Disclaimer: About This Blog

THIS BLOG IS: my personal journey of how I am rethinking some of my spiritual beliefs.
THIS BLOG IS NOT: intended to point fingers at people who I think are wrong.
I do not believe the final judgement will be based on how many correct answers we get on a theology exam. I believe many people throughout history have had genuine relationships with our Lord and Saviour Jesus, despite holding questionable beliefs and practices. I make no claim to having it all figured out or being your judge. If we end up disagreeing over these topics I pray we can find a way to demonstrate grace.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Penal substitution

I've been questioning some of the theory of penal substitution. Then I came across this great discussion at: http://kingdomgrace.wordpress.com/2009/04/13/penal-substitionary-atonement/

Was God's wrath directed towards Jesus instead of towards us? Did God the Father punish Jesus instead of me?

Does God ever quit loving us? Did God stop loving Jesus when he was on the cross?

I'm OK with a loving father disciplining his children - but can killing ever be done in love?

Or is God's wrath only ever directed towards sin? Jesus chose to be the sacrificial lamb that would take our sins to the cross. The wages of my sin is death, and Jesus has taken that upon himself so that I may live.

It may seem like a slight difference, but this is making more and more sense to me. Throughout history there have been many people groups who have believed god (or the gods) required sacrifices to appease their angry god(s). Many of these people groups took it to the extreme of offering human sacrifices to appease the wrath of their gods. I'm having a hard time viewing my God that way. I don't see the gospel message as being a message of appeasing God's wrath. I see it as a message of a God who wants to a relationship with us, and is seeking to win that relationship through love - not fear.


Anonymous said...

Hey Jon... some good thoughts. I'm fully convinced, from the scriptures, that penal substitution, the appeasal or satisfying of God's wrath, is a biblical concept. The OT most certainly demonstrates God's wrath against sin through the whole sacrificial system that was set up by God - a constant reminder to humankind that God's wrath and anger against our sin demands life.

So too then, in the NT, this thread carries on (specifically in Romans 3-5, Hebrews 5-10) by Christ becoming a "propitiation" (appeasal or satisfying) for our sins. The Scriptures paint a picture of such perfection and holiness of our God, that even the slightest act of rebellion needs to be dealt with in the harshest way (not to view sin and rebellion in this manner is to diminish the character of God - particularly His holiness and justice). Sin, it's clear, needs to be paid by the penalty of death (... there is no forgiveness of sin without the shedding of blood), and that, simply because God said so and established it right from the beginning (Genesis 2:17). Unlike some sentiment, this really does not fly in the face of the other characteristics of God (like His love, grace and mercy). I think this is hard (or maybe even impossible) for us to understand fully. But God is God and our responsibility is to take the full counsel of God and even when there may be seeming paradoxes about the character of God, to be alright with not comprehending God fully or figuring Him out completely (Deuteronomy 29:29). I do think though, that God’s holiness and justice can act as a reaffirmation and establishing of His great love for us because it demonstrates to what awesome lengths He goes, in order to reconcile us to Himself. To fully understand our penalty and the extent of it towards us and then be presented with the offer of pardon and forgiveness is to see the one (God) offering it to us as most magnificent and wonderful

So is God angry at Jesus or at us or just at our sin? The truth is that without sin, the cross and the crushing of Jesus would have never happened! This is a hard one, no doubt, and not one that I’m sure we’ll ever fully comprehend (this side of heaven for sure). I'm not convinced that you can dichotomize these two though - us/Jesus or sin (although there might be some separation between the two). I can be angry at my son for something he has chosen to do but at the same time love him. The fact remains - it was my son who did this thing (whatever it was) - it was his choice. So my anger at the act is (somehow) linked, has to be linked, to the one who acted.

Isaiah 53 is pretty clear in regard to God’s actions against His Son (on our behalf) and the reason is clear: “but the Lord was pleased... He will see it and be satisfied...” Jesus, being perfect and completely holy, was the only hope for us as humankind - the only way for us to experience reconciliation to the Father... and somehow, God’s wrath against our sinfulness, His actions against His own Son by crushing Him and killing Him, His great love for us, His grace extended to us, His mercy poured out to us - all culminates in God the Father being satisfied...

I think, most certainly a mystery as all of God’s attributes (holiness, proper anger and righteous wrath, justice, love, grace and mercy) mingle together for our salvation and His ultimate glory!

Jonathan said...

Thanks again Steve for your comments and verses. I've been comparing the descriptions for penal substitution and substitutionary atonement at wikipedia.


I think the verses you quoted fit well with the substitutionary atonement description as well. From what I can tell the substitutionary atonement doctrine agrees with the penal substitution doctrine, except doesn't need to use the words punish or penalize and doesn't speek of God's wrath being placed on His son.

Yes, the wages of sin is death is a strong theme throughout scripture. The shedding of blood in the OT was a symbolic ritual. Was it the blood that made them right before God, or was it the faith behind the obedience in doing this ritual? The people made an offering and God forgave their sins. I don't see it as God's wrath being poured out on the offering in place of the people.

Another thought... not all blood sacrifices were done for forgiveness of sins. Peace offerings also required blood in the OT. It may not be the blood so much that was required for forgiveness, but obedience to the type of sacrifice that was requested. I'm not sure on this thought tho.

With Jesus death it was God who gives of Himself as a sacrifice freely so that we can be in relationship with Him. I'm not seeing the need for using penal/punishment in the description.

I'm not sure if it all makes clear sense to me yet though. Still flushing these thoughts out. I know the Bible is full of reference to God's wrath - I'm just not certain it was directed at Jesus here. I think the substitutionary atonement doctrine may be a better fit.

Blessings brother.