Thursday, 10 March 2011

God's Love and God's Wrath (Part 3)

We come to the third and final post in this short series getting to grips with how God's love relates to His wrath with the help of Don Carson. In part one we saw how these two, love and wrath, relate together as both being attributes of God, He is both loving and wrathful at the same time. In part two we saw the relation between the Old and the New Testaments with reference to the love and wrath of God. Now in this third part we clear up another misunderstanding of how God's love relates to His wrath as Carson helps us to understand God's relationships within Himself, as we look at how God the Father relates to God the Son.
[Another]...common misconception pictures God as implacably opposed to us and full of wrath but somehow mollified by Jesus, who loves us. Again, there is some wonderful truth here. The Epistle to the Hebrews certainly lends some support to this way of thinking, especially in its portrayal of Jesus as the High Priest, who continuously makes intercession to God for us (Heb. 7:25). All this is modeled on the Levitical worship established at Sinai. Or more precisely the system established at Sinai was meant to be, according to Hebrews, the shadow of the ultimate reality. Jesus is the Advocate who speaks to the Father in the believers' defense (1 John 2:1).
But other strands of New Testament theology must be brought to bear on this subject. God loved the world so much that He gave His Son (John 3:16). This does not mean that God was reluctant while His Son won Him over; rather, God Himself willingly sent His Son. Even though Jesus as the believers' great High Priest intercedes for us and pleads His own blood on our behalf, this is not an independent action the Father somehow did not know about, or reluctantly approved, being eventually won over by the independently originating sacrifice of His Son. Rather, Father and Son are one in this project of redemption. The Son Himself came into the world by the express command of the Father.
Thus propitiation does not mean the Son, full of love, offered Himself and thereby placated (i.e., rendered propitious) the Father, who was full of wrath. The picture is more complex. The Father, full of righteous wrath against sin and sinners, nevertheless loved us so much that He sent His Son. Perfectly mirroring His Father's words and deeds, the Son stood over against us in wrath (displayed vividly when sinners will call for rocks to fall and hide them "from the wrath of the Lamb," Rev. 6:16), and yet He was obedient to His Father's commission, offering Himself on the cross. He did this out of love both for His Father, whom He obeys, and for us, whom He redeems. Thus God is necessarily both the subject and the object of propitiation. He provides the propitiating sacrifice (He is the subject), and He Himself is propitiated (He is the object). That is the glory of the Cross.
All this is implicit in Romans 3:21-26, a great atonement passage. After devoting two and a half chapters to showing how the entire human race is cursed and is rightly under the wrath of God because of its sin (1:18-3:20), the apostle Paul demonstrates how Christ's death was God's wise plan "to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus" (3:26). God presented Jesus as a propitiation in His blood, received through faith (3:25).
Don Carson's full article can be read by clicking here.