Apologizing for God’s Wrath
August 13, 2013 4 Comments
A bit of a debate has been stirred up among Southern Baptists stemming from the comments of Bob Terry, editor of The Alabama Baptist, in his August 8 editorial. In that editorial Terry admitted he did not sing some of the lyrics to the hymn “In Christ Alone” apparently because they are offensive to him. Which lyrics, you ask?
“Till on that cross as Jesus died — The wrath of God was satisfied.”
“Some popular theologies do hold that Jesus’ suffering appeased God’s wrath,” Terry said. “That is not how I understand the Bible and that is why I do not sing the phrase, ‘the wrath of God was satisfied’ even though I love the song ‘In Christ Alone.’”
This is no small matter. This is the essence of the Gospel. The substitutionary nature of Christ’s atonement — that God treated Him as if he were sin so that we, in exchange, might be clothed with Christ’s righteousness — IS the Gospel.
“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God.” — 2 Corinthians 5:21
“…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forth as a propitiation (italics are mine) by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” — Romans 3:23-26
That word “propitiation” means “satisfied” or “appeased”. Christ’s sacrifice on the cross DID satisfy God’s wrath toward sinners. This is the clear message of God’s word. But Terry is not convinced the message is so clear…
“Yet there remains a question about whether God was an angry God at Golgotha whose wrath had to be appeased by the suffering of the innocent Jesus,” Terry wrote. “Sometimes Christians carelessly make God out to be some kind of ogre whose angry wrath overflowed until the innocent Jesus suffered enough to calm Him down.”
Scripture flat out declares God’s anger toward sinners…
“The LORD is slow to anger and great in power, and the LORD will by no means clear the guilty.” — Nahum 1:3
“The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers.” — Psalm 5:5
“…whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” — John 3:36
Terry, apparently, does not see it that way and goes on to conclude with, “God is not the enemy. He is our seeking Friend (Luke 15). That is why I prefer to focus on His love evidenced at Calvary rather than on His wrath.”
Here’s the rub: You can’t fully understand the love of God apart from His wrath. Think about that for a second. How did Jesus dying on the cross display God’s love?
“From what?” replies the unrepentant sinner.
“From sin,” the wrathless evangelist continues.
“What is sin?” asks the unrepentant sinner.
“Any transgression of the law of God?” the wrathless evangelist explains.
“Like what?” wonders the unrepentant sinner.
“Lying. Cheating. Stealing,” says the wrathless evangelist.
“Big deal. I’ve done those things and I don’t feel so bad,” says the unrepentant sinner. “Everybody does those things. I’ve even benefitted from some of those things. Why would I want to be saved from them?”
“Because the day is coming when, when…” stutters the wrathless evangelist.
“When what?” goads the unrepentant sinner.
See the point?
But even if our little speculative drama does not drive the point home, perhaps Scripture will. Recall Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. He is overwhelmed by what faces him. So much so he sweats drops of blood.
Some claim Jesus feared that cross and those cruel Roman nails. Now, I don’t want to diminish the cruel nature of the cross, but this is not what Christ feared primarily. If you know anything about Christian history you know there have been many Christian martyrs who have gone to the cross singing. Would you have me believe that they — mere men — could joyfully meet the cross while the Captain of our Salvation cowered at the same prospect?
Don’t ever think such a thing. Christ faced much, much more than a Roman cross. Consider the account in the Garden of Gethsemane…
“And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.’” — Matthew 26:39
Quick question: What was in the cup?
Hint: Not a Roman cross.
Answer: The wrath of God.
“Thus the LORD, the God of Israel, said to me: ‘Take from my hand this cup of the wine of wrath, and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it. They shall drink and stagger and be crazed because of the sword that I am sending among them.” — Jeremiah 25:15-16
“The great city was split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell, and God remembered Babylon the great, to make her drain the cup of the wine of the fury of his wrath.” — Revelation 16:19
“Wake yourself, wake yourself, stand up, O Jerusalem, you who have drunk from the hand of the LORD the cup of his wrath, who have drunk to the dregs the bowl, the cup of staggering.” — Isaiah 51:17
Make no mistake; the cup of God’s wrath rightfully belongs to us. But Christ drank every last drop on behalf of his people so that they might be justified before God.
I understand the temptation to “take the harsh edges off of the Gospel.” I really do. But we must be very careful when that temptation strikes. To think we need to take the edges off is to think we know better than God what message is appropriate to preach to the nations. That’s dangerous ground. When we find ourselves tempted this way, it may be necessary to revisit Revelation chapter 6. The apostle John is recounting his vision of the Lamb (Jesus) and the one who is seated on the throne on the day of judgment…
“Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb…” — Revelation 6:15-16
Jesus is coming again. When he does unregenerate men will wish that mountains would crush them if only that would hide them from the wrath of the Lamb.
Scripture does not apologize for God’s wrath.
Neither should we.