Does Greg Boyd affirm divine wrath? Good question. It depends. There are plenty of strong-minded theologians who proudly announce their affirmation of divine wrath, John Macarthur being one, who unfortunately do not keep wrath in any kind of tension or balance with grace. It won’t do flatly to announce wrath as divine retribution and leave it at that. Wrath, Yes, but how? Whether you like Greg Boyd’s view or not, he attempts to bring the fullness of Scripture into alignment with what he perceives is its center: the cross as a revelation of the cruciform God of gracious redemption.
Greg Boyd, in The Crucifixion of the Warrior God examines this issue under the category of “divine aikido.” Like it or not, he’s doing his best to examine wrath in the context of the larger sweep of Scripture.
I contend (and have said before) that the biggest problem for Boyd is many of those who disagree with him, perhaps almost all those who disagree with him, do not think his problem is a problem at all! That is, they don’t think divine violence in the Old Testament is a problem because — for the most part — they believe divine violence and retribution are entirely consistent with God’s holy being in the face of sin and that all people deserve that kind of violence. It is not, so they would say, unfair for God to be violent against some sinners; in fact, it is also unfair that God that shows favor to some who escape divine violence. This merciful unfairness is divine grace.
Boyd thinks that view itself is the problem and that the image of God projected in that view is inconsistent with the cruciform shape of God as revealed in Christ.
Here are Boyd’s big ideas:
Aikido means “the way of peace” or “the way of the harmonious spirit.’ Developed by Morihei Ueshiba in the 1920s and 30s, Aikido is a martial arts technique that trains “warriors” to engage in nonresistant combat, turning the force of aggressors back on themselves in order to neutralize their opponent and hopefully to enlighten them regarding the evil in their heart that fueled their aggression!
The Principle of Redemptive Withdrawal is anchored in the fact that God the Father did not act violently toward his Son when the Son bore the judgment of our sin that we deserved. Rather, with a grieving heart, the Father simply withdrew his protective hand, thereby delivering his Son over to wicked humans and fallen powers that were already “bent on destruction” (isa 51:13).4 Yet, by abandoning his Son to suffer the destructive consequences of sin that we deserved, the Father wisely turned the violent aggression of these evildoers back on themselves, causing evil to self-implode and thereby liberating creation.
We may thus state the Principle of Redemptive Withdrawal as follows: God judges sin, defeats evil, and works for the redemption of creation by withdrawing his protective presence, thereby allowing evil to run its self-destructive course and ultimately to self-destruct.
Yet, we shall see that our cross-based faith also requires us to discern that God is doing this in hopes of eventually redeeming these people and as a stepping-stone ultimately to causing all sin and evil to self-destruct.
So what about divine wrath? I reformat and put in bold:
I will argue that the cross reveals, and Scripture confirms, that God’s “wrath” is
(1) one and the same as his decision to abandon people to their sin,
(2) redemptive in intent (up until the final judgment),
(3) something that grieves the heart of God, and
(4) is his strategy for causing evil to self-destruct.
Put in my terms, divine wrath is not Schadenfreude as some careless preaching clearly suggests or even states. Notice how Boyd attempts to reverse the approach to wrath:
The cry of dereliction is a critical verse in this discussion, leading Boyd to this (777): “In the separation that was experienced on Calvary, therefore, the Trinity experiences ‘the loss of God for the love of God,’ as Gerard Rosse expresses it. And because the love that this loss expresses is the love that eternally and necessarily unites the three divine Persons, we must consider the abandonment of the Son on the cross to constitute the supreme expression of the loving union of the three divine Persons. And … this is precisely why the cross constitutes the definitive revelation of the triune God.” He continues, “Perhaps the best way of thinking about this is to distinguish between the loving unity that the three divine Persons experience, on the one hand, and the loving unity that defines God’s eternal essence, on the other. We could say that on the cross, the former was momentarily sacrificed as an expression of the latter. That is, the three divine Person’s sacrificed their previously uninterrupted experience of perfect loving union in order to express the perfect loving union that defines them as God” (777-778).
Indeed, rather than interpreting Scripture’s various depictions of God’s “wrath” through the lens of the cross, it is my impression that many theologians throughout history, and espedally since the Reformation, have tended to interpret the “wrath” that God expressed on Calvary through the lens of Scripture’s violent divine portraits. 771
At this point Boyd develops each of the four points above as how to understand the wrath of God.
We can summarize this insight by noting that as sin is the act of pushing God away, so God’s judgment of sin is the act of God granting the sinner his wish to push God away. 779
Indeed, this expression of divine “wrath” against sin involved no personal animosity on the part of the Father toward Jesus, let alone any :t of violence on the part of the Father toward Jesus. It was wicked humans, under the influence of demonic powers, who carried out all the violence described in the passion accounts. The Father merely withdrew his loving, protective presence, thereby delivering his Son over to these violent agents, in accordance with the plan the Son had freely agreed to. 781
Boyd next deals with the common view that wrath has as its end retribution:
The second aspect of Jesus’s experience of his Father’s “wrath” that we need to discuss concerns the fact that this judgment was not an end in-and-of-itself. The ultimate purpose of the Father’s abandonment of the Son was rather to redeem humanity and all of creation and to vanquish the kingdom of darkness and sin that has held us captive since the fall (e.g., John 12:31; Col 1:20, 2:14-15; Heb 2:14;1 John 3:8). 782-783
Boyd argues for divine grief over divine wrath: “I would, in fact, go farther and argue that since the cross reveals that the very essence of God is an unsurpassable self-sacrificial agape-love that fully identifies with sinners and that suffers on their behalf (vol. 1, chs. 4-5), we should not only say that the heavenly Judge “mourns’ with those who mourn under his judgments; we should go further and say that the Judge’s mourning in allowing any people to come under his judgment is inconceivably greater than the mourning of those who are being judged. Since God’s love for people is inconceivably beyond whatever finite love they have for themselves or for their loved ones, the suffering that God experiences when he sees he must withdraw his protective hand and allow people to experience the death-consequences of their rebellion must also be inconceivably greater than whatever suffering people experience as they and/or their loved ones undergo a judgment of God” (800-801).
It’s all aikido-like:
God did not overthrow Satan’s realm by relying on the kind of aggressive, coercive power Satan relies on and, not coincidentally, that earthly rulers typically rely on. God rather relied on his wisdom, born out of a love the fallen powers could not fathom, to disarm this kingdom and, in principle, to reduce it to nothing. By withdrawing his protection and delivering over his Son to these wicked powers, allowing them to carry out the violence that was in their hearts, the Father caused their evil intentions to recoil back on their own heads (cf. Ps 7:16), thereby using evil to punish evil. Hence, just as every aspect of the violence done to Jesus was carried out by fallen humans and fallen powers, not God, so too every aspect of the violence that brought about the demise of the fallen powers was carried out by the fallen powers themselves. 803