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Friday, October 22, 2010

God Has Not Forgiven Us --From Sola Ratione

I have discovered a blog, Sola Ratione, which has some good posts on the penal substitutionary theory of the atonement. With the author's permission, I am going to re-post them here. This one is entitled: God Has Not Forgiven Us.

If Jesus was punished for our sins (in the sense that God's wrath was directed toward him instead of us), then it follows that God has not forgiven us.

To forgive someone means that we have let go of our resentment or anger against them.

It does not mean that we have simply found some innocent bystander upon whom we can dump our anger instead.

This kind of 're-direction' is so outrageously unjust that it's hard to know what to call it.

At best it is a kind of therapeutic device. Rather than direct our anger on the person responsible for causing us harm, we lash out at someone else instead. In so doing we discharge or release our anger to such an extent that we no longer feel anger over what was done to us.

In real life, this phenomenon typically occurs when we have been attacked or bullied by someone who is more powerful than us.

The risk of attacking them is too great. So we deal with our rage by taking it out on someone who is less likely to retaliate.

The aim is to restore a semblance of self-respect and pride, in a situation where we are out-gunned.

Most of us would condemn this approach as highly unethical - on several counts.

1. It doesn't address the original offence.

2. An innocent person is attacked.

3. It is likely to set up an endless chain of revenge-taking (the person we picked on, being less powerful than us, takes their anger out on someone who is less powerful than them, and so on).

But is this what is happening on the cross?

Not exactly.

God doesn't re-direct His anger onto Jesus because He is worried that we might retaliate if He tried it on us.

No, God takes it out on Jesus because He loves us too much. His anger is so strong that if He let rip (as He does to those whom He consigns to Hell) our relationship would not survive.

But there are problems with this version of the story.

To begin, it is rather like a parent who loves his kids to bits, but knows that he has serious anger-management issues.

So when the smaller, more vulnerable kids annoy him, he narrowly avoids killing them - but only by viciously beating up his eldest son. (Fortunately, this son is eminently scapegoatable, given his almost miraculous ability to recover from the most cruel, even murderous beatings!)

Now there's a role model to emulate! Social services, not to mention the police, would be onto such a 'dad' in seconds.

So is that what God is like?

Well, perhaps we have not taken into account the way in which the Triune Godhead is at work here.

On this version, God is more like a father who, again, is so loving that he manages to resist killing his children when they piss him off.

But he only does so by going into his study and punching himself in the face, over and over again, until his anger dissipates.

God, in other words, got into some serious self-harming on the cross - purely as an outlet for his wrath-management problem.

Not a pretty picture.

But again, perhaps we haven't quite caught the analogy.

We sometimes say that, when we forgive, we 'absorb' the anger that we felt toward the person who hurt us.

So perhaps God is doing the same sort of thing. That is, God in the Son 'absorbs' the anger of God the Father.

This sounds much more palatable.

But it doesn't work.

When we say that we 'absorb our anger' in forgiveness, this does not mean that we turn around and 'get angry at ourselves' in order to avoid getting angry at the person who hurt us! No advocate of forgiveness would ever endorse that interpretation.

And yet that is, in effect, what a trinitarian God is doing: God the Father is re-directing his wrath away from us and turning it instead against God the Son.

This is 'absorption' only in the sense in which a self-abuser 'absorbs' the knife blade with which he is slicing his own flesh!

So what do we conclude?

Well, it looks like Jesus did not die on the cross so that God could forgive us.

Forgiveness had nothing to do with it.

Instead, He died so that God could let off some steam.

Thanks God. But next time, it might be easier if you just booked in to see a therapist.


  1. This is the biggest philosophical program surrounding penal substitution, in my opinion.

  2. Since you're already on a reading-spree, here's a suggestion...