Wrath of Man, Love of God

Last night at church, I sat in the back of the sanctuary with EA and heard again the passages of scripture that lead up to the cross. As the sanctuary blackened, I heard of the betrayal, the abandonment, the abuse, the scorn, the pain, and the hell that was unleashed on Jesus. The entire time, my newborn son was sleeping in my arms.

You can’t hold a child in your arms and hear that story and not think that Jesus was once like that. You can’t not think about the fact that he was a fragile baby boy whose parents loved and protected him. You can’t not think about how your heart would break into a hundred pieces if you had to watch your child suffer the worst this life could offer.

I thought about the fact that Jesus was God’s Son and the utter agony of watching what happened that Friday so long ago. And I realized that there was a glitch in the way that I have always seen Good Friday. Somewhere it had gotten into my theological system that Good Friday was this intermingling of God’s love and God’s wrath.

I don’t know if it was a song lyric or a sermon or just a skewed atonement theory, but part of me always saw the crucifixion as God using humanity to mete out the horrifying punishment on Jesus that we deserved. The lyric that sticks out in my head is “The Wrath of God was satisfied.” Jesus, in a way, shielded us from the monstrous blows of God. As a father, I have a hard time making that fit in with the idea of love.

I still believe that the crucifixion (and life and resurrection) of Jesus made our redemption possible. I still believe that we needed it. And I still believe that I deserve that punishment. Yet I am beginning to think that Good Friday says more about our wrath towards God than God’s wrath towards us.

We created crucifixion. We created betrayal. We created torture. The horror and the hell that Jesus experienced on that day was not God’s creation. It was ours. It was our sin, our wrath towards God that erected this hell on earth. And it reached the point when the greatest Good that ever walked the earth, God with us, was utterly consumed by it all. We did that. 

That is important for Good Friday. We are often so eager to rush to Easter Sunday. We need to remember that it was not only our sin that made such a scandalous act of redemption necessary, but it was our sin that created all the wicked things that crucified our Savior. We unleashed wrath on our God. And we must remember that we still unleash wrath today, even those that claim to follow the innocent King.

And so what God, what Jesus does is not wrath, but love. God’s own Son enters into the absolute worst that we could create and somehow turns that wrath in on itself. It is love that sees humanity at its most damned, enters into it, suffers under it, and conquers it.

God still uses the crucifixion to accomplish the same thing. It is still atonement (though we’ll only know what that means in part), it is divine justice, and it is something that we deserved. Yet it is not God unleashing divine wrath upon his Son. It is God loving us so much that He lets his Son enter into our wrath for Him.

I don’t know if that makes any sense. I could be wrong about all of this. It is a subtle difference, but I think it is an important one. It is to me.

So God, forgive us of our wrath and thank You for loving us so much that You entered into it anyway. And thank You that Friday is not the end of the story.

Christ is Risen

Night of the Bat