Monday, August 26, 2013

The Wrath of God

You may have heard that the Presbyterian Church USA is releasing a new hymnal and that the committee decided not to use the popular hymn written by the Gettys and Stuart Townsend - In Christ Alone.  The popular story is that the song was rejected from the hymnal because of the lines Till on that cross as Jesus died, The wrath of God was satisfied... 

I expect there is more to the story than the simple explanation, but in any case,  it has generated a lot of discussion even in the secular press. A piece by Timothy George - No Squishy Love - went viral which does a very good job of sharing the kind of theology behind the song.  It and No Squishy Love Part 2 are worth reading to get a good understanding of that viewpoint.   

Two disclaimers before I wade in... we sing this song along with a number of other songs written by the Gettys.  I like their sense of melody and in general I appreciate the depth of their lyrics.  At the same time, they are too Calvinist for me and a lot more conservative than I am or my church is.

I'm sure there are those who would give a much more reasoned and sophisticated theological treatment of the issue, but let me share two simple reasons why I cannot accept the simplified view of a wrathful God requiring death.

My first reason is a personal one.  As a parent, there is nothing that my children could do that would ever cause me to reject them.  Certainly they could do things that would break my heart, including turning away from me, but I would always be there waiting with open arms.  If they were doing terrible things I would certainly want that to change, and wouldn't hesitate to let them know my displeasure but I would never turn away, never forsake, never stop loving.  I cannot imagine a God who is less loving than I am.  I understand those who portray a God who requires the death of his son as monstrous and abusive.  I simply do not understand holiness or justice in those terms.

Then there is a theological reason... Colossians 1 is crucial in my understanding of who God is.

15 He (Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16 for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross. 

Jesus is the image of the invisible God and in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.  You want to understand God?  Look at Jesus.  You want to understand how God acts?  Watch what Jesus does.  Jesus does not require retribution, he gives himself.  Jesus does not judge, he forgives.  Jesus does not turn sinners away, he reaches out to them, embraces them, and offers them forgiveness and new life.  If, as Paul says, Jesus really is the image of God, then God does exactly the same thing.  

There are lots of different understandings of what happens on the cross, but I cannot agree that God's anger requires someone to die in order that God's wrath be satisfied.

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