This weekend I’ll have limited preaching time due to our Worship Through Service event, but I hope to give a few minutes to reflecting on how Wrath plays into our understanding of God and ourselves.
Spoiler: Jesus’ (the True Human) Wrath is most usually directed at mistreatment of the poor and marginalized.
I blame it on Dennis Perry, who gave me Aquinas to read as soon as I came to faith as a teenager, but I’ve always been troubled, theologically and intellectually, by the notion that salvation’s balance requires Jesus’ death to be paid to God.
Such a transaction- and that’s exactly the language used by proponents- posits a change in God’s disposition towards us because of Jesus’ suffering and death.
I’ve always found this problematic and partial because God, by (ancient) definition is immune to change.
God is not a god.
The God of ex nihilo fame is not a being within the universe. God is pure Essence. Perfect. Changeless. Eternal.
God, as John says, just is…LOVE.
God isn’t loving; God is LOVE with no potentiality. No room for any addition of anything. No cause, as the FIRST CAUSE, to be affected by anything.
God, for good and for ill, is not affected by us at all.
God just loves. Us. God’s creatures. Gratis. Just as we were created. Gratis. The gift never ceases to be given.
Which begs the question:
How is it possible that God is ‘offended’ by our Sin?
How is God’s mind, disposition or will changed by anything we do or don’t do?
The Bible speaks of God in the masculine, which we all recognize is an anthropomorphism made for communication’s sake.
Is it possible God’s anger, wrath, jealousy is also a necessary anthropomorphism made for very urgent, compelling reasons within the life of God’s People? To narrate their experience of the world and with God?
I understand the above will strike many as overly metaphysical, the oft-repeated if ill-informed indictment that metaphysics represents a Hellenization of the Biblical God. Understanding such a disagreement, I nonetheless assert that mine isn’t a solitary perspective but is one with at least half of Christian history behind it.
God, of course, is not injured or insulted or threatened by our sin.
So, when we speak of him forgiving, we are using the word “forgiving” in a rather stretched way, a rather far-fetched way. We speak of God forgiving not because he is really offended but accepts our apology or agrees to overlook the insult.
What God is doing is like forgiveness not because of anything that happens in God, but because of what happens in us, because of the re-creative and redemptive side of forgiveness.
All the insult and injury we do in sinning is to ourselves alone, not to God. We speak of God forgiving us because he comes to us to save us from ourselves, to restore us after we have injured ourselves, to redeem and re-create us.
We can forgive enemies even though they do not apologize and are not contrite. But such forgiveness … does not help them, does not re-create them. In such forgiveness we are changed, we change from being vengeful to being forgiving, but our enemy does not change.
When it comes to God, however, it would make no sense to say he forgives the sinner without the sinner being contrite.For God’s forgiveness just means the change he brings about in the sinner, the sorrow and repentance he gives to the sinner.
God’s forgiveness does not mean that God changes from being vengeful to being forgiving, God’s forgiveness does not mean any change whatever in God.
It just means the change in the sinner that God’s unwavering and eternal love brings about. … Our repentance is God’s forgiveness of us.