A Wrath-less God Has Victims (by Jason Micheli)

A Wrath-less God Has Victims (by Jason Micheli) March 3, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 9.19.00 PMA Wrath-less God Has Victims

Like many upper middle class mainline Protestants, which is to say white Christians, I’ve long taken issue with the concept of divine wrath, believing it to conflict with the God whose most determinative attribute is Goodness itself. Whenever I’ve pondered the possibility of God’s anger I’ve invariably thought about it directed at me. I’m no saint, sure, but I’m no great sinner either. The notion that God’s wrath could be fixed upon me made God seem loathsome to me, a god not God.

I’ve changed my mind about God’s wrath.

Or, rather, my friend, Brian Stolarz has changed my mind.

When reflecting upon the category of divine wrath, thanks to Brian, I no longer think of myself. My mind goes instead to Alfred Dewayne Brown, Brian’s client.

Brian spent a decade working to free an innocent man, Alfred Dwayne Brown, from death row in Texas. Dewayne had been convicted of a cop-killing in Houston. Despite a lack of any forensic evidence, he was sentenced to be killed by the State on death row.

Brown’s IQ of 67, qualifying him as mentally handicapped, was ginned up to 70 by the state doctor in order to qualify him for execution. This wasn’t the only example of prosecutorial abuse in the case; in fact, the evidence which could’ve proved his alibi was hidden by prosecutors and only discovered fortuitously by Brian, years later. Dewayne was released by the state this summer. Brian has forthcoming book about the experience. You can find out more about the case here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/inspired-life/wp/2016/01/21/making-friends-with-a-murderer-and-proving-hes-innocent/

            Meanwhile, Dewayne has a civil rights case pending to seek restitution for the injustice done to him.

            To seek rectification, biblically speaking.

I spent about a half hour alone with Dewayne this fall as we waited for his presentation, with Brian, to a group of law students. I’ve worked in a prison as a chaplain and interacted with prisoners in solitary and on death row. Like my friend, Brian, I have a good BS radar. Dewayne was unlike the prisoners I’ve met. My immediate reaction from spending time with him was how difficult it was for me to fathom any one fathoming him committing the crime of which he was accused. My second reaction was to feel overwhelmed by Dewayne’s expressions of forgiveness over the wrongs done to him by crooked cops and lawyers, a prejudiced system, and an indifferent society. ‘I’ve forgiven all that,’ Dewayne told me in the same sort of classroom where lawyers who had turned a blind eye to his innocence were once trained into a supposedly blind justice system.

Here’s the crux of the matter, and I use that word very literally:

            Dewayne is allowed to express forgiveness about the crimes done to him.

            But, as a Christian, I am not so permitted. Neither are you.

If we told Dewayne, for example, that he should forgive and forget, then he would be justified in kicking in our sanctimonious teeth.

In The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ, Fleming Rutledge points out in her third chapter, The Question of Justice, we commonly suppose that Christianity is primarily about forgiveness. Jesus, after all, told his disciples they were to forgive upwards of 490 times. From the cross Jesus petitioned for the Father’s forgiveness towards us who knew exactly what we were doing. Forgiveness is cemented into the prayer Jesus taught his disciples.

Nonetheless, to reduce the message of Christianity to forgiveness is to ignore what scripture claims transpires upon the cross.

         The cross is more properly about God working justice.

The most fulsome meaning of ‘righteousness,’ Rutledge reminds her readers, is ‘justice’ understood not only as a noun but as an active, reality-making verb. Though righteousness often sounds to us as a vague spiritual attribute, the original meaning couldn’t be more this-worldly. Justice, don’t forget, is the subject of Isaiah’s foreshadowings of the coming Messiah. Justice is the dominant theme in Mary’s magnificat and justice is the word Jesus chooses to preach for his first sermon in Nazareth.

To mute Christianity into a message about forgiveness is to sever Jesus’  cross             from the Old Testament prophets who first anticipated and longed for an apocalyptic invasion from their God.

And it’s to suggest that on the cross Jesus works something other than  how both his mother and he construed his purpose.

Rather than forgiveness, Rutledge asserts, we see on the cross God’s wrath poured out against Sin with a capital S and the upon the systems (Paul would say the Powers) created by Sin. On the correspondence between Sin as injustice and God’s wrath, Rutledge cites Isaiah’s initial chapter:

What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?

   says the Lord;

I have had enough of burnt-offerings…

bringing offerings is futile;

   incense is an abomination to me.

   I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity.

Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;

   remove the evil of your doings

   from before my eyes;

cease to do evil,

   learn to do good;

seek justice,

   rescue the oppressed,

defend the orphan,

   plead for the widow…

Therefore says the Sovereign, the Lord of hosts, the Mighty One of Israel:

Ah, I will pour out my wrath on my enemies,

   and avenge myself on my foes!

I will turn my hand against you…

Christianly speaking, forgiveness is a vapid, meaningless concept apart from justice. The cross is a sign that something in the world is terribly wrong and needs to be put right. The Sin-responsible injustice of the world requires rectification (Rutledge’s preferred translation for ‘righteousness’).

Only God can right what’s wrong, and the cross is how God chooses to do it. God pours out himself into Jesus and then, on the cross, God pours out his wrath against Jesus and, in doing so, upon the Sin that unjustly nailed him there.

Summarizing the prophets’ word of divine wrath in light of the cross, Rutledge writes:

Because justice is such a central part of God’s nature, he has declared enmity  against every form of injustice. His wrath will come upon those who have exploited the poor and weak; he will not permit his purpose to be subverted.’

Despite the queasiness God’s wrath invokes among mainline and liberal Protestants, how could one think of Alfred Dewayne Brown and not hear the above lines as good news? The example of Dewayne Brown points out the problem with the popular disavowal of divine anger; namely, what we (in power) find repugnant has been a source of hope and empowerment to the oppressed peoples of the world.

The wrath of God is not an artifactual belief to be embarrassed over, it is the always timely good news that the outrage we feel over the world’s injustice is ‘first of all outrage in the heart of God,’ which means wrath is not a contradiction of God’s goodness but is the steadfast outworking of it.

The biblical picture of God’s anger, Rutledge shows, is different from the caricature of a petulant, arbitrary god so often conjured when divine wrath is considered in the abstract. ‘The wrath of God,’ she writes, ‘is not an emotion that flares up from time to time, as though God had temper tantrums; it is a way of describing his absolute enmity against all wrong and his coming to set matters right.’ Put so and understood rightly, it’s actually the non-angry god who appears morally distasteful, for ‘a non-indignant God would be an accomplice in injustice, deception, and violence.’

Maybe, I can’t help but wonder, we prefer that god, the one who is a passive accomplice to injustice, because, on some subconscious level, that is what we know ourselves to be.

Accomplices to injustice.

I did no direct wrong to Dewayne Brown, for example, but on most days I’m indifferent to others on death row like him. The inky facts of injustice are all over my newspaper but I don’t do anything about it. I try not to see color even as I neglect to see it through the prism of the cross.

I’m not an oppressor but I am most definitely an accomplice. Odds are, so are you.

Perhaps that is what is truly threatening to so many of us about a wrathful God; we know that the bible’s ire is fixed not so much on the hands-on oppressors as it is against the indifference of the masses.

As Rutledge points out:

 ’,,,in the bible, the idolatry and negligence of groups en masse receive most of the attention, from Amos’ withering depiction of rich suburban housewives  (Amos 4.1) to Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem (Luke 13.34) to James’ rebuke of an insensitive local congregation (James 2.2-8).

As Brett Dennen puts it in his song, ‘Ain’t No Reason,’ slavery is stitched into every fiber of our clothes. We’re implicated in the world’s injustice even if we like to think ourselves not guilty of it. Rutledge believes this explains why so much of popular Christianity in America projects a distorted view of reality; by that, she means sentimental. Our escapist mentality protects us not just from the unendurable aspects of life in the world but also from the burden of any responsibility for them.

Such sentimentality, however popular and apparently harmless, has its victims. They have names like Alfred Dewayne Brown.

Having a friend like Brian and having met someone like Dewayne, I’m convinced we risk something precious when we jettison God’s wrath from our Christianity. We risk losing our own outrage.

Fleming Rutledge’s The Crucifixion might’ve convinced all on its own:

 ‘If, when we see an injustice, our blood does not boil at some point, we have not  yet understood the depths of God. It depends on what outrages us. To be outraged on behalf of oneself or one’s own group alone is to be human, but it is not to participate in Christ.

    To be outraged and to take action on behalf of the voiceless and oppressed, however, is to do the work of God.

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  • Andrew Dowling

    This argument relies on two presumptions:

    1) A PSA view of the atonement, which for reasons historical and theological I don’t think is a sound reading.

    2) A belief that justice necessitates someone being “punished” . . .this idea is sub-God IMO. What good would it be for Mr. Brown’s judge or corrupt/negligent police to suffer punishment AFTER a scenario in which he was freed and exonerated? That type of vindictive wrath is understandable, and very human, but not from the God Jesus portrays in the Gospels.

  • Darach Conneely

    I don’t get how the idea “God pours out his wrath against Jesus, and in doing so, upon the Sin that unjustly nailed him there” works. As Andrew suggests Rutledge may be talking in PSA terms here. But I think Rutledge has the idea of God’s wrath right, that biblically it is an expression of God’s love for those being oppressed and crushed, rather than the more traditional view that God’s righteousness or honour is offended by our breaking a set of rules. She then tries to fit that in with PSA, much less successfully, but that doesn’t take from her identification of God’s wrath as an expression of God’s heart for social justice, or as the bible calls it, justice.
    edited: thanks JK

  • Phil Miller

    It’s not that I believe God is devoid of wrath. I believe that God does rightly have anger towards injustice and exploitation as mentioned in this article. I guess the thing is, though, I don’t know how we can conceive of that in a way that is really useful to the way we live. These sort of societal injustices permeate the fabric of our lives, and if we ask who’s to blame, it’s impossible to just pick one person or group of people most of the time. Everyone is and nobody is. That’s to say we all share in the guilt to a degree, but the issue is so large that just punishing one person doesn’t solve anything. I think that’s the hard part to reconcile. People want to assign certain things to God’s wrath and justice, but when we do that, it seems capricious and random. God seems to let some people get off easy while other bear the brunt. It is hard to imagine God’s wrath in a way that doesn’t come off as simply blind wrath.

    I also think that for most people living with outrage for a prolonged period of time isn’t sustainable, and in the long run it becomes damaging. Outrage without an outlet simply become frustration and pain.

    I guess my answer is that perhaps we’re looking at the wrong side of things. Perhaps rather than wanting to see God’s vindication from the perspective of, “God is going to come and wipe out all of our enemies”, we need to look at the incarnation of God, though Christ, is coming and bearing all of all shame, suffering, and guilt with us. Rather than simply being above it all, God is immersing Himself in it, letting it crush Him, just as is crushes us. In doing so, the evil exhausts its power and in doing so, Christ “wins” by outlasting it all.

  • Fleming relies heavily in this section on Miroslav Volf’s Exclusion and Embrace, particularly on the justness of the oppressed wanting God to right wrongs and punish evildoers. I think its a legitimate argument but I also concede the critique of it is just as legitimate. It’s probably my fault for reviewing it piecemeal like this as her chapter on substitution only comes towards the end of her book.

  • KentonS

    I agree with the overall direction here (minus the overtones of penal substitution), but I don’t think we can rescue the term “wrath” from its “caricature of a petulant, arbitrary god” post Jonathan Edwards. There can be a third way beside vapid forgiving and forgetting and @$$-kicking Jesus.

  • Morton White

    I think Rutledge would argue that ‘penal’ is not biblical, thus SA and not PSA.

  • kwfoster

    Thanks for this reflection. I’m really looking forward to reading Rugtledge’s book.

    I know so many white, middle-class Americans like myself who are terribly offended by a wrathful God. From our positions of privilege and comfort it’s difficult for us to imagine ourselves in the position of people suffering in social environments characterized by continual and extreme injustices. Yet many even in our own cities and neighborhoods live in this environment – and we may be part of creating it. A God that is indifferent to this would be a monster.

    And yet based on the previous comments here it seems like our resistance to God’s anger at great injustices seems to be rooted in our linking of wrath with punishment or retribution. Many went immediately to a critique of penal substitutionary atonement.

    Jesus unequivocally denounced retributive justice (you say ‘an eye for an eye’ but I say . . .). We may respond to wrongs inflicted against us with a desire to punish and injure the wrongdoer but that doesn’t mean that’s how God responds. We really need to get this out of our system if we want to understand God’s justice. Wrath leading toward punishment looks very different from wrath leading towards repentance and restoration. The first looks very much like our legal system. The second looks like God on the cross, demonstrating the injustice of the world, modeling defiance against it, and inviting us to do the same.

  • James

    The identifying mark of the prophesied Messiah King of Scripture from beginning (Genesis 3:15) to end (Revelation 19) is the one who comes to crush not only Satan but also His own enemies. (cf. Num. 24; Isaiah 25; Psalm 110; etc. etc.)

  • Alex Dalton

    E. P. Sanders’ chapter on Paul’s Soteriology in _Paul and Palestinian Judaism_ explained aspects of Jesus’ death on the cross, almost 40yrs ago, that Christians who discuss the atonement are still not grasping or even discussing. No, the cross isn’t just about forgiveness of sin (not even primarily – what good is forgiveness of past sin, when we remain unchanged as creatures?). Sanders demonstrates, that for Paul, the cross is primarily about participation in Christ’s death for all Christians. Any discussion of the cross that doesn’t reference participation or union, is not rooted in Paul’s theology. The cross unites us with Christ in his death, and destroys the power of Sin over us. The cross/resurrection are about our corporate death – the death of the “old man” – and our corporate resurrection “in Christ” to live under his Lordship. We now share in his life, his power,his glory, his Spirit – as the scripture says, we are his corporate Temple, his body, and his bride.

  • Patrick Barton

    1) Penal substitution is a man made construct of Protestant nonsense( I am one).
    It’s not how God views it, if it was, Jesus would have had to exchange Himself for us as our substitute and become a slave to satan in return for our release from his domain which we once were slaves in, that is not what happened on the cross.
    Not even close.
    2) God’s justice causes Him to forgive, we’ve got it all wrongheaded if we think He has to kill to satisfy Himself. He has to do intrinsic good to satisfy Himself.
    3) I think the author has it right in her definition of God’s wrath, it ain’t like our wrath. I think her view that forgiveness and a sense of making things right go together, however, forgiveness is divine, I would not minimize that.

    James,

    Correct, the key is HOW Messiah Jesus accomplished all these goals. In Isaiah, he is seen with blood flowing from His robes, wading through blood like the Revelation has it flowing.

    My perspective is that is Messiah Jesus’ blood flowing to defeat all His enemy. Not “ungodly mankind”, that’s who He came to save.

  • Alex Dalton

    I’m really puzzled by 2) here. I don’t think the idea of wrath ought to be central to the atonement, but the God Jesus portrays in the Gospels certainly portrays wrath. Jesus is prophesying the utter destruction of their holy city! He is also *quite often* portrayed condemning the religious leadership and pronouncing the wrath of God for them as well.

  • Alex Dalton

    In in the incarnation, God immerses himself in the life of man, I agree. I think that’s only half the story though. With Paul’s participatory emphasis when it comes to the death of Christ, we are somehow immersed in the death, and then the resurrection of Christ. He lived his life like us, and died in participatory union with us, so that we might somehow die to our *own* life through his death, and now live his life with him and like him – and I would say, even corporately, *as* him.

  • Phil Miller

    Much of this conversation reminds me a lot of what Andrew Perriman has written regarding the wrath of God. He has written pretty extensively about it, but his main point is that we have to look at the wrath of God in the historical and narrative context in which it was written. Evangelicals, in particular, tend to think only in individual, “personal salvation” term, whereas the Biblical narrative is focused on God’s relationship and deliverance of His people.

    http://www.postost.net/2014/11/cross-where-jesus-died-wrath-god-was-satisfied

    The basic problem with modern worship songs like this one is that they rewrite Israel’s story as though it were the individual believer’s story. It works up to a point. Some parts make sense, many parts don’t. In this particular case, I don’t think that the eschatological language can be so easily transposed. “Wrath of God” refers, as I’ve said, to historical events. The phrase “No pow’r of hell” presumably alludes to the statement “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18 ESV). It’s a poor translation. Jesus means only that death (“the gates of Hades”) will not prevail over the church that is built on the rock of Peter or of his confession. The language of Jesus coming or returning has in view, broadly, the deliverance and vindication of his disciples at the time of the historical manifestation of God’s wrath.

  • Alex Dalton

    I love Perriman’s blog, but I think he subsumes everything under his narrative eschatology, and to what end, I’m not always sure. I think his Christology and even Christian anthropology are seriously underdeveloped/incomplete.

    As for corporate vs. individual wrath/salvation, I think its clear that the Bible speaks of both. Some follow Christ and some don’t in the Gospels. Regardless of how corporate salvation ultimately is (what that means other than that a “group” of people are ultimately saved, I’m not sure), the destiny of the individual is determined by their relation to Christ, otherwise we would not have any Jews who followed Christ and founded the Church. Jesus isn’t pronouncing blanket judgments against Israel, without concern for individuals. In fact, the Gospels all portray the exact opposite. Salvation is always corporate in the sense that we are united in Christ as one body, but the Spirit is given to us as individuals, who all carry its unique manifestation. Paul makes much of our individual manifestation of the Spirit and how it contributes to the salvation of the corporate body.

    You can’t ignore the narrative of Israel, and apply Jesus’ judgments against the unrepentant Jews to modern people as if they are timeless truths, but certainly Paul does see election, the cross, and even the very failure of Israel to accept him, as having a cosmic scope, that goes beyond the OT biblical narrative, the history of Israel, indeed even beyond the knowledge of heavenly beings.

  • Yes, she does say exactly that later in her book.

  • Thanks for this! I think you nailed it exactly.

  • HamburgerHelper2

    PSA here mans Penal Substitutionary Atonement NOT Public Service Announcement.

  • JK

    See Brian Zahnd’s forthcoming book. He takes on Edwards directly with a chapter titled Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God.

    Perhaps we can enter a post post Edwards era.

  • KentonS

    Certainly looking forward to it! He’s one of my favorites.

  • Jason,

    Nice work here. I’ve been enjoying Rutledge’s book immensely myself. Her reflections on justice, especially in the context of the Civil Rights struggle and the South Africa Apartheid regime were particularly poignant.

    One other treatment of wrath I’ve found helpful is Tony Lane’s chapter on the Wrath of God as an aspect of the Love of God. You can read it here:
    http://www.theologynetwork.org/Media/PDF/Tony_Lane-The_Wrath_of_God_as_an_Aspect_of_the_Love_of_God.pdf

    The other thing people often forget when thinking through the doctrine of God’s wrath, especially in connection with penal substitution, is that it was usually connected with a nuanced doctrine of God’s impassibility which kept it from turning into some sort of petulant outburst, as you say. This is so in most of the classic sources and even the modern sources. If you have access to it, Steven J. Duby does some good work on that in his article in the Scottish Evangelical Theological Society:
    http://www.s-e-t-s.org.uk/bulletin/archive/292-autumn-2011

    I look forward to reading more of your interactions with Rutledge.

    Best,

    Derek

  • Jerry Shepherd

    I think that any doctrine in Scripture can be caricatured (by both proponents and opponents), and then end up being rejected on account of the caricature, and not on account of the doctrine itself. This is especially the case with PSA. Even the greatest proponents of PSA, e.g., John Stott and Leon Morris, had their own reactions to certain crass attempts to state the doctrine. Other times, I think it has to do with the connotations of certain words. Stott had no problem saying that Christ suffered the wrath of God on the cross; but, interestingly, remarked that he would never say that God punished Jesus. In any case, I think the way Jason has stated it above, “God pours out himself into Jesus and then, on the cross, God pours out his wrath against Jesus and, in doing so, upon the Sin that unjustly nailed him there,” seems to entirely correspond to the biblical formulations without going beyond the bounds of propriety. Our blog host has put it appropriately as well: ““So I conclude that the Bible does teach penal substitution . . . He died instead of us (substitution); he died a death that was the consequence of sin (penal)” (A Community Called Atonement).

  • JK

    “God pours out his wrath against Jesus”: in what sense do you mean “against”? This phrasing is opaque to me.

  • JK

    “If we told Dewayne, for example, that he should forgive and forget, then he would be justified in kicking in our sanctimonious teeth.”

    Surely you believe that forgiveness is good for Dewayne’s own sake, and that to forgive is not to say the harm is immaterial, quite the opposite (else no forgivness is needed.) If you do believe that, why would you withhold beneficial advice from someone in need?

  • JK

    Rutledge= “She”. Check out her work, it’s terrific.

  • Cosmo

    Well stated, Jerry. Let’s allow the Scriptures to speak for itself! There is truth, beauty, and mystery in the various understandings of the atonement. In the atonement there is substitution, wrath, satisfaction, judgement, expiation, love, reconciliation, and much more. However it all happened, this we know – God made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we would become the righteousness of God.
    It’s a beautiful mystery, and I thank God for his gift to us!

  • GabrielRenfro

    The argument “wrath is necessary to avenge on behalf of the innocent” has the Biblical problem that no one is innocent in the sight of God. Who are these innocent parties who are entitled to God’s vengeance on their behalf? There is none righteous, not one. Jesus is the first truly innocent person to suffer injustice, and so His death is necessary to provide the foundation for restitution and retribution on behalf of innocent parties.

  • GabrielRenfro

    Hi Jerry, question: Doesn’t the argument “wrath is necessary to avenge on behalf of the innocent” have the Biblical problem that no one is innocent in the sight of God? Who are these innocent parties who are entitled to God’s vengeance on their behalf? There is none righteous, not one. Jesus is the first truly innocent person to suffer injustice, and so it seems His death is necessary in the first place to provide the foundation for restitution and retribution on behalf of those we deem as innocent parties.

  • Thank you for this article. I have taken hit after hit after hit on this subject. Even here on the Evangelical Channel on Patheos. Jesus is NOT some mamby pamby person. He is GOD. The God of the Old Testament and New. Postmodernism abounds especially in the “American church” that waters down the message that GOD expects MORE not less of us and our willingness to stand for truth. Some of the most offense posters I have found are not the atheists or agnostics but rather the apostates. Many will indeed hear: “Depart from me I never knew you.”

  • ACross

    You can never truly understand God’s justice (and forgiveness) if you believe the statement you wrote: “I’m no saint, sure, but I’m no great sinner either.” Both components of the statement are false. If you are a Christian, God says you are a saint because of what he has done for you. But more to the point of this article, if you are a human, you ARE a GREAT sinner. Every human being is a sinner in the absolute sense of the word. Paul himself considered himself the greatest sinner because the more he knew God, the more he understood how far he fell from his standard. Our view of God’s justice, love, grace, goodness, forgiveness, mercy, etc. will only be as great as our view of our own sin. We are not guilty merely by association (like the example you give of being implicated in society’s crimes), we are personally and woefully guilty in and of ourselves. Any article about God’s justice that starts out with the assumption that you (or anyone) is really not that bad is begun on a false premise and can never arrive at a true conclusion.

  • TruthSeeker

    Mr. Alfred Dewayne Brown must be an extremely strong soul of a man, because I surely cannot forgive the great evil which was done to him, and injustices/ evil truly depresses me, and makes me lose my will to live. I have had much evil, and injustice done to me, and it is ongoing. However, it is nothing compared to what Mr. Brown has gone through, nor what Jesus The Christ has been through, nor what holocaust victims have gone through, and so on, and so on. For the most part, I believe we are ALL victims. This life is much too sad, and short. I want to be in Heaven, with the Lord, and I am not even old yet. This world is too evil, and ugly for me, especially with all the horrific atrocities being committed against animals, and decent people.

  • Nimblewill

    “God pours out his wrath against Jesus and, in doing so, upon the Sin that unjustly nailed him there.”

    The problem is that this simply makes no sense whatsoever to me. The bible says over and over that men put Jesus on the cross. Paul said that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself.

  • For a careful treatment on these (and related) matters, you might be interested to read Thomas H. McCall’s Forsaken: The Trinity and the Cross, and Why It Matters (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2012).

  • Tim Ellison

    Utter nonsense. only a non-violent God and a non-violent atonement is good news. Seriously?

  • postluke22

    I think there’s a contextual definition of “good news” that doesn’t quite match with the way you’re using the term here. If Jesus’ “good news” was the same as, say, a newspaper headline proclaiming that every person is getting a blank check in the mail tomorrow, then I’d agree with you. But his “good news” has thematic and contextual resonance that can’t be understood outside of the centuries of pain and destruction, hopes and dreams leading up to the time of Christ. In that case, “gospel” has a lot to do with the enemies of Israel getting their just desserts. But the twist in the Prophets and the Gospels seems to be that Israel has to in some way receive their just desserts for the oppression they’ve caused as well. Jesus then seems to sum up and fulfill that entire messy narrative arc.

    This is my problem with some articulations of Theology; they often achieve full formation despite the text of Scripture’s nuance or tensions in the matters said Theology seeks to resolve. I think an absolute adherence to a “non-violent atonement” ironically can do violence to the text in the same way because it creates a hierarchy wherein a philosophy of non-violence always reigns supreme despite what the text says.

    Does Christ call us to a life of fierce non-violence? I would argue that he absolutely, unequivocally does. But I think the narrative arc of Scripture seems to offer us a more messy view of the way God has interacted with the world. As much as I am annoyed by the messiness, I don’t see how else to approach a text that is this complex.

  • Tim Ellison

    This is not a good review. It is from someone who believes that God is violent

  • Tim Ellison

    Hi Luke, Thank you for your reply. The thing is, i think that there is quite a back story to arriving at the conclusions i have regarding a non-violent atonement. I understand what you mean about doing violence to the text – however, the text needs to be ‘rightly divided’ – there is both religion and revelation going on in the scriptures. I believe there are at least 2 voices in the text and we are invited to discern them. This is Barth, this is Girard. I follow the way they see things. For me, the Roshach test is this: Does God require the death of his son in order to forgive humanity? my answer is NO.

  • postluke22

    “The thing is, i think that there is quite a back story to arriving at the conclusions i have regarding a non-violent atonement.”

    I agree, and obviously plenty of people have written on the polyphonic voice of the OT particularly, with a potential debate happening between the priestly and the prophetic.

    “This is Barth, this is Girard”

    Although I would hold Barth up as a student of the text, whereas I have a hard time placing the Girardian lens across Scripture whole cloth. My main problem with Girard is that his theory of everything works great with the texts that it works great with; I would have a hard time taking seriously an exegetical approach (contextual, centered in the historical moment out of which texts sprang) that used Girard as a primary foundation. But you’re definitely right in asserting that plenty of thinkers and scholars have approached Scripture as something other than uni-vocal.

    “For me, the Roshach test is this: Does God require the death of his son in order to forgive humanity? my answer is NO.”

    And I would resoundingly agree with you on that point. But I would disagree on the broader premise of the statement. For instance, I’m not so sure that the Synoptics theologically tell the story of how Jesus died for humanity in and of itself, so much as how Jesus died for the sins of Israel through whom (ideally) the world is blessed or not-blessed. I see the interplay of the Synoptics with the OT as confirming this idea over and over again, from Jesus’ symbolic use of the Cup, the Baptism, and the New Covenant in describing his death (all potent OT prophetic metaphors having to do with Israel’s experience of judgment and longing for justice) to his flat-out statements about how Israel is his primary focus and mission.

    Did Jesus have to die in order for Israel to be forgiven of her sins according to some cosmic judicial conundrum? No…but I would ask: “Did Jesus choose to die so that a mysterious healing, liberation, and righteous judgment (using this word in the OT sense of “dividing rightly, not juridically) could occur for Israel, and consequently, the world? I think the answer has to be “yes.”

    Thanks for your response Tim!

  • Darryl Willis

    Well, I’m beginning to feel like Socrate’s statement that “I know nothing except the fact of my ignorance!”Now Socrates was speaking tongue in cheek–but me? Not so much. I’ve read Boyd, Girard, Zahnd, and reading Baker (“Razing Hell”). I have Rutledge but haven’t read her yet.

    I used to think I was fairly intelligent. I don’t have that to hang on to anymore!

  • I.e. there is no good news, since neither of those has ever existed.

  • Tobie

    Thanks for this. Surely wrath has to do with love – with protecting the victims of injustice by allowing the perpetrators of injustice to stand at the receiving end of their own actions in order to enforce the golden rule of Mt 7:12. This can only be understood when we discard our typical English understanding of the Hebrew tzedek and the Gk dik-stem words as “righteousness – a word that is non-existent in both languages. The infiltration of this term into our English translations is perhaps the single most tragic error of modern theology – like changing the Department of Justice’s name to the Department of Righteousness.