• Good Friday

    Posted Mar 30th, 2018 By in Pastor Brian's Blog, Why We Do What We Do With | Comments Off on Good Friday

    The cross is the most pointed manifestation of the wrath of God in all the Bible. Sometimes we don’t grapple with this as much s we should. It is not uncommon to hear folks pitting the “God of the Old Testament” against the “God of the New Testament.” The God of the New Testament is a God of love, we are told, while the God of the Old Testament is a God of wrath. That false dichotomy crumbles, however, when we rightly gaze upon the cross. The cross is also the most pointed manifestation of God’s love. We tend to emphasize this more and, if we are ot careful, an be guilty of subtly embracing the aforementioned dichotomy. Of course this raises massive questions, questions, like “Are God’s wrath and love in conflict with one another?” This has been answered in a number of ways. The Lutheran theologian, Helmut Thielicke, while incorrect, should be lauded for his honesty when he says, “It is at the heart of the Lutheran view of God that God contradict himself, that he sets his grace in opposition to his judgment and his love in opposition to his holiness; indeed, the gospel itself can be traced to this fundamental contraction within God himself”(emphasis added). Although significantly different from the previous criticism, liberal Christians have long raise the question about the morality of penal substitution. “The moral problem,” asserts Keith Ward, is that is unjust for an innocent person, however well intentioned, to pay the debt of a guilty person.” Then there are those who suggested that Jesus died as an example of what love looks like and thus his death was designed to spur us on to love. More recently there has been a rise in critics who suggest that if the cross is a manifestation of divine wrath against sin then God is guilty of divine child abuse. What do all these have in common? Two important things. First they can’t stomach the idea of the wrath of God unleashed upon his Son. And secondly, they can’t square the obvious note of love which is struck in the cross with the teaching that God’s wrath is also averted from us and appeased in his Son.

    So how do we square these? How can we say that the cross is both the manifestation of God’s wrath and his love? For starters we need to recognize that the bible is comfortable affirming both and often within the same contexts For example, Paul tells us that we were “children of wrath (Eph. 2:3) and in the next verse reminds us that God was motivated because of “great love with which he loved us” (Eph. 2:4). We know that Christ loved us and gave himself for us (Gal. 2:20), we know that God “loved the world” (John 3:16); but we also know that Christ was propitiation, a wrath bearing substitute for us. Hopefully you can feel the tension.

    The way forward is twofold. First, recognizing that wrath is a manifestation of God’s holiness, we affirm that holiness and love are not mutually exclusive categories. They can co-exist within

    God without making him schizophrenic. Secondly, we need to be humble enough to recognize that we don’t understand everything about divine psychology. God is a complex being, let’s conform our understanding of him to what he has said rather than to what we understand. In the end we must always remember that “Cool reflection ultimately needs to give way to worship” (Cole). As you gaze upon the cross, stand in awe of the plan and work of God for you. Marvel that the innocent one was condemned and the guilty ones were set free.

    For further reading, consider God the Peacemaker: How Atonement Brings Shalom by Graham Cole.

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    Pastor of New Life La Mesa Presbyterian Church in San Diego, CA.

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