14 October 2005

Thought for the Day

From something I posted over on the Lutheran-Orthodox Dialog...

The Reformation's essential insight might be summarized as "but this [wrath, the opus alienum of God] is not the deepest truth about God; the deepest truth about God is that He is for you and loves you in Christ." The East seems to be saying, "It's not only the deepest truth, it's the only truth!"

The thing that makes many Lutherans nervous about the Eastern approach, I think, is that they fear that it makes Aslan a tame lion. We all know He is NOT a tame lion. And His love with which He loves us IS a consuming fire.

I was thinking of how Voyage of the Dawn Treader helps us get at this. Do you remember when Eustace had turned into the dragon, and in the water the Lion rips through the dragon's hide with his claws to set Eustace free?
There's terror there, alright. It is the terror because we have grown rather comfortable in our dragon's skin and the thought of having it painfully stripped from us terrifies the daylights out of us. But it is Love that extends the nails and Love that rips through the skin and Love that causes us such pain in order to set us free.

When one reads St. Ephrem's Spiritual Psalter it becomes clear to me that the East knows that it is LOVE who is doing all this, but that it is still terrifying and hurts. In other words, the thing that the West fears if you lose the vicarious satisfaction language (that Aslan becomes a pussycat) is far, far from the case.

What is most striking to me of late is that in the West it seems we have made the cross be what it was not - we have tried to see in it God's wrath at human sin (and I think that very well may be a projection) instead of
seeing the horror of what it really is: human wrath directed at God's love. But glory be to Jesus, in Him is a love as strong as death, yes, stronger! Stronger than our hatred! Stronger than our rejection and fears! A love that pardons us in the moment that gathers together into one the very meaning of all human sin: the telling of God to get out of OUR world and leave us alone. His answer is: No, I will not leave and leave you alone, for I am your life and you can't make me hate you! I love you, I forgive you.



Anonymous said...

It strikes me that the reason that this is so often fought is that it puts the sin right where it truly is: in me! And it isn't nice -- because the old Adam, the corruption of sin is powerful and nasty stuff. Which is to say that I cannot justify it or avoid it: "we;ve met the enemy and he is us."

To realize that, to confess it, is finally to say "Forgive me, for I have indeed sinned."

And Jesus doesn't turn tail on us, or turn away, but takes us into His arms and says:


and gives Light and Life eternal in His overwhelming love for us.

Fr. Wolfe

William Weedon said...

Fr. Wolfe,

As usual, I think you hit the bullseye!

Rev. Ben Mayes said...

Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems that though you deny the cross as changing God’s attitude toward sinful humanity, you still see it as bringing about an objective change of status for humanity, namely the defeat of humanity’s foes: sin, death, devil, (also the law?).

But whose law is it that shows us to be sinners and has subjected man to death and the devil? It is God’s law. And what is the law if not His revealed, righteous will? And against sinners the law has only wrath (Rom. 4:15). So if it is against God’s just will that Christ on the cross fights and is victorious, why not confess that He fights also against God’s wrath?

But if you don’t want to say that Christ suffers the wrath of God on the cross, but that he suffers death as a penalty or a consequence, one must ask: Who is it that cruelly decreed such a horrible penalty? The Creator Himself stands behind the created order. The problem of God’s wrath against sin is not solved by saying that His death was a natural consequence.

Just so you know, those who hold to vicarious satisfaction (Anselm, Aquinas, Lutheranism) have held to nearly all the other theories of the atonement: Christus victor, moral influence, example. (But not as a ransom to the devil.) It’s got room for it. But what you are espousing is a rejection of the vicarious satisfaction.

The recurrent theme of the modern theologians (e.g. Raymund Schwager, J. Denny Weaver) and even the 17th century Socinians is to deny the wrath of God against sin. (And can sin really be reified and separated from the sinner? With Augustine, shouldn’t we confess that sin is not a “thing” but “in a thing”?)

Of course God has loved us from the beginning of the world and sent His Son to save us by His death and resurrection. But none of the classic advocates of the vicarious satisfaction who would deny this! God is both the reconciler and the reconciled.

There’s this tension between God’s love on the one hand and his truthfulness / justice / wrath against sin on the other. No one denies the former, but many deny the latter. Man’s main predicament is not just the law, death, and devil, but Him who allows these to do their bitter work.

Perhaps what some dislike is to speak of God’s wrath, thinking of it as an arbitrary rage. It’s good that we not think of God’s wrath that way, but precisely as the righteous requirements of the law (His righteous will).

Does the cross change God’s mind? You have said no, but I think it’s important that we affirm this, though not as something coming from the outside. God is not “changed.” Yet sin introduces a conflict between God’s righteous will (call it God’s wrath against sin, if you will, though it’s the same as His love of what is right) and His gracious will. Athanasius “On the Incarnation,” Anselm, “Why God Became Man,” and many others speak about the death or suffering of Christ as bringing about the resolution of that horrible conflict. The cross satisfies and pacifies this conflict. Thus, in a certain way, the atonement does change God’s mind, though it is God Himself who brings about the Incarnation and cross so that His mind will be changed.

Athanasius is an interesting example of this, since he has essentially the same modus operandi as Anselm. God set forth his law, by which the man who sins must die. With the entry of sin, there is a divine dilemma between God’s philanthropy and His truth. The incarnation and especially the death of Christ took place precisely to resolve this tension within the heart of God. Athanasius is hesitant to speak of God’s personal wrath against sin/sinners, but He makes clear that the dilemma is one between God’s love and God’s truth (the penalty that God Himself instituted at the creation), and this is the exact same dilemma as Anselm sets forth.

We must beware of taking the true belief that God loved us before the foundation of the world, and then denying the opposite, that God was justly wrathful against us for our sins. God’s righteous law (which is simply an expression of God’s righteous will) must be fulfilled. God’s mercy consists precisely in the fact that Christ fulfilled it. To say that Christ satisfied the law by his active and passive obedience, and to say that God’s righteous will required His active and passive obedience (that is, obedience and suffering) are the same thing.

Scripture does speak of the wrath of God against sin:

Eph. 2:3 Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.

Eph. 5:6 Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience.

And Christ endured this wrath in our place:

Isa. 53:4. Yet we did esteem Him smitten by God, and afflicted. He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities.

Isa. 53:10 And YHWH desired to crush Him . . . the desire of YHWH was successful in His hand.

The fact that Christ endured the Father’s wrath (paradoxical as it is), should be sufficiently demonstrated also by His dereliction cry, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matt. 27:46).

The Church’s hymnody speaks to this same issue. When we sing “Dear Christians, One and All, Rejoice,” (TLH 387), let us not deny the other truth which our hymnody sets forth:

“My burden in Thy Passion / Lord, Thou hast borne for me / For it was my transgression / Which bro’t this woe on Thee. / I cast me down before Thee; / Wrath were my rightful lot. / Have mercy, I implore Thee; / Redeemer, spurn me not! (TLH 172:4)

“Yet as the Law must be fulfilled/ Or we must die despairing, / Christ came and hath God’s anger stilled, / Our human nature sharing. / He hath for us the Law obeyed / And thus the Father’s vengeance stayed / Which over us impended.” (TLH 377:5)

In summary, it is important to hold both to the wrath of God (His righteous will and law as applied to sinners) and to His gracious will (that from the foundation of the world, He prepared a salvation for us). Rather than denying one or the other, why not hold to both?

William Weedon said...

Dear Fr. Mayes,

A brief reply. The decree of death is simply the consequence of choosing separation from Him who is life. It's not penal; there's simply no other alternative when one turns away from God. That is what Adam and Eve did. It follows from that that they cannot live. Gen 2 does not say: "In the day you eat it, I will kill you" but "you will die."

Do the passages you cite demonstrate what you seek to show from them or are the capable of another interpretation?

You posit that God changes. But "I am the Lord, I change not." His wrath is a reality, and I have never denied that. It is His holiness experienced by those who reject the gift of His love. It does not mean that He is against them and hates them (for as you pray every Ash Wendesday: Thou hatest nothing Thou hast made!), and there is simply no Scripture that remotely suggests that the One hanging on the Cross is hated by God so that God can then love sinners.

God loves sinners and so sends the Savior into the flesh to "bring us back to God" (1 Peter) and to forgive us our sins (which is a different thing than to pay for our sins) and to take away sin and death and deliver us from the bondage to the Enemy.

When you leave salvation as God working out a personality conflict inside Himself, then you also leave sinners quite where they were by announcing to them the good news that God has solved His personality conflict. But sinners are changed, quickened, enlivened and joined to God by faith when they hear the good news that Christ has carried their sin to His cross, has forgiven it, has freed them from their sin, and brought them into union with the Father who has always loved them and always will. The prodigal has a daddy who welcomes him home. Glory be to Jesus who reveals that daddy to us and gives Him to us as our own!

William Weedon said...

Also from Athanasius (and difficult to fit into Anselm?)

"It was our sorry case that caused the Word to come down, our trangression that called out His love for us, so that He made haste to help us and to appear among us. It is we who were the cause of His taking human form, and for our salvation that in His great love He was born born and manifested in a human body. For God had made man thus (that is, as an embodied spirit), and had willed that he should remain in incorruption. But men, having turned from the contemplation of God to evil of their own devising, had come inevitably under the law of death. (par 4)

This, then, was the plight of men. God had not only made them out of nothing, but also graciously bestowed on them His own life by the grace of the Word. Then, turning from eternal things to things corruptible, by counsel fo the devil, they had become the cause of their own corruption in death. (par 5)

I may have missed it, but I do not recall one place where St. Athanasius spoke about Christ bearing the wrath of the Father. He speaks of Christ upholding the truthfulness of the Father's word regarding death. He speaks of Christ surrendering His body to death in the place of all, and offering it to the Father. He speaks of Christ making a sufficient exchange for all to put an end to corruption by the grace of resurrection. But where does He say that the Father pours out wrath on the Son?

Rev. Ben Mayes said...

Quote: "there is simply no Scripture that remotely suggests that the One hanging on the Cross is hated by God so that God can then love sinners."

How about Ps. 89:39? "Tu vero reppulisti et reiecisti, iratus es contra Christum tuum." (Nova Vulgata). At least it speaks to the first part of your sentence.

William Weedon said...

Good point, Fr. Mayes, but would you think me Marcionite to ask for a NT passage that confirms your read of the OT here?

William Weedon said...

By the way, I thank God for your work in *The Brotherhood Prayerbook* each Wednesday when we gather before the altar of St. Paul's to pray Compline after the midweek Bible study.