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.
This is just a short reflection on God and judgment.
Last 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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