Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The wrath of God was satisfied (2/4)

This is a difficult phrase in various ways. Although the Bible speaks clearly about the 'wrath of God' (e.g. 'For the wrath of God is revealed ...', Romans 1:18), I can think of no passage where 'the wrath of God was satisfied' is found per se. It is a summary of what is being said through Romans 3:21-26 (bearing in mind the way in which Romans 1:18 is an introduction to Paul's exposition on salvation). Thus one can find the following explanation of propitiation/Romans 3:24-25 (my italics):

' "Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation." The basic meaning of propitiation is "appease" or "satisfy." What did the death of Christ appease or satisfy in the nature of God? In his very nature, God is holy and righteous. He can have no fellowship with anything that is sinful, including sinful men. Thus, God's wrath burns hot against sin and sinners because he must judge all sin. If he does not do this, he is not acting according to his perfect character. But, in love, God sent his Son Jesus Christ to be the perfect sacrifice for sin. No mere human being could have atoned for the sins of men because all are sinners. But Christ, who was a perfect human as well as truly divine, became the perfect sacrifice for sin. God poured out his wrath against sin on the person of Jesus Christ. Thus, the death of Christ appeased God's wrath and satisfied his holy, righteous demands against sin.

God took out his wrath on Christ instead of on sinners.
Now anyone who will place his faith and trust in Jesus Christ as personal Saviour from sin will receive the forgiveness of sins, and the wrath of God will never again come down upon that one because Christ bore God's wrath on that believer's behalf. Why? Christ satisfied the holy, righteous demands of God against sin. Now, through the death of Christ, a holy God and sinful men can meet and God can have fellowship with men.'

But one can also find uncomfortable responses to the phrase in question, such as this one:

'Our Easter service was raucous and I loved it. One of the songs that was sung that I dearly love was "In Christ Alone." This is such a beautifully moving song, but have trouble when we get to the line that states,

Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied;
For ev'ry sin on Him was laid—
Here in the death of Christ I live.

This line has always intrigued me and I am not quite sure what to do with it.'

Lest we forget that this is an Anglican site (!), it is also worth bringing to attention the words of the Book of Common Prayer (1662) Communion service:

'All glory be to thee,
almighty God, our heavenly Father,
who, of thy tender mercy,
didst give thine only Son Jesus Christ
to suffer death upon the cross for our redemption;
who made there,
by his one oblation of himself once offered,
a full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction
for the sins of the whole world;
and did institute,
and in his holy gospel command us to continue,
a perpetual memory of that his precious death,
until his coming again.'

At this stage, 2 out of 4 proposed posts, I simply make the following observations:

(1) There is a way of explaining the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ which veers dangerously towards the caricature I mentioned yesterday of an angry God intent on hitting us with a cricket back but Jesus steps between us and says 'Hit me instead'. Thus in the first citation above we find this sentence: 'God took out his wrath on Christ instead of on sinners.' As Howard Pilgrim notes in a comment on my first post, we need to bring a Trinitarian understanding to the cross: whatever happened there in cosmic terms, God suffered.

(2) We live in an age when some Christians seem to be more troubled than comforted by language of wrath/satisfaction. Is God an angry being? How is that anger satisfied? Why does the death of Christ satisfy that anger?

(3) In Anglican terms we cannot and should not run away from the language of 'satisfaction' unless we wish to turn our backs on the BCP (1662).

More tomorrow ...


Anonymous said...

1) It is very difficult to follow your writing. You regularly quote people, and then when, in a comment, someone critiques it – you go on to deny agreeing with it. Here, once again, it is unclear whether you are agreeing with your quotes or holding them up as examples of the caricature of the Gospel.
2) hilasterion does not necessarily translate as “propitiation” – which means discussing what propitiation means (your italicised highlighting) is irrelevant. The issue is not what propitiation means, the issue is what hilasterion means.
3) You rightly point out “the wrath of God was satisfied” is not a teaching in the Bible but an interpretation and as Bishop NT Wright says it is a caricature and is better replaced by “the love of God was satisfied”. You yourself have now twice repeated how easily it is misunderstood. We are, hence, better to abandon it and use something that is more appropriate.
4) The BCP is not infallible. In fact you, as a minister, are forbidden from using some of it. In any case it is not God’s anger that is satisfied in your BCP quote.

Howard Pilgrim said...

"God took out his wrath on Christ instead of on sinners." If we rephrase that, in line with the trinitarian perspective I advocated yesterday, it would come out more like this:-God held his wrath within himself instead of taking it out on sinners.

Like it better, Peter? I do! It suggests something like we all have to do when anger arises within us over some real offence against ourselves or others. We expand our inward capacity for containing our reactions, in order to act in a way that is more considered, purposeful, and redemptive. We take the pain of evil within ourselves and hold it there so that new possibilities may be created for all involved.

If this is what we demand of ourselves, at least in our better moments, why should we find anything compelling in an image of a God who lets his anger all hang out, whether it be on the perpetrators of evil or on an innocent victim?

A trinitarian view, in which Christ is fully God, as are the Father and the Spirit, encourages us to moderate scriptural images of God venting his anger upon Jesus by taking them into a more comprehensive view in which the divine anger against our sin was contained within the total being of God rather than visited upon us who were its rightful objects.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Anonymous,
Thanks for the help with my writing!
"the wrath of God was satisfied" is an interpretation; part of my quest this week is to see whether it is a fair interpretation. Also an interpretation, incidentally, is "the love of God was satisfied"! What if both are appropriate?
Are you saying that hilasterion cannot and does not mean "propitiation"? I have always understood that that is a possible translation.
The BCP may not be infallible and I may not be permitted to use part of it; but I am permitted to use the part I quoted; and the part I quoted, according to the constitution of my church (ACANZP), belongs to that in which "the doctrine of Christ" is explained.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Howard
I am not (yet) convinced by your approach here: the anger of God being wholly contained within himself.
But let's see how I go with the remaining two posts.

Kurt said...

Quite frankly, my own view is that of Christus Victor, an ancient doctrine, highly influential in the Eastern Church, but one that has been downplayed in the West since before the Reformation. It was renewed by some progressive theologians in the West early in the last century. My understanding of Christus Victor is that any “ransom” that was paid was paid for the liberation from sin. Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection were not meant to “buy off” God (or Satan, for that matter) but to show Christ’s victory over death, hell and sin, which is now our victory too. Jesus is Savior because He became human and He defeated humanities enemies.

Kurt Hill
Brooklyn, NY

parky said...

I have wrestled with singing this song for some years now and am not at all comfortable with it as written, which is awkward because our minister is pretty keen on it. In exploring this I have come across the work of Girard and also across the Christus Victor view of the atonement. I have found a good article at that contrasts Christus Victor with Penal-Substitution. I think Christus Victor has great merit. It leaves the loving character of God intact and it reflects how I spiritually respond to the cross. Maybe its time to dust off this old orthodoxy.

Shropshire, UK

Peter Carrell said...

Christus Victor does have great merit, Parky, but penal substitution, like it or not, has a lot of scriptural credibility too!

Anonymous said...

Where is this "lot of scriptural credibility" (whatever that may mean) for "penal substitution" (whatever that may mean - for clearly you do not mean by it what everyone else means by it and preaches it, as you've indicated)

Peter Carrell said...

Any version of penal substitution I have come across has scriptural credibility in the sense that it has exponents who explain it from scripture in a believable manner, measured, for instance, by the many followers of the doctrine around the world.

parky said...

But a God who is "satisfied" by human torture and cruel murder is not a God I feel comfortable worshipping.

A God who allows the powers of darkness and humnanity to throw their worst at him but still responds with love is truely an amazing God who I am inspired to worship and serve.