Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The wrath of God was set aside?

It is Holy Week. On Friday we commemorate the death of Jesus of Nazareth. His death has occasioned many reflections. Here is one of my own. Then let's look at one of St Paul's.

Gospels v Epistles

Preparing for a sermon this Palm Sunday past, I was struck by the way in which the gospels set out to explain how an innocent man died on a cross according to ordinary historical explanation: Jesus clashed with the authorities, provocatively rode on a popular wave of support into Jerusalem and then engaged in a protest action in the Temple, the heart of the political establishment of the elite leadership of Israel.

We look for the gospel writers' explaining Jesus death in terms of a theology of the cross but the signs are sparse. They offer us a history of the cross.

The epistles, however, offer virtually no history of the cross but plenty of theology of the cross. From the perspective of hindsight Jesus died on the cross because of God's great redemptive plan for humanity. Christ died for our sins. It matters little in terms of the theology of the cross which Jewish rulers shopped Jesus to the Roman authorities, whether Jesus was betrayed or denied, and why any of these actions took place (save as further examples of the sins for which Jesus died).

St Paul: Jesus was our substitute

'But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God.' (Romans 5:8-9)

Recently In Christ Alone has been sung at services of significance in our Diocese, mostly with the following verse unmodified,

"Till on that cross as Jesus died
The wrath of God was satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid
Here in the death of Christ I live,"

Often when singing this verse I have a bit of a debate in my mind. Perhaps you do too. It is a debate that was well rehearsed on ADU a few years back.* Is the line 'the wrath of God was satisfied' justified? If so, why and if not, why not?

I have no problem talking about God's wrath. It is a recurring theme in the Bible, in both Old and New Testaments. But talking about God's wrath is one thing (talk means we can have a discussion, offer some explanation, cite some supporting arguments, etc). Singing about it is another: we sing a line and move straight on to the next without time for questions.

I realise (now) that the word that makes me uncomfortable is 'satisfied.' Again, if we talk about it, we can tease out what is going on here. For instance we could talk about (from memory) Anselm and talk of satisfaction of God's honour. We could discuss whether 'satisfaction' of God's wrath is a biblical concept.

But does singing the line and moving on to the next one leave the impression of an angry God who will only be appeased by satisfaction? If so, does the line smack more of God's wrath motivating the death of Christ on the cross than the love of God?

Reading in Romans recently, I was struck by Romans 5:8-9 cited above.

Paul clearly states that:
- God's love is proven for us by Christ dying for us while we are sinners
- the effect of the death of Christ is that 'we have been justified by his blood'
- since we have been justified 'we will be saved through him from the wrath of God.'

Does any of this amount to 'the wrath of God was satisfied'?

In one sense at least, we do see God's wrath satisfied: the wrath of God is the punitive response of God to sin and to sinners - I am summarising the Bible in saying this (e.g. Deuteronomy 9:7; Nahum 1:2-6; Romans 12:17-21; Ephesians 2:3; Colossians 3:6).

God is just and thus not indifferent to sin and to sinners. God responds to sin But the death of Jesus imputes a new status to us sinners: 'we have been justified by his blood'.

Thus the wrath of God is satisfied at least in the sense that God has no need to respond to our sin since we are now viewed through Christ as justified.

But if we think of the wrath of God being satisfied in a different sense, the sense that the wrath of God is not satisfied until (say, noting a line in the song cited above) 'every sin on Him was laid', or the sense that it is an unappeased wrath which is only appeased by some mighty appeasing action (such as Jesus being punished instead of us being punished), then Romans 5:8-9 is not itself a text in support of some appeasing (= satisfying) action.

The blood of Jesus speaks of God cleansing us through the death of Jesus, rather than of God's wrath being appeased or satisfied.

One further point is notable in this Pauline text. Although the word 'substitute' is not used, the logic of the verses is crystal clear: if Christ had not died for us, we would remain dead in our sins, subject to the wrath of God. In his death Christ is our substitute. He dies in our place so that we might be justified through his blood and saved from God's wrath.

What then of the words of this famous and popular song, In Christ Alone?

Hesitantly I wonder if Romans 5:8-9 leads us away from 'The wrath of God was satisfied' to 'The wrath of God was set aside'.

What do you think?

* In 2010 there were five posts: one, two, three, four, five.

A masterly post by Ian Paul is published here with intensely interesting discussion following.


Ian Paul said...

I think: http://www.psephizo.com/biblical-studies/on-the-cross-when-jesus-died-was-the-wrath-of-god-satisfied/

Chris Spark said...

Hi Peter,
I will comment quickly for time reasons, and not come back to this probably.
Only to share a couple of thoughts.
My time in the Lukan narrative at least leaves me with little doubt, if we read it as a NARRATIVE, that substitution, and probably penal, is implied. With the ref to the passover lamb (more but not less than substitutionary) brought up in a narrative way (cf Luke 22:7, then followed by the substutionary seeming words in 22:19f, and then the ref to Is 53 at the end of the scene in 22:37, and this hanging over the whole narr), and then the picture of innocence and subtitution of a guilty man in Barabbas, and then dying a penal (criminals) death - it is hard to me not to see substitution in there with OT background at forefront with Is 53 and the lamb.

As to In Christ Alone, I know what you mean in some ways about feelings etc that can be aroused. But it needs to be taken as it is - poetry sung not as a single line but in the context of the whole song, in which the love of God is writ large - eg so importantly from the immediately preceding verse:
"What heights of love, what depths of peace
when fears are stilled, when striving ceased.
My Comforter, my All in All,
here in the love of Christ, I stand."

and from the start of the verse with the mention of the wrath:
"In Christ alone, who took on flesh,
fullness of God in helpless babe.
This gift of love and righteousness
scorned by the ones he came to save,"

which then follows with the reference to wrath. So you have God's love soaking the song all the way up to this one line, and this set as a response to our scorning - sounds a lot like a poetical reflection on something like Romans 5 to me.

And at that point lastly, the problem here may perhaps be a setting of the love of God AGAINT the wrath of God, rather than seeing the two together. It seems to me that Romans 3 (which of course precedes Rom 5 and needs to be kept in mind when thinking about it), even allowing the debates about hilasterion, presents God's justice as working itself out in the sacrifice of Christ in a substitutionary way - and that thoroughly in the context of his wrath (chs 1-3) - that he might be just and the justifier of the UNGODLY (4:5).

If you don't want to use the language of satisfaction, so be it. But something like it seems pretty fair in understanding all of this, (perhaps as long as you fill it with biblical concepts rather than only feudal thinking from Anselm's time - mind you I think there was more to Anselm than that, as I remember at least).

That is not all there is to the atonement, but it is at least this sort of substitution. And God's love is not best set against it, but rather is displayed at its most self giving precisely in it.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Chris
(I appreciate that you may not come back to this discussion).
Some brief responses:
1. penal substitutionary atonement is a larger subject and so am not attempting here to argue for our against it;
2. As an Anglican I don't want to avoid the language of 'satisfaction' per se, as Ian Paul's post noted above observes, 'satisfaction' is a BCP eucharistic prayer word!
3. I remain questioning whether wrath ... satisfied is the most accurate summing up of Scripture on wrath/love/satisfaction/substitution/atonement.

Jean said...

Curiously enough the wrath of God was satisfied appeals more to me than set aside.

For isn't the whole difficulty with the fall the fact that a Holy God cannot overlook justice in dealing with sin as well as the punishment for sin is death; as sin separates us from God who is life.

On the cross therefore any wrath (righteous judgement or anger the more linguistically adept will know) that God by his nature is bound to uphold against the sins done by man is satisfied (in a sense taken upon Jesus). Saving us from judgement now/eternally.

I thought the whole difficulty was sin can not just be set aside it has consequences... So by his love and desire for a relationship with us God provided a way through His son where both justice and mercy could reign; and we are set free from sin.

It is almost a parody of the pharisees who try and trick Jesus with the how can you abide by the law in this situation? Satan tempts and achieves the fall of man almost saying to God how can you now be a just God and maintain a relationship with your children who have been unfaithful?

Blessings Jean

Chris Spark said...

ok, last time back!
re 3: Perhaps my main point is that the line in the song (like the narrative and the 'narrative' [if you will] of Romans, needs listening to in context, and I do fear we slip back into the danger of setting God's love against his wrath here - which the song is precisely NOT doing, when you sing that line in the context of what precedes.
The old 'where wrath and mercy meet' thing is pretty good, and that perhaps points to something like what the satisfaction language is trying to get at I think. Perhaps if we understand the satisfaction language here with the idea of God bearing his own wrath for us in his Son we are getting somewhere.
Certainly we do need to avoid the dangerous idea of an angry Father and a Son who protects us from him - but that is clearly not intended by the song: a)'the wrath of God is satisfied' is interestingly slightly 'objectifying' language (a mior point though)
b) God for a Christian includes the Son as a member of the Trinity, and from the start of the verse ['who took on flesh, fullness of God...'] that is very clear - it is God satisfying God's own wrath - ie bearing it [but that doesn't rhyme!]).

So I reckon a contextual listening to (and singing of) the song should have us stop being so touchy about this line!

Jean said...

It does rather confuse matters when satisfied is viewed as satisfaction two similar but slightly different words.

In modern day english language which this song was written in one of the main of meanings rendered from satisfied is:
completely paid, as a bill.

Where does that ring a bell. Perhaps redemption? - To redeem, to buy back?

Father Ron Smith said...

"3. I remain questioning whether wrath ... satisfied is the most accurate summing up of Scripture on wrath/love/satisfaction/substitution/atonement." - Dr. Peter Carrell -

Thank you, Peter, for your thought on this vital matter of soteriology.

I have long been worried about the fact that God's wrath might need to be 'satisfied'. That would seem the very antithesis of the gospel emphasis on forgiveness - which Jesus Himself asked of God towards his persecutors.

The words: "Ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven" sound way more generous that 'wrath, satisfied' The Gospel gave us a brand new paradigm for "The great love of God -as revealed in the Son".
Deo gratias!

(Good to see you at today's Eucharist!)

Andrew Reid said...

The problem with words like "set aside" is it sounds like God is looking at Jesus' sacrifice and saying, "Because of his action, I will relent from my wrath against human sin". This is sort of like a heavenly pardon by the Father to us because of Jesus' sacrificial act, rather than the judgment for our sin being carried out upon Jesus. This would call into question God's justice - is he really just if he sets aside his wrath and judgment rather than carrying it out? (Maybe that isn't your meaning or intention, but it is what it sounds like. I acknowledge the difficulty of capturing the atonement in words.)
My understanding of the Biblical texts is that God is pouring out His wrath and judgment upon Jesus for our sins. You're right that Romans 5 doesn't express that aspect of the atonement clearly, but I would suggest in Romans 3:25, Paul presents this idea in speaking of propitiation, which John also describes in 1 John 2:2.
In Isaiah 53, while it doesn't mention wrath, it is clear that Jesus bears our wounds, iniquity, chastisement, and judgment, and that it was God's will to crush him.
I will continue to sing that song lustily as written, because it's Good News indeed for our world that needs both justice and grace.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Andrew,
Your approach would need to take account of the second part of Romans 3:25 which speaks of God's 'divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed'. Does God's wrath demand punishment of every sin ever committed?

While the Bible speaks of God's wrath being poured out, is that metaphorical language to speak of the effect of God's wrath on sinners? Is God's wrath a something which is poured out or the implacable and unchanging opposition of God to sin so that no sinner can ever stand in the presence of God unless transformed from 'sinner' to 'justified'? If we answer 'Yes' to the first question and 'Yes' to the second, does the focus of Christ's propitiatory sacrifice shift from God (he changes his mind about us once his wrath is poured out on Jesus) to us (God's love for us means that God finds a way for us to stand in his presence, freed from sin, just and righteous because of our changed status through imputed righteousness?

Jean said...

Hi Peter

That is clever but I would have to go with Andrew R on this one.

Referring to Andrew's words "judgement for our sins is being carried out upon Jesus".

I have had a real experience of this. Although perhaps a juxtaposed one.

Once at a healing meeting I prayed "Jesus if you really died for our sins 2000 years ago (note the mustard seed of faith in that statement!!) then you took the consequences of sin's done against me so I no longer have to bear them."

After prayer and through His grace God then took away something I had carried for over 30 years. It was profound; but what struck me the most was this - what I could hardly stand up under was such a small minute part of what Christ bore on that cross.

'Tis really mystery all.


Peter Carrell said...

Hi Jean
Thank you for sharing your testimony.
In exploring what 'wrath' means in relationship to atonement, I do not want to diminish in any way that the death of Christ deals with sin and its consequences once and for all, finally and completely: it is the sufficient sacrifice for the sin of the world and thus your experience of healing through the cross is an example of (so to speak) the personal application of the cross.

Jean said...

Hi Peter

Thank you for your response

I am just trying to tease out what the point of difference is in seeing God's wrath (noting His wrath is righteous unlike ours) taken upon Jesus on the cross, and concepts such as redemption etc because I have not personally ever made a distinction.

In respect to this verse:

9Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.
Romans (somewhere :) )

How from your perspective would you see wrath in relation to atonement in this verse?

Many thanks and only if you have time!!


Andrew Reid said...

Hi Peter,

On Romans 3:25-26, yes I think that is the clear meaning, that God is righteous and just, he punishes all sin, and that he had delayed (passed over) punishment for sins committed in the past.

I don't think the language of God's wrath is any more metaphorical than the language of his grace, love, kindness etc. God is genuinely angry at sin and punishes sinners, just like He genuinely loves his people and shows them grace. We have to be consistent in interpreting the judgment and wrath of God the same way we interpret the grace and mercy of God.

I need to do more thinking and reading on your propitiation questions before responding.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Jean
Within Romans itself, I see talk of wrath as talk of future judgment (see, e.g. chapter two) and thus at a minimum Paul is saying in the verse you cite from chapter five that the blood of Jesus justifies us (i.e. the atonement means we are 'at one with Jesus' and justification means we are treated 'just as if we had never sinned') with the effect that we need not fear the future judgment. When the wrath of God in that judgment comes against sinners, we will be saved from it, because we will not be seens as sinners, but seen as 'in Christ' as thus judged to be righteous in Christ.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Andrew
To try to be clearer about my description of wrath being poured out being metaphorical: I am not saying that God's wrath is metaphorical (I agree with you, God's reality is that he is wrathful as much as God's reality is that God is loving). But I am pointing out that ways in which we talk about God's wrath being applied to us, is likely metaphorical. Not least because when we (with the Bible) talk about the application of God's wrath we speak in pictures of military vengeance or cups of wine being tipped over and suchlike.

One image (yes, image!) I have is this: God's wrath is like fire; our sin makes us like paper; if paper goes anywhere near fire it gets consumed and destroyed. The death of Jesus changes us, from paper to ... well, what can be in the presence of fire and not be consumed: fire!

Jean said...

Hi Peter

Thanks for your reply. I just googled this am and realised their are multiple theories of atonement! - what do you know ...

What I garner from your approach is then you view Christ's death - obedience to God and His death a sufficient payment for sins - saving us from future wrath; but not necessarily that the judgement for 'our sins' fell on Christ on the cross. Would that be a close enough summation?


Father Ron Smith said...

" This is sort of like a heavenly pardon by the Father to us because of Jesus' sacrificial act, rather than the judgment for our sin being carried out upon Jesus." -

I see the Cross as the absorption of the sin of all humanity by Jesus on the Cross. However, the suffering was not inflicted by God, but by human beings.

This, surely puts a whole new perspective on the 'kenosis' of jesus. What happened was not an act of God's Wrath being assuaged. Rather, it was a free surrender of Jesus that absorbed the mistaken wrath of humanity. "He took our sins upon Himself". (Scripture)

Peter Carrell said...

Not quite Jean!
The judgment of God does fall on Jesus because he represents us in our humanity.
I guess what I am trying to avoid, or become convinced of, is the phrase "the wrath of God was satisfied" because I question whether that properly captures what the Bible says, which never uses that phrase.

Jean said...

Hi Peter,

Oh... I see : ) Funnily enough when visiting an elderly lady this morning she had copied from the English Praise Be a list of the top 10 Christians songs in the UK for the last decade of which In Christ Alone was number 9!

Have a Blessed Easter Day

Hi Ron

For sure the suffering of Christ was caused by us all and humanity at large.

However, I would contend the punishment he took in our place, was the just punishment God would have otherwise demanded on us whether or not that would be in the last day.

This as opposed to absorbing the evil wrath of human beings for we are not saved from sinning again but it is like we are dead to sin and the punishment of it through identifying with Christ, if we of course accept God's offer.