God as Abba: A Mini-Reflection on God’s Love and Judgment

I thought I would re-blog this short article, as it discusses a theme that is dear to the heart of my readers–divine wrath and judgment. One sentence in particular jumped out at me: “sin does require judgment, but not a judgment that would ever occur outside of God’s own life for us in Christ.” Underlying Bobby’s understanding here is the emphatic insistence of Karl Barth and Thomas Torrance that there is no other God than the one made known in the crucified and risen Christ. In his immanent being, God is for us. Hence we need not fear his judgment, for it is always a judgment of mercy and truth. The moment of judgment may be painful; but it it will ultimately purify, heal, and save.

Bobby goes on to speak of God taking upon himself “humanity’s judgment in himself for us.” I can preach this way, too, but I wonder if hidden behind this way of talking is an understanding of divine wrath as retributive, punitive justice–the God who damns, the God who inflicts pain and suffering because we deserve it. And here I must part ways. It no longer makes sense to me, if it ever did. For the God revealed in Jesus Christ, justice must mean rectification, rehabilitation, restoration. It cannot mean punishment for the sake of punishment. What is needed is not requital but the destruction of sin and restoration to the life of the kingdom. George MacDonald spoke eloquently on this question:

God is not bound to punish sin; he is bound to destroy sin. If he were not the Maker, he might not be bound to destroy sin–I do not know; but seeing he has created creatures who have sinned, and therefore sin has, by the creating act of God, come into the world, God is, in his own righteousness, bound to destroy sin.

‘But that is to have no mercy.’

You mistake. God does destroy sin; he is always destroying sin. In him I trust that he is destroying sin in me. He is always saving the sinner from his sins, and that is destroying sin. But vengeance on the sinner, the law of a tooth for a tooth, is not in the heart of God, neither in his hand.

God opposes evil. This, I think, is the meaning of the divine wrath that we meet in the Bible. There are times when this wrath seems to be only punitive. We all know the stories (and evangelicals know them far better than most of us). Yet these stories must be interpreted within the divine life of the Holy Trinity who is infinite mercy, love, and forgiveness. If they are not so interpreted, then the gospel is no gospel at all, and we remain imprisoned in dread and terror.

Athanasian Reformed

This is just a short reflection on God and judgment.

godswrathLast night at work as I was cleaning dairy equipment (filler machines—the machines that fill all the milk jugs with milk that you buy in your local grocery store) the thought occurred to me that it is really important to affirm that God in Christ is love! For some reason I was thinking about my former dispensationalism and how God’s judgment is going to be poured out on the Jews in the coming Tribulation period (according to dispy thinking). Immediately, as I pondered this, I got this sense of fear; a sense of if God is a wrathful vengeful God who is going to pour out his wrath on unbelieving Israel (for their initial rejection of the Messiah), then why should I think that I am any different? For some reason this idea (which I have know for a long…

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11 Responses to God as Abba: A Mini-Reflection on God’s Love and Judgment

  1. john burnett says:

    I thought God judged sin on the cross, no? Do we imagine that the Last Judgment will be different than that one? If so, then what will have been the point of the cross?

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Yes, of course, but what does to say that God has judged sin on the cross? Evangelicals understand this to signify penal substitution. Most Orthodox eschew such a construal.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      John, how do you understand God’s judgment against sin on the cross?

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      • john burnett says:

        what else was the cross, Al— in *any* scheme of understanding?

        no time at the moment to go into detail, but suffice it to say that i’m pretty much in complete agreement with NT Wright. But two verses come to mind:

        Rom 8.3:

        Τὸ γὰρ ἀδύνατον τοῦ νόμου
        ἐν ᾧ ἠσθένει διὰ τῆς σαρκός,
        ὁ θεὸς τὸν ἑαυτοῦ υἱὸν πέμψας
        ἐν ὁμοιώματι σαρκὸς ἁμαρτίας
        καὶ περὶ ἁμαρτίας
        κατέκρινεν τὴν ἁμαρτίαν
        ἐν τῇ σαρκί.

        For what the law could not do,
        in that it was weak through the flesh,
        God sending his own Son
        in the likeness of sinful flesh,
        and for sin,
        condemned sin
        in the flesh.

        Sin was judged and condemned and even destroyed on the cross. Is there need for another judgment, condemnation, or destruction? If so, will it be different than that one? Was that one inadequate, or incomplete, somehow?

        2 Cor 5.21:

        τὸν μὴ γνόντα ἁμαρτίαν
        ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν ἁμαρτίαν ἐποίησεν,
        ἵνα ἡμεῖς γενώμεθα
        δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ
        ἐν αὐτῳ

        ‘for he hath made him to be sin for us,
        who knew no sin;
        that we might be made
        the righteousness of God
        in him’.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      I’m glad you cited Rom 8:3. We will no doubt be discussing that verse when we finally get to Romans 8, perhaps sometime before the return of Christ in glory. 🙂

      It sounds like you and I are in general agreement, though. The question though remains: How is the cross judgment against sin? What does that mean?

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      • john burnett says:

        My point was only that people imagine the last judgment to be different than the one that took place on the cross.

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      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        Good question about the relationship between the judgment of the cross and the final judgment. Back in my seminary days I was taught that the gospel is the final judgment spoken into the present. I am hoping to test this thesis in my re-reading of Romans. John, you’ve clearly done a lot more study of Romans than I. I hope you’ll read and comment upon my ruminations as they are published. I welcome your suggestions and criticisms.

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  2. Rhonda says:

    ” For the God revealed in Jesus Christ, justice must mean rectification, rehabilitation, restoration. It cannot mean punishment for the sake of punishment.”

    I have come to the end of 18+ years in my state’s criminal justice system in which I worked security. These words speak volumes to me for I have seen the system repeatedly cycle through rehabilitation & penal approaches. When most say “justice” they actually mean “judgement” &/or “vengeance”…such words in our current mindset seem to have become synonymous with each other. Personally, I do not care so much about this confusion of terms until theology–God–is invoked at which point the differences in the terms are very much important.

    I I wish that those that vehemently rail on God’s judgement & wrath (which never seem to apply to themselves) on those they deem destined for the eternal fire of an eternal hell would remember that even the holy men of the Scriptures quaked in fear, covered & fell on their faces, loosed their sandals & etc. while in the presence of the Almighty. And lest anyone declare that only those in the OT did such things even the 3 apostles were knocked off their feet when they witnessed the Transfiguration of Christ our Lord. In the end all I can say is there is a reason we are admonished to pray “O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”

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  3. Andy says:

    I have recently come across your blog. I am eclectic myself, having a pentecostal / brethren / evangelical universalist / reformed background. I have been studying eastern orthodoxy and the church fathers for the past couple of years; it has opened up a whole new vista for me. As a result, my reformed theology is in a state of flux. Thank you for your blog, and your personal testimony. I will be following along.

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  4. john burnett says:

    Andy, the link that your name leads to, http://www.oldsandals.org, has been reported as a malware site and is blocked by both of the browsers i used to check it. Perhaps you need to look into that.

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  5. Dana Ames says:

    I think God’s judgment was his forgiveness of sin in the face of “evil doing its worst to him” (Wright) – it was God swallowing up all sin in love, and displaying the forgiveness he is ultimately about, has already given, and that anyone can experience in turning to him (repentance – particularly in the Jewish sense of “turning”). The judgment is that mercy triumphs over judgment (Jas 2), and, with the Resurrection overthrowing death, sin’s power in the vicious circle of sin and death is also broken.

    Dana

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