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Time for Wrath! (Chapter 6)

There always has to be a fun chapter - WRATH... ANGER... Sadly for so many Christians 'wrath', 'anger', or maybe 'easily annoyed' are descriptions that one might say about God or if not prepared to say so they feel that about him!!

And it comes out many times when we think of the cross. An angry God and a loving Son, and a sigh of relief as we can escape the punishment.

This is the most dense chapter in the book and hence more difficult to work through.

Here are some of the key points:

Biblical wrath is the outworking in history of what might be termed the judgements of God. They are the natural results of a path chosen. Rom. 1:18 is key - wrath is not expressed against people but is focused on sin, on what stands against us / others finding our / their destiny. If we hold on to a way of life there will be consequences, but we do must think of God as a very-upset-bigger-than-human figure who is truly angry with us!

If we take Israel at the time of Jesus, the predominant view seems to be that they were still exiled, under the judgement of God, they were bearing wrath. That was the outworking of the path they had pursued. In that situation God's response is to redeem. Jesus comes to save 'his' people from their sin. This Jew / Gentile approach is one we see in the NT - to the Jew first, then to the Gentile. Seen in the ministry of Jesus - he was 'sent to the house of Israel'. For me this is an important element in reading the NT.

An important Scripture I look at is Ephesians 2:3 where the term 'objects of wrath' appear. As I put in the text 'OUCH'.

Don't get to bogged down in the finer details there - note the response of God. It is not 'so God comes to punish us as he has had enough' but 'Because of his great love for us'... not because of his great anger toward us.

We might be able to say that Jesus bore wrath on the cross - but only in the sense of the effects of sin, not in the sense of 'God's personal anger'. God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. Not God was standing back as he could not manage to look on what was taking place; God handing out justice and Jesus demonstrating love.

The cross does not change God from an angry God to a loving God. He does not have 'anger issues' that have to be dealt with!

Most theories of the atonement have something of a change taking place in God. Earliest theories in history were either along the lines of Jesus recapitulated the path Adam took; or he defeated the powers at the cross. The later theories owe their origin to Archbishop Anselm of Canterbury (b 1034 - d 1109). He used the culture of the day with landlords and peasants to illustrate what was happening at the cross. God is the landlord, we owe him a debt we can never pay. Along comes Jesus who pays the debt - we now go free. The Reformers shifted this to the lawcourt. We are guilty and deserve to be punished. Jesus takes the guilt and we go free. (Justified by faith.)

Under that view (penal substitution) I find it hard to see how we avoid UNIVERSALISM - if it is paid it is paid. It cannot be paid for twice - once by Jesus, and once with an eternal prison sentence in hell if I do not accept Jesus' payment for me. GOD HAS TO ACCEPT IT whether I believe it or not.
Or it seems to me to lead to Limited atonement - everyone he paid for (the elect) will go free.

The bigger issue though is whether it is biblical, and what image of God does it portray?

One of the big issues is when we remove our view of the cross from the narrative (historical) flow. The cross appears in history at an exact time. It deals with a historical problem (Jews under a curse... so no hope for the Gentile world). In a very real sense he dies for the Jews... Jews first..

The cross sets up in history a roadblock to the path that humanity was on. It deals with the historic issue. Through the cross the good news is that a new path has opened up.

This is the most complex chapter in the book. Take time!!

Questions to consider:

  • What does 'God's anger' stir up in you? Or (like many) do we simply shelf it, ignore it.
    Wrath is real but not personal in the sense of a human parent who is simply fed up. However we resolve the language we must not project fallen human emotion on to God. The one who could be eternally angry even when he tells us not to let the sun go down on our anger!
  • I quote Is. 53 'we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him and afflicted' then go on to point out the following verses that our 'consideration was misguided'. I could also have quoted the Scripture (Ps. 22) that is used to suggest God turned his face away, not able to look at sin.
    My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from saving me,
    so far from my cries of anguish?
    However if we keep on reading we find that the perceived experience (where are you God) is deeply challenged by the reality:
    Keep reading to verse 24:
    For he has not despised or scorned
    the suffering of the afflicted one;
    he has not hidden his face from him
    but has listened to his cry for help.
  • It illustrates the issue of a) pulling texts that back up our theory & b) removing events from their historical context... We can rightly ask 'why then?' with regard to the cross.
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