The Nature of Wrath

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(I can't think of a better time to start posting again about my model of the Atonement than Easter, so here goes...)

The Father pours out His wrath upon the Son on Good Friday.

This statement, while accepted by most evangelicals as true, is very disturbing until we have a clear understanding of the nature and purpose of wrath. If wrath is seen as an expression of hostility and hatred, then the Cross must be seen as an event of hostility of the Father against the Son. Such a Trinitarian dynamic is contrary to all orthodox Trinitarian thought and must be rejected, for Trinitarian theology asserts that the Father is ever and always acting in love toward the Son.

Therefore, the wrath that the Father pours out upon the Son on the Cross must be an expression of the Father's love for the Son.

But how is that the case? Wrath, as we commonly think about it, is an expression of hostility and hatred. But Biblically, that is not the only form that wrath takes. While wrath can be a knife that wounds, it can also be a scalpel that cuts away cancer. Wrath can be a fire which destroys, or it can be a crucible that purifies. Throughout the Old Testament, God pours out His wrath on the Israelites by sending other nations to crush her. He does this not out of hostility; He does this because He wants them to repent and turn back to Him. So He purifies them down to a remnant and repentance blossoms. His wrath is not a tool of animosity, it is God's way of loving His rebellious people.

Objective models of the atonement will talk about how the cross "changes God's attitude toward sinful man". But there is no change in attitude here. God ever and always wants a spotless bride for His Son, and His purifying wrath is part of how He achieves that. Before the Fall, God loved Humanity. After the Fall, God loved fallen Humanity but wanted Humanity to be pure. And thus He pursued Humanity in His purifying wrath, but Humanity fled from the ordeal of wrath (in much the same way a person with a cavity avoids the dentist). And it is just as well, for Humanity could not survive such wrath for we are nothing but a "lump of perdition", after all the sin is burned away in the crucible of God's wrath, nothing would remain.

God, wishing to purify us, but knowing that we cannot survive such wrath, sends His Son to suffer the wrath for us on the Cross. Alone, Christ has no impurities to burn out of Him. But we are perichoretically united with Him on the Cross through the Holy Spirit. Our impurities are now His for we are now in Him (and Him in us). When He is punished, when He experiences God's wrath, when He is purified, we are too--in Him.

This is (one reason) why I insist that the penalty is one of Union, not Substitution. For if we are "spared" of the penalty, then we are "spared" the purification, for they are one and the same.

16 Comments

Alone, Christ has no impurities to burn out of Him. But we are perichoretically united with Him on the Cross through the Holy Spirit.

I don't have a clue what "perichoretically" means but I'm apprehensive about the being united with Him on the Cross through the Holy Spirit especially in light of 1 John 2:2.

"Perichoretic" roughly means "interpenetration". It is the word used to describe the "I in you and you in me" language of John 17.

I'm not sure what the objection is that 1 John 2:2 raises. Unless you think that "propitiation" by definition denies our being punished/purified on the cross. Rebecca and I have had a long discussion about this point over on her post on Substitutional Atonement (see the comments).

"Propitiation" certainly can't exclude our presence on the cross without contradicting passages like Gal 2:20. So you'd have to make some sort of argument that our presence on the Cross did not constitute penalty/purification. I don't think that the definition of "propitiation" demands that our being crucified with Christ means that we do not share His penalty (seeing as the penalty = crucifixion/death, which the scriptures are quite clear about us sharing in Christ), and I don't see 1 John 2:2 saying anything of the sort.

Yeah I've followed the [deep] conversation along but my problem doesn't have anything to do with the propitiation but with the "united with Him on the Cross through the Holy Spirit" bit when 1 John 2:2 says that Christ was a propitiation for our sins and the sins of the world. If we're united in the Holy Spirit to Christ on the Cross then it sounds like the world is united in the Holy Spirit to Christ on the Cross...and they can't even receive the Holy Spirit (John 14:7). I don't know, it just really sounds like there is a line being fuzzed out in there when the connection to Christ on the cross is the Holy Spirit.

Literally, of course, perichoresis means to dance around; thus, it is tempting to saying that a perichoretical approach to the Trinity is an effort to dance around the mystery and to make the unknowable known.

When you start talking about the Father indwelling the Son and the Spirit the Father, etc., there is a danger is losing the distinctions of the Persons of the Godhead in favor of the unified essence. They are three distinct persons (or so orthodoxy has held) and yet one essence. Perichoresis tends to blur the distinctiveness of each, does it not? I am not saying that it is necessarily a slippery slope leading to unitarianism, but it could be for some.

Am I wrong?

BTW, while your discussion appears to make sense if the premises are granted, it strikes me as though you are begging the question. Also, it would be good to provide some Scripture upon which the argument is based so others can study and decide for ourselves.

It is interesting, but hard to know if it can stand up under biblical scrutiny. Perichoresis seems to stand upon an eisogetic interpretation of Jn 14; non-penal atonement on a logical - but not necessarily biblical - argument.

Iron on iron. Convince me. Teach me something. If you can show me you are right based on Scripture (not logic alone), I'll change my views.

Mike, you need to read Wink's earlier posts, because his view isn't what you're assuming it is. He doesn't hold to a non-penal view. Unlike most people who criticize penal substitution, he's really only criticizing the substitution aspect and not the penal aspect. He doesn't deny any forensic elements to the atonement.

Thanks, Jeremy. I'll go back and read them. Guess I'm guilty of Ready-Fire-Aim, eh?

A handy list of links for Dr. MR

It is not possible to see our being crucified with Christ as an act of faith and willingly acceptance of our death and just punishment for sin (just as Christ willingly laid down his life for us), while at the same time by being united with Christ in death we are being shielded from the eternal results of that just punishment (God's wrath against sin) by his blood (he consumes the wrath meant for our sin).

So in some way we are all (the elect), by willing faith with Christ, on the cross and all with him at the resurrection (with him in death and with him in life everlasting).

Should have been "Is it not possible to see" rather than "It is not possbile to see".

William - thanks for the clarification. I totally agree with the second paragraph. But even with the clarification, I'm not sure I understand what you are getting at with the first paragraph. I think I mostly agree with you, but I'm not sure...

Rey - I haven't forgotten you. I'm working on a post ot address your concerns. I hope to post it tonight.

Wink. Our being crucified with Christ is an act of faith whereby like Christ we willing accept the judgment for our sin which includes our death yet since we are united with Christ in death we are shielded from the just punishment (God's wrath) against our sin, which Christ bore for us completely.

We following Christ's example willingly take up our cross (judgment for our sin) following him and like him accepting our death (first) as the necessary outworking of God's wrath against sin.

What is different is that because Christ bore the wrath of God against our sin (and in my humble opinion, experienced the totality of hell for all sin - my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?) we don't have to.

I hope that makes sense.

William - that makes more sense. Thanks. What I don't like about what you said is the "we don't have to" line. That seems to me to be missing the point of what I said--namely that we need the wrath as a means of purification. Wrath, in this case, is not something bad to be avoided, but a good (albeit a painful good) that we desperately need.

The other problem with that line is that it misses out on the profound union that we have in Christ. Jesus indeed bears the full wrath of God for our sins. But that does not mean that we "don't have to". Rather, since we are in Christ as he bears the wrath, we necessarily suffer God's wrath in Christ.

The last problem I have with it is that you seem to be making a distinction between death and wrath. For me, the death that Christ experiences is itself the wrath of God. Since we die in Christ, then we too have experienced the wrath of God since that death = wrath.

The first death is just punishment against sin (God's wrath against the whole of the human race due to Adam's sin and as Federal head imparted to us, yet by our own sin, justly applied). Christ also, though without sin experienced the first death on the cross and in that death we who are his participate.

The second death (hell, complete separation from God and absolute judgment for individual sin), Christ experienced in the full (God's wrath against all individual sin after Adam's fall) and we who are in Christ in his death (first death), do not have to experience this second death since he bore it for us.

Now there appears to be a mystery that while we don't have to experience hell (second death), we do each experience something of a taste of God's wrath (re: Col. 1:240) The problem you run into is that is not biblically explained, so stating anything more is pure speculation, somewhere I don't want to go.

I'm not sure where this first death/second death distinction is coming from. That seems like speculation to me, and that distinction is unnecessary under my approach.

I say that we participate in everything that Christ experiences on the Cross except the physical being-there-ness. Thus, if Christ expreienced Hell, then we share in that too. And if that is the case, then the only reason we survive it is that Christ survives it, and we are in Him.

The standard view of the first and second deaths is that the first death is merely physical death, while the second death is death to God. Christ alone has died the second death, though nonbelievers will at the judgment. Wink is right that this isn't explicitly stated in the text, but it is the traditional view.

One of the interesting things about Wink's view is that he has to say either that we did die the second death already (at least in some important sense) or that Christ didn't die the second death. He's already said that our death on the cross with Christ is not the death of all of us, just of our sin, so I think he could just say that our sin died the second death, while what's pure and in the image of God remains on to be resurrected after only having died the first death with Christ. It sounds a little strange to me, but it's a consistent view.

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