May 192010
 

I recently heard a sermon that got me thinking, “So what?”

Well, it actually got me thinking a lot more than that, although it was primarily because I didn’t agree with a lot of it – or, at least, felt it was ‘lacking’ in certain areas. But it was the ‘So what?” question that got me going and I was wondering how often we don’t adequately deal with the ‘So what?’ of our faith and what we say about it.

Let me explain what my particular ‘So what?’ issue was in this instance.

The preacher took an opportunity to have a bit of a dig at the ‘God is love’ approach to Christian faith. This, they felt, was a limited understanding of God and threw away a significant part of the Bible which speaks of God’s justice, wrath and judgement. We got the ‘God loves us’ bit, but in the usual illustration of a loving parent who chastises (punishes) their child ‘for their own good’. I got the distinct impression that God didn’t do nearly enough of that these days and we would be well warned that he might just decide to smite us all for being miserable sinners one day.

Now, I don’t deny that the Bible speaks of a God of judgement, but surely that is the point of the cross. Jesus was judged in our place. All our iniquities were laid on him. He became sin for us. And whatever other verses you want to throw into the mix. Christ’s death on the cross brought about forgiveness for our sinfulness, did it not? God looks on Jesus and pardons us, does he not? Yes, God judges, but God has judged Jesus so that we won’t be.

Or am I missing something? Was Christ’s death on the cross not quite enough? Did Christ only die for some of our sins?

And if that’s not the case then, other than to illustrate (one of) the purposes of the cross, why keep banging on about God’s judgement and wrath? Is it because it simply goes against the grain to think that people are getting away with things we don’t like? But is this not the very point of God’s grace – we have ‘got away with it’, even the worst of ‘it’? It’s not grace otherwise! It’s our own efforts to self-improve to be ‘good enough’ to be accepted.

But what of texts which speak of a final judgement? We still have to go back to those questions about Christ’s atoning death. It either did it all or it didn’t. If it didn’t, we’re all stuffed. If it did then beating me down with how awful I am and God will judge me is a pointless exercise. What is more likely to get a response – a threat or a gift? If the ‘judgement’ of God only falls on those who reject his gift, then why offer only a threat and ignore the gift? And if it is the gift that matters, why dwell on the threat?

I get the need for a balanced picture of God. I’m just not sure that the correct balance is 50:50 and that whenever ‘God is love’ is preached it needs to be balanced with judgement. Otherwise, we risk, I think, diminishing the life, death and resurrection of Jesus with a whole series of ‘So what?’ questions.

  4 Responses to “So what?”

  1. you are right to raise this question this way! I do feel that we often miss the point – the fact that judgement and wrath comes from a culture that was dominated by those sentiments. People seem to prefer violence over love – is this our default position? I think that God again and again wants us to change our default position! I like the saying “love casts out all fears”!!! It’s time we grow up! But some can’t cope without the rod!

  2. Can you understand the fullness of God’s love without appreciating the expressions of this wrath found in the Bible?

    I’d suggest not.

    Perhaps this isn’t what your preacher was speaking of, though.

  3. While wrath of God is an ancient concept (as all the Gods of the ancient people were capricious), the ‘propitiation’ doctrine is a modern understanding/invention? (while I don’t dismiss it, I think we need to think hard about how we take and understand it for today). Alistair McGrath Justicia Dei is a good introductory survey of the development of this doctrine.

  4. Hi Matt,

    Thank you for stopping by and taking time to comment.

    I formulated a reply, then deleted it; started again and wiped it again. Too many ifs and buts and underlying assumptions to do it justice. In a nutshell, yes I think explaining God’s judgement and wrath has its place, but always tempered with the gospel message – never left hanging as a way of bullying or scaring people towards God. Fear of God’s wrath is a poor path to discipleship.

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