For he canvassed the full panoply of OT and NT in a way that nothing, no motif, was allowed to dominate or obscure another. Yet none was missing either. And sure enough, one facet of that gloriously splendid jewel that is Christ's Person-and-Work was divine wrath.

Sorry Ron; we lose this particular facet literally to our peril. Even tho of course there are many others too. The one thing I learned that day was we mustn't be too one dimensional...

Father Ron said...

Precisely, Bryden - especislly when that 'one dimension' is the less understandable - in the light of the Good News of the N.T. - 'Wrath of God'.

ISIS does seem to major on the 'WRATH' of God (The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) - to the point of wilful murder! My point is, why do we Christians critize them for their accentuation of Divine Wrath, while we (Believing it to be inconsistent with Christianity), when we insist on preaching it ourselves ?

I prefer Pope Francis' one dimensional preaching of MERCY.
"God LOVED the world so much ...."

Perhaos we need to have actually experienced the occasion of needing God's mercy for ourselves to even pretend to understand its Divine provisiion.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron
We have all experienced the mercy of God so I am quite puzzled by your last comment.

I am also puzzled by your second paragraph. The wrath of God being talked about here is the wrath which the Scriptures themselves talk about and which are talked about in respect of God's judgment on humanity.

There has been no talk here about one human visiting the wrath of God on a fellow human (a la ISIS) so I am quite puzzled why you should bring ISIS into this discussion.

That ISIS may or may not be faithful to the Qu'ran in their application of their theological understanding of wrath is, of course, a vital and relevant topic for today; but I have not the faintest idea why what ISIS gets up to should have any bearing on Christians discussing ideas found in our Scriptures ... and the wrath of God is most assuredly one of them, making its appearance, notably, in parables taught by Jesus himself during the first Holy Week!

Bryden Black said...

G'day again Ron! If you were to read Jonathan's link in his comment April 12, 2017 at 8:49 AM, you'd see the entire hymn is not at all one dimensional. The supposed 'offending line' is balanced by many other lines with their differing motifs ... NB the very first verse!!

If in doubt: https://play.google.com/music/preview/Tfkb234wkhpvupsjkp7bhphczpy?lyrics=1&utm_source=google&utm_medium=search&utm_campaign=lyrics&pcampaignid=kp-songlyrics

Enjoy!

Bryden Black said...

Apologies Ron; those last few lines are additions to the original song by another duo altogether:

I will stand
I will stand, all other ground is sinking sand
All other ground, all other ground
Is sinking sand, is sinking sand
So I'll stand

Jean said...

Fr Ron. For me the most profound effect of Gods mercy comes by realising He absorbs the consequences that are mine to bear and bears the consequences for sins committed against me. Such as extending Mercy to another is refraining from exacting retribution, in many instances absorbing oneself the pain or cost of what has been done.

For my quirky theology this is how Christ is forgiver and healer. He has the authority to forgive the sins of a person through suffering as them, and to heal one abused again by suffering as them.

If love was not primary mercy would be absent. If consequences for sin were absent there would be no need for mercy.

Father Ron said...

Dear Peter, you wrote" "There has been no talk here about one human visiting the wrath of God on a fellow human (a la ISIS) so I am quite puzzled why you should bring ISIS into this discussion."

Surely, Peter, you don't need me to remind you that the very existence of ISIS is built upon a basic misunderstanding of radical fundamentalists' perceived need to avenge what they interpret as any transgression against God's holiness. For the ISIS terrorist, this is their modus operandum. Their radical fundamentalism is so motivated, that they diagnose Christianity as being slack in discipline - a charge levelled against Jesus by the Scribes and Pharisees, which led, eventually to his death on Good Friday'. In there was any anger in the heart and mind of Jesus it was surely against those of the Pharisees who insisted on punishment for sins, while not acknowledging that they, too, were sinners. Spiritual pride and the too ready judgement of other peoples' sins were something that Jesus abhorred and opposed.

Christianity has actually moved on since the O.T. majored on Yahweh's declaration of anger and destruction. The very existence of the NEW Testament, while not denying the testimony of the OLD, has a completely new understanding of the "Great love of God as revealed in the Son" - as a popular charismatic song declares it.

The majority of Muslims are not 'Fundamentalists' majoring on the punishment of people who do not follow their specific religious scruples. This is the mission of a dangerous sect that seems to have forgotten the Biblical injunction to show mercy. If we Christians seem to emphasize God's Wrath, we do little service to the ethos that led Jesus to say of his persecutors: "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do" .

Father Ron said...

Jean, I loved your self-professed 'quirky theology' that seems to follow the Way of the Cross for Christians who are called upon to help Christ in his absorption of the 'sin of The World' ("Anyone who would follow me must take up his Cross and follow me" - Jesus).

Outside the world of time - and yet, within it, in recorded memory - Jesus took our sins upon himself on the Cross (like the absorption process of blotting paper) taking them with him into his death. Now. if our sins represent a state of separation from God. This explains Jesus' experience of God's absence from him in that moment when he said the words: "My God, my God; why have YOU forsaken ME?" - Christ's own experience of the effects of our sins. And then, the sign of Jesus' utter trust in the Father, came those memorable words: "Into your hands, Father, I commit my Spirit".

This action of Jesus provided, as the Australian Prayer Book so eloquently puts it: "by his one oblation of himself once offered; a full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the whole world...".

Of course we. as Christians are still learning about, and living into this reality - that the "One, true, perfect and sufficient, sacrifice and oblation" has been offered by Jesus, the only human being qualified to do so - ON OUR BEHALF. No action of ours can either add to or subtract from that amazing act of redemption offered once and for ALL on the Cros - by God Himself - in the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity.

Brian Kelly said...

I do not understand how any orthodox Catholic (as opposed to a liberal, a la carte catholic-lite) could not grasp that wrath is one of the divine attributes. Otherwise what is 'Dies Irae' about? Is the knowledge of Latin so poor today? o tempora! o mores!

The references to Islamic State bewilder me as well. Is it not known that there is *no doctrine of atonement and certainly not of penal substitution in Islam. If Allah forgives, that is his divine prerogative. Forgiveness in Islam is not based on any sacrifice that men might offer and certainly not one that Allah might provide. That is one reason Islam abominates the Cross. (And yet, and yet ..... because Islam originated as a heretical form of Judaism with some Christian messianic elements, some traces of Jewish sacrificial thought continue in Islamic ritual).

The words in AAPB "by his one oblation of himself once offered; a full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the whole world..." are of course simply a slightly abbreviated form of the BCP (which adds the words 'oblation, and satisfaction').

In this 500th anniversary year of the Reformation it is salutary to recall that Luther's theological quest was impelled by the question 'How can I find a gracious God?' Luther never doubted that God is justly angry with sin and sinners (and neither was Cranmer in the BCP). However, in the piety of the late Middle Ages, with its juridical theory of purgatory (post-mortem punishment for the 'temporal guilt' of sins) and its confused concept of justification (to wit, that God 'infuses righteousness' in the soul of the baptised who must then do 'quod in se est' in order to 'acquire heaven' by stages of perfection), sudden death (common enough then) meant the terrors not so much of hell but of thousands of years of purgative torment. Luther came to see that Christ endured the wrath of God on the Cross on our behalf (which is simply what penal substitution means). Divine wrath is never pitted against divine justice in the Scriptures; rather they belong completely together as a sign of God's personhood (divine wrath is not an impersonal operation, as Dodd once claimed).
Finally it should be noted that wrath does not belong to God's essential eternal nature as such (which is love). Wrath means only God's intense hostility to whatever is unholy.
Of course, this leads to another question - the nature of hell: is it eternal, annihilationist or apokatastic? But now Good Friday beckons and 'me ritrovai per una selva oscura...'

Bryden Black said...

Ah Brian! What a way to commence Good Friday:

Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita
mi ritrovai per una selva oscura,
ché la diritta via era smarrita.

Midway upon the journey of our life
I found myself in a dark wilderness
for I had wandered from the straight and true. [Anthony Esolen translation of Inferno]

And thank you pointing out the obvious earlier as well.

Happy glorious Pascha!

Father Ron said...

In response to Brian, may I report that, in the process of reading the up-to-date life of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, by Kathryn Spink, during Lent, I have discovered that - despite the different faith origins of the dying people she and her community took into the hospices - they were always careful NOT to proselytise. Each person, to Teresa and her Sisters, was an icon of Christ, anyway - whatever their religious background or none. She even went so far as to - if requested by the sufferer or one of their family - to allow the person to receive the last rites of their own faith community - to grant this. To her mind, all people who are searching for God have the right to be treated to respect, and the spiritual benefits of their individual faith conscience.

What dying people need above all, in Mother Teresa's simple theological view, is to know the love of Christ in another person before they die.

This is so different from the Christian dismissal of people of other Faiths. Thank God the Head of our respective Christian Churches are less spiritually parsimonious and always ready to find the good in the faith of others. It is what God wants, surely?

Brian Kelly said...

Yes, I figured you'd get the reference, Bryden! My brother in law remarked the other day he was once in a hostel in Italy where a travelling companion stated it was his 35th birthday, to which the warden replied 'Ah, so you're "nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita"'.
Smart people, those Italians.

Esolen's diglot version is my current bedtime reading. I often read his stuff in 'Touchstone' online and if you look at the most recent edition you will see there is a campaign to drive him out of his Catholic - yes, Catholic - university in Rhode Island for holding Catholic views. 'Pluralism' - the watchword of a few years ago - was only ever a temporary cover for an age-long power play between two irreconcilable forces. But then Augustine said that long ago.

Bryden Black said...

Jn 4:21 - Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

May be Ron, Jesus himself offers us a pointer here ...