09 March 2012

What struck me as a rather odd

comment was made by a former Lutheran (now a Roman Catholic) on a forum.  He said that Lutheranism only works if God is an enemy.

I think I know what he meant - he was referring to the notion that the Son propitiates the divine wrath.  It is a Biblical theme that cannot be gotten around, no matter how uncomfortable it may make us moderns.  But I do think that we cannot and dare not ignore that alongside this teaching, we have some very, very clear statements in our hymns proclaiming us the objects of the Father's love precisely IN the sending of His Son.

Consider a few:

Oh, how great is Your compassion,
Faithful Father, God of grace,
That with all our fallen race
In our depth of degradation
You had mercy so that we
Might be saved eternally.

Your great love for this has striven
That we may, from sin made free,
Live with You eternally.
Your dear Son Himself has given
And extends a gracious call,
To His Supper leads us all. (LSB 559:1,2)

God said to His beloved Son:
"It's time to have compassion.
Then go, bright jewel of My crown,
And bring to all salvation.
From sin and sorrow set them free,
Slay bitter death for them that they
May live with You forever."

The Son obeyed His Father's will,
Was born of Virgin Mother,
And God's good promise to fulfill
He came to be my brother.
His royal pow'r disguised He bore;
A servant's form like mine He wore
To lead the devil captive. (LSB 556:5,6)

Should we fear our God's displeasure,
Who to save
Freely gave
His most precious treasure?
To redeem us He has given
His own Son
From the throne
Of His might in heaven.  (LSB 360:3)

O wondrous Love, what have You done?
The Father offers up His Son,
Desiring our salvation.
O Love, how strong You are to save!
You lay the One into the grave
Who built the earth's foundation.  (LSB 438:3)

Each day at His good pleasure
God's gracious will is done.
He sent His dearest treasure
In Jesus Christ His Son.
He every gift imparts.
The bread of earth and heaven
Are by His kindness given.
Praise Him with thankful hearts! (LSB 713:4)

The Only Son from heaven,
Foretold by ancient seers,
By God the Father given
In human form appears.
No sphere His light confining,
No star so brightly shining,
As He, our Morning Star.  (LSB 402:1)

Almighty Father, in Your Son
You loved us when not yet begun
Was this old earth's foundation. (LSB 395:4)

Thou Christian heart,
Whoe'er thou art,
Be of good cheer and let no sorrow move thee!
For God's own Child,
In mercy mild,
Joins thee to Him;
How greatly God must love thee! (LSB 372:4)

So very many others that one could put forward.  But clearly the gift of the Son into our flesh is a sign of such magnitude of the Father's infinite love for the lost race of men that it cannot be gainsaid.  If I may, the love of the Father for the entirety of our race is so complete that there is not a single soul who languishes in hell for whom the Father did not send His Son into the flesh, to shed His blood, to impart forgiveness.  That's Lutheran teaching too, and the other may not be divorced from it as though what I presented above were somehow less authentically Lutheran.  Rather, as we sing, so we believe, so we pray.


Pr. Lehmann said...

If God is not the enemy of sinners, then it makes no sense for Jesus to bear His Father's wrath on the cross.

If God is not the great lover of sinners, then it makes no sense for Jesus to bear His Father's wrath on the cross.

William Weedon said...

Father's wrath, though, is perhaps an unfortunate turn of phrase. For surely it is DIVINE wrath - as much of the Son and of the Spirit as of the Father - that is endured.

William Weedon said...

Yet our Lord DOES refer to the Cup as being given by the Father, so in that sense...

William Weedon said...

Also curiously of interest that the Son's propitiation of the Father is in Article III of the AC, and Rome at the time had ZERO problems with that article of the Confession. Interesting, no?

I've definitely learned that one needs to be able to speak both sides of this coin and not blend one into another, for God proclaims both to us in the Scriptures. It's law and gospel essentially.

Pr. Lehmann said...

Certainly it is the Holy and Blessed Trinity that has wrath against sinners, but in his passive obedience, Christ seems to particularly suffer the Father's wrath.

As you note, He Himself talks this way in Gethsemane.

I think Isaiah 53:10 is important here as is all of the "cup of wrath" imagery in the Old Testament prophets.

Dr. Gibbs nails it in this paper:


Unknown said...

Here are a few thoughts on the subject:

1. God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit never hated the people that God had created. For, “God so loved the world ….”, and God does not change.

2. God the Father never hated His beloved Son. Our Lord, just before His passion, said, “the Father and I are one.”

3. When we say that our Lord Jesus Christ bore the punishment for our sins, do we do so knowing that the punishment for our sins is eternal death? But that is not the punishment He suffered. When we say, as I have heard so many pastors say, that it should have been us on that cross, what would have been the point? No amount of suffering on our part could atone for a single sin.

4. Finally, if indeed we all inherited the sin of one man, Adam, is it then not reasonable to suppose, and Scripture supports this, that by one perfect life we are made whole. So it was not Calvary alone that saved us but the entire, perfect life of our Lord. This is essentially the argument St. Paul makes in Romans 5:12-21.

5. Then why was Calvary necessary? We know from Scripture that there is no forgiveness without the shedding of blood, but we do not really know why that is. Maybe there is also a parallel in the Book of Job that makes sense. When Satan said, Job 1:9 "Does Job fear God for nothing? 10 Have you not put a fence around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. 11 But stretch out your hand now, and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face." In response the Lord said to Satan, Job 1:12 "Very well, all that he has is in your power; only do not stretch out your hand against him!" Apparently it was not enough for our Lord to lead an ordinary life and remain perfect; it was necessary for Him to suffer to the limit of human endurance, while fulfilling the Law. At the same time we should realize that many people were crucified before and after our Lord, but only He remained perfect in suffering, loving His enemies, even those who pounded the nails through His hands and feet. Hebrews 5:8, “Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; 9 and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, 10 having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.”

Frankly, I have not made a detailed study of this matter, but I suspect that the matter of God’s wrath against His children is metaphoric and hypothetical, in the sense that His wrath would descend on us if He had not Himself arranged for our salvation. This goes for mankind in general. There is no question that God’s wrath has been visited on some well known individuals.

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

William Weedon said...

I shared these Patristic citations with a friend on FB tonight - and I think they are helpful in the whole discussion - especially St. Augustine's helpful clarification regarding the nature of divine wrath - what it is and isn't:

And so the human race was lying under a just condemnation, and all men were the children of wrath. Of which wrath it is written: "All our days are passed away in Your wrath; we spend our years as a tale that is told." Of which wrath also Job says: "Man that is born of a woman is of few days, and full of trouble." Of which wrath also the Lord Jesus says: "He that believes in the Son has everlasting life: and he that believes not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abides on him." He does not say it will come, but it "abides on him." For every man is born with it; wherefore the apostle says: "We were by nature the children of wrath, even as others." Now, as men were lying under this wrath by reason of their original sin, and as this original sin was the more heavy and deadly in proportion to the number and magnitude of the actual sins which were added to it, there was need for a Mediator, that is, for a reconciler, who, by the offering of one sacrifice, of which all the sacrifices of the law and the prophets were types, should take away this wrath. Wherefore the apostle says: "For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life." Now when God is said to be angry, we do not attribute to Him such a disturbed feeling as exists in the mind of an angry man; but we call His just displeasure against sin by the name "anger," a word transferred by analogy from human emotions. But our being reconciled to God through a Mediator, and receiving the Holy Spirit, so that we who were enemies are made sons ("For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God"): this is the grace of God through Jesus Christ our Lord. – St. Augustine, Enchiridion 33

For our sins, says the Apostle; we had pierced ourselves with ten thousand evils, and had deserved the gravest punishment; and the Law not only did not deliver us, but it even condemned us, making sin more manifest, without the power to release us from it, or to stay the anger of God. But the Son of God made this impossibility possible for he remitted our sins, He restored us from enmity to the condition of friends, He freely bestowed on us numberless other blessings. – St. John Chrysostom, Homily on Galatians 1

William Weedon said...

If Phinees, when he waxed zealous and slew the evil-doer, staved the wrath of God, shall not Jesus, who slew not another, but gave up Himself for a ransom, put away the wrath which is against mankind?…Further; if the lamb under Moses drove the destroyer far away, did not much rather the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world, deliver us from our sins? The blood of a silly sheep gave salvation; and shall not the Blood of the Only-begotten much rather save?…Jesus then really suffered for all men; for the Cross was no illusion, otherwise our redemption is an illusion also…These things the Saviour endured, and made peace through the Blood of His Cross, for things in heaven, and things in earth. For we were enemies of God through sin, and God had appointed the sinner to die. There must needs therefore have happened one of two things; either that God, in His truth, should destroy all men, or that in His loving-kindness He should cancel the sentence. But behold the wisdom of God; He preserved both the truth of His sentence, and the exercise of His loving-kindness. Christ took our sins in His body on the tree, that we by His death might die to sin, and live unto righteousness.--St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures, XIII

“And the Lamb of God not only did this, but was chastised on our behalf, and suffered a penalty He did not owe, but which we owed because of the multitude of our sins; and so He became the cause of the forgiveness of our sins, because He received death for us, and transferred to Himself the scourging, the insults, and the dishonour, which were due to us, and drew down on Himself the apportioned curse, being made a curse for us. And what is that but the price of our souls? And so the oracle says in our person: “By his stripes we were healed,” and “The Lord delivered him for our sins,” with the result that uniting Himself to us and us to Himself, and appropriating our sufferings, He can say, “I said, Lord, have mercy on me, heal my soul, for I have sinned against thee.” - Eusebius of Caesarea, Demonstratio Evangelica, X.1

Jim Huffman said...

I wonder if part of the answer is that if God is our enemy, it is not so much that He is making Himself our enemy, but that we have made Him our enemy -- in sin, rebellion, and ultimately how we come to view God as hating us, through the prism of our sin, and the distortion that sin has made in us.

William Weedon said...

Which is what Luther was driving at with that helpful distinction out of Isaiah 28 between opus alienum and opus proprium.

Unknown said...

The New Testament uses two words for wrath and anger, ὀργή and θυμός. These words are often used as parts of idiomatic expressions which divide mankind into children of wrath (it is implicit that it is God’s wrath) and those who are not children of wrath. A number of different expressions are used to describe the latter. John 3:36, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but must endure God's wrath (ὀργή).” Ephesians 2: 3 “All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath (ὀργή), like everyone else”

But there is no wrath toward those who are members of the Kingdom of God, nor was there ever. 1 Thessalonians 5:8, “But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. 9 For God has destined us not for wrath (ὀργή) but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him.”

I can find no reference in the New Testament to God either being angry with His Son, or with His Elect. When it refers to us as “children of wrath”, this is an idiomatic use which describes the natural condition of all people. But it is clear that His anger was never on those of the “children of wrath” who become His own children. There is no doubt that God’s wrath is on the “children of disobedience”. This wrath will never change, even as His love never changes for those “who are not destined for wrath.”

The original thread of this posting was “the notion that the Son propitiates the divine wrath is necessary for Lutheranism to work.” Actually, Lutheranism can work without it – probably even better than with it, because Lutheranism is fundamentally about the pure Gospel. The salvation worked by the life, suffering, and death of our Lord, Who is God Himself, was not an act to appease the wrath of God, but an act of love to make worthy those who were by nature children of wrath, whom God had destined for the Kingdom of His Son.

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

David Garner said...

Jim Huffman wrote:

I wonder if part of the answer is that if God is our enemy, it is not so much that He is making Himself our enemy, but that we have made Him our enemy -- in sin, rebellion, and ultimately how we come to view God as hating us, through the prism of our sin, and the distortion that sin has made in us.

This is exactly how we view it, and frankly how I was taught it when I was a Lutheran. The distinction we in the East would make is only that God doesn't change, and therefore we do not view salvation as a change being effected in the Father through the death of the Son. That is a valid distinction. It's also one that cannot be sorted out in a short soundbite sentence and therefore ought not be attempted in such (not knowing Catholic soteriology very well, I don't know whether this is what the person who said this was driving at).

That, to me, is the greater concern. I think it is folly for any ex-Lutheran to try to reduce Lutheranism to some or another bad idea that makes the whole thing tick. Making a declaration that "Lutheranism only works if....." and following that up with an error is hardly fair, and IMHO it reflects poorly on the person saying such a thing (and, by extension, their own tradition). Especially when, as Pastor Weedon's post makes clear, Lutherans don't even hold to the alleged error.

I cringe when I read unfair, uncharitable and false characterizations of what we in the East believe. I cringe no less when I read the same about Lutherans and what you believe especially when they are said by those within my own tradition. Ultimately, we do damage to our own cause when the best we can come up with to tar another tradition is half-truth and lack of charity.

I've probably said too much -- I don't know who said this or what their intentions were, so I don't mean to cast aspersions. It's just a bit of a pet peeve of mine. It was one of the hardest things to deal with when we converted to Orthodoxy, continuously having to untangle half-truths, uncharitable characterizations of our belief and practice and outright made up falsehoods. As Christians, we ought to strive to do better than that.

William Weedon said...

Where is that LIKE button on my blog. Cause I'd sure select "Like" for David's comments.

Aaron D. Wolf said...

Our Lord clearly says, "Love your enemies." That is what He did. While we were yet sinners (against God), Christ died for us. He doesn't say "Love the ones who seem like enemies but really aren't because you love them." In the same way, we the Baptized were once enemies—"and such were some of you, but you are washed . . . "

Unknown said...

These are the words of our Lord, Matthew 25:34, “Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;…’” At least as far as the sheep are concerned, this seems to exclude the possibility of any wrath or anger. Our Father does not suffer from some form of bi-polar disorder, where He is angry at one point and loving at another. He can “give His Son”, because He loves those “that are blessed” without limit, but He cannot be angry with Him, because the Son does the will of the Father.

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart