Is God angry with us? Is he mad at us? Are we truly ‘sinners in the hands of an angry God’?
If you’re a parent – when your child does something wrong, how does it make you feel? Upset. Let down. Maybe angry. But are you angry at the child, or, angry that they’ve made an unwise decision? Maybe sometimes it’s a mix of both…
It is often said that Jesus died to save us from God’s anger, God’s wrath. In other words, if it weren’t for Jesus, God would be ready to pounce, angrily and happily casting us all into hell.
So did God need to save us from himself? Parents like that usually have their kids taken away and a restraining order put on them.
Perhaps, rather, God needs to save us from ourselves…
As a parent, I may tell my kids to behave a certain way, or avoid certain things, but it would be to save them from themselves, not to save them from me. They have my unconditional love from the start, even if they perpetrate acts of rebellion or whatever against me. I certainly would not be angry enough to kill them (or if I were, it would be because of my own sinfulness and brokenness – not a picture of my ‘perfection’). Further, I don’t need to torture and kill one of my sons so that the other ones can be forgiven. Yet if I were to choose to undergo suffering – even death – to demonstrate my love for them – that might be different. I don’t need someone to pay so that *I* can be appeased – what kind of a father would that make me? I forgive because of my love. But rebellious actions still have consequences, and they can still choose to reject my efforts of love and live apart from it. But that is their choice, not mine.
The idea of a bloodthirsty god who must be placated with a human sacrifice seems to represent an ancient pagan understanding of the gods more than the God of love we find in Jesus. Is God portrayed that way from time to time in the text? Perhaps, but that may represent the culture of the time more than God himself. Maybe the point of Jesus’ death was not because otherwise God would destroy us all, but to show us the extent of God’s love and to show us another way to live, and absorb the anger and sin and hate and injustice of the world. In other words, not to save us from God, but from ourselves.
Brian McLaren notes that some questions are helpful to ask on the issue of propitiation: (below is his quote)
1. Who was the primary audience for the suffering and death of Jesus? Was it intended to bring about a change in God, or in us?
McLaren: Since I don’t think God needs to change, but rather we do, I’d vote for the latter.
2. Where do we centrally locate God the Father on good Friday – in and with the political and religious leaders, condemning and torturing Jesus? Or in Jesus, suffering injustice *with* and *for* us?
McLaren: Again, I’d vote the latter.
3. Does Jesus, in some mysterious way, absorb/redirect the hostility of God towards us, or the hostility of us towards God?
McLaren: Again, I’d vote for the latter. (I think this is what C. S. Lewis was after in his idea of “the perfect penitent.”)
Summary: In each case, perhaps a case could be made for the former; there are ways we could say there is truth in the former. But I think the weight of meaning is found in the latter option. Many people see everything from within the conventional narrative and so they can’t even imagine Jesus being important apart from it, and that’s a major reason why, I think, they are so adamant in defending it.
Some of you are asking, what about texts that talk about God’s wrath against us? The question is – what is the nature of that wrath? I wonder if perhaps God, as any parent, hates to see his children acting in ways that disregard him and hurt themselves. And I wonder if God created such a world in which when we act in such ways, there are consequences for those actions, and those consequences reflect his anger or hatred (for those actions). In other words, God’s wrath is what happens indirectly when I sin – the consequences are built in. This is a passive anger rather than an active anger. In other words, an anger not just for the sake of being angry, or not a self-righteous anger – “How dare you sin, don’t you know who I am?” (which I hope God is above), but rather, an anger rooted in sorrow over how we have separated ourselves from him and are only hurting ourselves.
Could it be then, that Jesus dies on the cross absorbing the full extent of that wrath? In other words, the full extent of the results of human sin – rejection, mistreatment, and ultimately, an undeserved death. And by taking all of that wrath upon himself (wrath = negative consequences), Jesus broke the cycle of human rebellion against God by showing us the extent of God’s love for us – that he would suffer with us and even for us – not to save us from God, but to save us from ourselves.
Again, I could be wrong, and I am trying to honestly wrestle through this as many others are. But to simply say, God’s wrath = God’s direct, active hatred or anger against us seems to violate God’s nature as loving, even as just.
I would prefer to think of God’s justice in terms of a parental/relational model rather than a judge/legal model. The former implies relationship, involvement, love. The latter implies something else – like “I’m so angry that if someone doesn’t pay, someone’s going to die!” The former says, “Because my love for you is so great, and my sorrow over sin so wide, I’m going to come and live with you, and among you, and as one of you, bearing the full consequences of that sin even though I don’t deserve to. I love you that much.
When Paul says in Romans 1 that God’s wrath is being revealed, I think he’s talking about the present consequences of sin now…
I don’t have it figured out, but I am encouraged by many who want to have a constructive dialogue about it all, and most of all, who want to continue to live into the love of God as expressed in Jesus, and want to share that love in and with our world.
(this was a follow-up to Christy’s post: To Hell With It)