Monday, February 06, 2006

The wrath of God?

We sang these words in Church yesterday:

"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"

(from "In Christ alone" by Stuart Townend and Keith Getty)

and I found myself questioning the whole concept of the wrath of God.

I believe that it was necessary for Jesus to die on the cross (why else would He do it, as I believe He did). I believe that His death somehow was able to deal with 'sin' and able to reconcile us to God (or what would be the point?). But I find myself questioning the explanations that we have been given for this.

I can accept reasoning that speaks of the justice and mercy of God. I can kind of accept the reasoning that some form of sacrifice was necessary. But now that I think about it, I find it really hard to accept that God required His own Son to be killed to appease His own anger! That just makes it sound like God is controlled by His emotions - that He was actually out of control in anger and needed blood to satisfy His blood-lust. This doesn't sound like the God of love I believe in.

How often have I heard sermons essentially saying that we should aim to become more like God? And yet here we have a case of God apparently behaving in a way that would be utterly unacceptable for any believer.

When considering the words of scripture recently I have begun to wonder if it tells us the whole story, and I suspect it doesn't. It tells us only what it was able for reasonably primitive man to understand - there would be no point in putting the real explanations in there if none of the contemporary readers/listeners would understand them.

The explanations in 'science for kids' books are very simple and, in some cases, actually totally inadequate to explain the physical and chemical behaviour of the phenomena they describe. This is not the case in university level text books, although, even there the explanations given at first year level later turn out to be incomplete.

I have begun to wonder if the bible actually only offers a 'Christianity for kids' explanation of concepts like 'sin', 'redemption', 'salvation' and so on. In that case, the wrath of God reasoning may not be the whole story, but simply a way of explaining a difficult concept to simple readers. I wonder what the difficult concept actually is...


Chris HH said...

I love that song! It is unusual for a modern song to capture so much depth and truth, like the hymns of old.

The concept expressed here is one of propitiation.

You are right to think of it in terms of the way that God's mercy and his justice is reconciled. But this matter is not one that God is dispassionate about. You are right that God is not controlled by his emotions, but he is emotional. He feels not only love towards all that is good, but also righteous anger towards all that is corrupt, and evil. The same zealous burning anger that Jesus demonstrated when he cleared the temple.

God's wrath is his righteous (and appropriate) emotional aspect of his judgement on sin. It is this wrath that the subsitutionary death of Christ took in our place. It is no wonder that we wonder about the wrath of God, because thanks to Christ we are shielded from it. Praise God!!

thesciencegirl said...

As a scientist, I delight in asking questions, seeking answers, figuring things out. I want to know the what, the how, the why. Yet, as a Christian, I am comfortable in the knowledge that I don't fully understand God or His works. His fullness, it would seem, is beyond my ability to comprehend, and that's part of the reason why I am in such awe of Him. If God were small enough for me to wrap my mind around, what kind of God would He be? Your analogy is interesting, but I think oversimplified. Kids may learn watered-down lessons in children's books, but in the end, they grow up; they acquire the ability to comprehend at an adult level. We, however, will never think or know as God does. We don't have the capacity, and we never will.

And perhaps that's God's intention. We know that Adam and Eve fell from grace through their desire to know what God knew, to be more His equal. God gave them, and us, the free will to make such choices. But in choosing to disobey Him in their pursuit of being all-knowing, they ultimately showed a lack of trust in Him. God has given us enough direction in His word to live lives that are pleasing to him, and part of that entails having enough faith to accept the things that we do not understand. We read in Hebrews 11 that "without faith, it is impossible to please Him." I, for one, am greatful that in my relationship with God, I can stop trying to figure it ALL out and just believe.

Ricky Carvel said...

Hi ScienceGirl,
Thanks for commenting. I too am grateful to God that I don't have to understand everything in order to be saved. But I don't believe that we have been given minds as complex as the ones we have got just to blindly accept things. For me, as a scientist, one of the joys of God is that He is so vast and complex that there is no limit to my investigation and understanding of Him. But of course, as a scientist, this investigation means that I must question statements and assumptions, even those in the bible or part of 'orthodox' belief.

thesciencegirl said...

Certainly, it is good to question what we believe, or are told to believe. It was only when I doubted, questioned, and reaffirmed my beliefs that I truly began to believe sincerely, out of choice instead of habit. I have many questions about God, his creations, how faith and science relate, etc. I am just cognizant of the fact that seeking truth is an entirely different thing from seeking proof. I never want to focus so much on answering the questions that I stop relying on faith. I guess what I'm saying is that I enjoy questioning, but I'll still be content if I don't have all of the answers.

Matthew said...

Ricky - you are in good company in questioning the wrath of God. The translators of the RSV struggled so much that the translated "propitiation" as "expiation". See 1 Jn 2:2 for an example.

Barry said...

We sang this hymn on Sunday and i found i couldn't sing the words because it made no sense to me. Someone said to me afterwards that God took out his anger with the world, on Jesus - How crazy is this ? how can people believe such things ? Did Jesus ever say anything that clearly refers to this or is it down to merely human interpretation ? said...

Hey Barry, Isiaah 53:10 says"it pleased the Lord to bruise him" The problem with doubting Thomas' view of God's wrath is that we are not Holy, we are okay with sin in our daily life, myself included. We want rapists and murderes punished, but we really don't care if a lie goes unpunished. One proof of this Is Jesus statement that lusting after someone is the same as adultery...see, a very different perspective. It us who need to change, not God. And i take major exception (with love, of course) that the Bible is just a simple entry level book about God and His relationship with His creation! The Bible is "profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:"
God is wrathful toward sin, i don't neccesarily like that, but i have submitted to Hom on it.