Chatty Cathy’s Thousand Word Reply


My friend Anthony left a comment on my previous post asking a couple questions. When my response reached post length I decided to just put it up here! So with that said here’s the comment and my reply.

Anthony says:

Ok, I’m a latecomer to this conversation, but thought I’d chime in anyway. I have no time to go finding a bunch of texts to buttress a position, so I will assume that we all share a common general knowledge of the same story. Anyway, I have two questions regarding Bret’s position, which may be completely right, I just have some questions.

1) Is God’s wrath passive — leaving us to the consequences of sin, but without active intervention on his part? “Passive wrath” sounds like an oxymoron.

2) Was the death of Christ necessary? Jesus prayed that the cup be taken from him if there was any other way. Did the Father say, “I could do it another way–but this one shows the depth of our love better than the others”? Or was there really no other way that we could be saved?

My reply:


Thanks for the comment/questions.

First, I wouldn’t use the word passive. I for sure think that it goes too far to say that across the board God’s response to sin is passive – though I think there is plenty of evidence to show that one response of God’s wrath is choosing not to intervene. 

We know that for those who consistently choose to live rebelliously God will give them over to their sinful desires…the result of believing a lie is living into that lie. Is that passive? I don’t know that passive is the best descriptor, but neither does it fit the view of vengeful God doling out punishment. 

Also, as I pointed out in the previous post, Galatians 6:7-8 says “Do not be deceived, God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” I’ve heard it said here that God pours out his wrath on those who sow to please the sinful nature. However, it makes at least as much sense (and I honestly I believe it is more true to the text) to say that God allows us to reap the natural consequences of what we’ve worked to achieve.

In that way it does seem that the Wrath has a passive component – the wrath is the withholding of rescue that has been rejected. 

I do not believe that God’s only response to sin is passive/not responding and I don’t know whether “passive wrath” is an oxymoron or not. However, at the risk of going more philosophical than anyone wants: if God is omnipotent, to choose NOT to act isn’t really passive, it is a significant action.

In either case I believe that God’s wrath, be it active or passive or some paradox of the two or something else entirely, is meant to be redemptive. And that leads to your other question.

Was the death of Christ necessary? I’m not sure if that’s the right question for this conversation. I would say that Christ’s death was necessary – just perhaps not for the reasons we’ve traditionally held. Taking your hypothetical God to Jesus statement “This one shows the depth of our love better than the others” 

I’m not sure but I think you probably meant that as a tongue-in-cheek obviously wrong answer, but perhaps that “argument” would be more compelling for God than it is for us. The deepest display of love may in effect be “the only way” precisely because God IS the deepest display of love.

The question we’re really wrestling with here (or at least that I’m wrestling with) is whether the death of Christ was the only way for God’s irrevocable demand for justice to be satisfied. Or beyond that, is the satisfaction of God’s righteous wrath and need for justice the crux of our salvation?

Perhaps we’ve too narrowly defined what it means to “be saved.” Is our salvation merely the satisfaction of God’s righteous anger? Who are the players in this drama? Is God the protagonist and humanity the antagonists? Or vice versa? 

Are not sin, death and satan the true enemies? Is it possible that we, marred as we are by sin, have perhaps been held captive by the enemy or even foolishly (and often unknowingly) aligned ourselves with the enemy?

There is no other name in heaven or earth through which salvation is available than that of Jesus – this I fully affirm. To whatever degree that sins must be atoned for it is only through the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus that atonement is made possible. Whatever rescue is available, God has fulfilled it through Christ.

But I still contend that we devalue the true wonder, power and profound love/kindness (chesed) of God by placing such emphasis on penal substitution and God’s inability to forgive any offense without the taking of a life.

Many brilliant folks through the years have put forth views of God’s justice and holiness which demand that he have satisfaction. My dissent is not to the position but the degree to which that position is held. I agree that God is righteous, holy and just. I’m not so sure I agree that God’s demand for justice outweighs all else. Why then should Jesus have taught us to turn the other cheek? Why then would Paul have said, “Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?” (1 Cor. 6).

In a previous conversation the response to this was that God’s demand for justice is unavoidable but he shows his grace by sending Jesus as a scapegoat. Okay. That still leaves me with questions of why we then are commanded to forgive. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Do we forgive those who trespass against us by demanding the death of an innocent?

I find little support for saying we are to forgive only once justice has been enacted. And I believe it is a cheap forgiveness indeed to say, “you can forgive them and move on because God’s going to punish them in the end.” There doesn’t seem to be any real forgiveness taking place there. And doesn’t that only work if they aren’t “saved”? Otherwise they avoid punishment – which then leads me to cry out for justice…which I apparently won’t get.

However, if the message is that through ultimate sacrifice we learn to have peace even when justice is denied…

When God incarnate makes the choice to NOT continue the cycle of vengeance and retribution (what if Israel and Palestine could get that concept??) When he willingly lays down his life rather than demanding the justice he deserved. When God made that choice he stepped into the middle of an unending cycle of sin and death and sent the whole thing spiraling in a new direction. Then justice was indeed served when Jesus rose from the dead, vindicated and glorified. 

Perhaps our mistake is confusing the issue of satisfying God’s wrathful requirement for justice with the issue of our salvation in Christ as though the two were synonymous. We’ve treated them as such but, again, just perhaps they aren’t.

Perhaps there have been many things throughout history which have appeased God’s wrath – sacrifice, repentance, a broken and contrite heart and faithfulness to name a few. But perhaps our salvation is about more than that. Perhaps our salvation, found only in the power of Christ, is the restoration of God’s Kingdom; the defeat of the enemies of sin, death and satan; the healing of wounds; the end of death; our transformation into fully human creatures, once again bearing fully the image of God without blemish or scar. And perhaps wrapped up in that is indeed the appeasement of God’s wrath…but its wrapped up in it, it isn’t IT. Only the power of God could accomplish all that – there is no human effort or sacrifice possible beyond the fully human and fully divine sacrifice of Jesus himself. 

Yes, I think that the death of Christ was necessary and I think it was much more valuable than just a penal substitution.

Anthony, I don’t know if answered your questions or just used them to launch into another tirade.

If nothing else, I think its clear that I don’t buy into the Calvinist/Reformed determinism theology. I’ve received a couple questions asking, since I’m obviously not very Augustinian/Calvinist in my persuasion do I consider myself Pelagian or Arminian or something else. Most of the 3 people who read this blog regularly either don’t know or don’t care what that means, but I will post a reply to that question in the near future.


Posted on December 19, 2008, in atonement, evangelism, faith, theology, wrath and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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