Saturday, February 25, 2012

Denial of Sin and Wrath

We have been looking at the suffering of Jesus in Gethsemane. His condition and behavior were so extreme that they demand a better explanation than what is usually given.

We have seen that Jesus was dying in the garden because of his assumption of our sin not only as Surety by reckoning, but as Mediator by sympathy. While remaining holy, He felt our sin as if it were his. Sin itself, not just its symptoms and consequences, is loathsome to Jesus. Loathsome and lethal. Jesus was sorrowful to death for our sin. His contrition on our behalf for our sin was mortifying.

Denial of Sin

Wide sectors of the Church deny sin. We minimize, neglect, or re-characterize it. We preach self-esteem and self-improvement. Ours is a religion of moralistic therapeutic deism. But in Gethsemane, we see that Jesus was sensitive to sin.

By our insensitivity to sin, we are insensitive to Jesus. His experience in Gethsemane was contrition for our sin. If we cannot confess sin, how can we know him in that experience? It was killing him, and it would kill us to admit it. By distancing our selves from confession of sin, we distance ourselves from him.

Denial of Wrath

With sin comes the wrath of God on sin. When Jesus began to assume and feel our sin in Gethsemane, He began to assume and feel the wrath of God. This, too, was killing him then and there in the garden. This, too, was part of the assaulting horror that he saw attacking him that made him "sore amazed."

With the denial of sin comes the denial of wrath.

The wrath of God is not a highly popular concept and it appeals to us when an outstanding scholar suggests that we may do away with it. We like to feel that we have nothing to fear from God, whatever sins may trouble our consciences.[1]

It's Nothing Personal

Scholars redefine wrath as referring only to natural cause and effect. God made the world, set it to function by natural laws, and what we call wrath is only the outworking of natural consequences. We sin, and disaster follows. There is nothing personal about it. Wrath is not a trait of God. Nothing needs to be done to change God's attitude toward sinners.[2]

They go so far as to alter translations of Bible texts to avoid saying that Christ's sacrifice turned away the wrath of God. They avoid words like propitiation not because such words are technical. After all, they substitute the equally technical word expiation. Words like propitiation are not so technical as to prevent us from knowing, if we wish to know, that they mean turning away the personal wrath of God. The scholarly translators know it. But they say, God couldn't have wrath, so Christ's cross did not need to turn it away, and therefore it didn't.

Expiation is an impersonal word that speaks of solving an impersonal problem. To expiate is to make amends for a wrong. The focus is on the wrong and the amends, not, as in propitiation, on the personal reaction to the wrong and the personal reaction to the amends. In expiation, wrongs are more minor than sin, and amends are more minor than blood atonement.

The Cross Trivial

In expiatory terms, the cross does little because the problem it solves is little. As sin is reduced to impersonal wrongs and atonement is reduced to impersonal amends, so wrath is reduced to impersonal, natural consequences. Since wrath is consequence, merely, we need therapy and morals, merely. We need from Jesus only moral influence, sage counsel, and inspirational uplift. That's what the cross does. It positions Jesus as example and coach.

It is not necessary that any such person as Jesus ever actually lived for the exemplary, amends-making expiatory religion to function. Function. That's what the impersonal religion needs to do, and it can do that without the Person of Christ. Christ need be nor more than myth so long as by myth we obtain the function of self-esteem and self-improvement.

Archetype of Overkill

To position Jesus as example and coach, did He have to suffer so in Gethsemane? Has He become such a great example by such pitiful behavior? Did He have to die by crucifixion? Why did He have to die at all? Why was such a great remedy applied for such a small problem? Wasn't that oveerkill?

Apparently the Father sacrificed his Son for merely therapeutic and moralistic reasons. No wonder critics accuse the Father of child abuse against his Only Begotten Son. Church scholars taught them to think so! John 3:16 has become the archetype of overkill and, hence, of abuse.

Comfort Zone

We prefer this therapeutic and moralistic religion because, somehow, we make ourselves believe we are more comfortable by denying sin and wrath, by hoping in our selves, than we could be by having a Savior from sin and wrath. "Comfort ye, comfort ye my people" has gone out the window to make room for, "Be the best you you can be." Such a trinket, when we could have had this treasure:

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that her warfare is ended,
that her iniquity is pardoned,
that she has received from the LORD's hand
double for all her sins. (Isaiah 40:1-2)

Vision Difficulties

To see Jesus in Gethsemane, we must see sin, wrath, and substitution. Jesus took our place in sin and wrath. He turned the wrath of God away from us. He caused a personal change in God's attitude toward you and me.

Before we can approach Jesus in Gethsemane, we have to back up and re-establish that God has wrath on sin. Then maybe we can see that Jesus suffered it for us. In our next postings, we will look at what Jesus says, not what the scholars say, about wrath. After all, in Gethsemane, Jesus' condition and behavior were caused by his idea of wrath, not the idea of philosophers who have never bothered themselves to take God's wrath for you.

Socrates drank a cup of hemlock, but not the cup of God's wrath on my sin. Jesus was horrified in Gethsemane like no other because he drank a cup that no one else ever drank, the cup that would have been mine and everyone's in the world.


1.  Leon Morris, The Atonement: Its Meaning and Significance (InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove, IL, 1983). pp. 154-55.
2.  C. H. Dodd, The Epistle of Paul to the Romans (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1944), pp. 22-23.


No comments:

Post a Comment