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Did Jesus’ Death Satisfy God’s Wrath?

March 22, 2012

I lead worship music at our church and deeply love the song “In Christ Alone”, but have always struggled with the line,

Till on that cross as Jesus died

The wrath of God was satisfied

For every sin on him was laid

Did the death of Jesus satisfy God’s wrath? I think it is important to explore this question carefully. I’d like to propose three considerations, 1) biblical, 2) theological and 3) cultural. The first, which I will gladly retract in light of proof to the contrary, is that there is no direct biblical support for this idea – the Bible never teaches that Jesus’ death satisfies God’s wrath. It does say that his death provided propitiation (“atonement” or, yes, even “satisfaction”) for sins in Romans 3:25 and this is explicitly connected to God’s justice or righteousness there, but this is said to be in demonstration of God’s righteousness here, not appeasement of his fury. In fact, 1 John 4:10 tells us that it is because he loves us that God sent his Son as propitiation for our sins. The point is, there is nowhere in Scripture I know of that would allow us to say that Christ’s death satisfies the wrath of God. That by itself doesn’t mean we can’t say it; it just means its not a slam dunk and we’re going to have to do some deeper theological thinking. This leads me to my theological argument.

The indication I want to make here is that the attributes of God as they are worked out and displayed in Christ’s work have to be understood in their eternal perfection – God’s righteousness is not lacking prior to Christ’s death any more than his love is lacking prior to creating objects of his love. Moreover, they have to be understood as a unity – God’s righteousness and love, even his wrath and forgiveness, do not work against each other within him until this internal division is healed by Christ’s death. No, God is eternally perfect in a harmonious union of love and righteousness so that in their application to us in forgiveness and wrath, God is not divided in his being or in his work, but we are divided in our reception of the one eternal reality that he is. In short, God’s wrath is not the absence of his love but its outworking in the face of the self-destructive force of sin in the lives of those he loves.

Let me put it this way: God, not lacking anything in himself, either glory, love, justice, or anything else, creates us human beings out of his sheer creative and loving freedom – not in order to satisfy any need he has, he just creates and loves us because he does and nothing whatsoever can turn him back from that love. We, however, have collectively rejected that love and turned to our own wills. In doing so, we have chosen our own destruction. Since God is our life – not just the cause of our coming into existence but at every moment the source we rely on for our life and every good thing that goes with it – rejecting him is to reject our own life, to oppose our own existence. That is what sin is. That is the meaning of the biblical phrase, “the wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23). Since God loves us with an utterly free and therefore unshakable love, he utterly opposes that sin. He stands unshakably opposed to all that opposes his love. He rejects our rejection of him and pursues us with unquenchable passion. This is God’s wrath against sin. Not his disgust at us for all our mistakes or some petty need to have his own honor satisfied by taking something from us – again, he is eternally without need and can therefore gain nothing from us either good or bad but loves us in total freedom – no, his wrath is his single minded opposition to all that seeks to separate us from his love.

Does God need the death of Christ in order to love us? No! We do! Does his sense of justice stand in his way of him loving us until Christ satisfies it, only then leaving him free to love us? No! It was because God loved us that he sent his only Son (John 3:16)! It is us that need justice to be satisfied. It is us that need the law in order to know that we are sinners (Romans 7:7) and us that need the demands of the law fulfilled on our behalf. And that is the point of Christ’s death on the cross. In fact it is the point of everything about Jesus, from his incarnation through the Virgin Mary to his death, his resurrection, his ascension and his present ministry before the Father on our behalf. Christ gives himself in order to fix our problem, not God’s. He came to heal us and give us new life where we were dead, not satiate God’s need for blood or satisfy a sense of justice that would hold back his love. God needs nothing in order to love us. He needs no satisfaction – actually, he is incapable of satisfaction.

God’s love, being totally free and not arising from any need or lack he has in himself, has no end goal other than itself. There is no sense in which God’s love reaches its final target and then stops. It goes on and on and on. It is as infinite as he is. And if this is true of his love, then it is equally true of his wrath against sin. As long as there is sin working against God’s love, God’s wrath furiously opposes it. This is true on both sides of the cross. If Christ’s death satisfied God’s wrath in the sense of ending it, then from the time of that death forward he would leave all sin unaddressed. I’m sure someone will argue that God’s wrath was satisfied in relation to the elect; even in that case, however, are we really going to say God no longer opposes the sin of the saints, that he no longer disciplines his children?

There is at least one legitimate sense of the phrase “the wrath of God was satisfied” that I can think of which is that the death of Christ brought to a culmination all of God’s purposes in creation. It was the enactment in history of the full measure of God’s love, the full giving of himself to us in redemption and reconciliation. If we approach that truth with a unified understanding of God’s attributes, then we can say that Christ was the fulfillment of God’s love, righteousness, glory, judgment, mercy, wrath, forgiveness – everything. The death of Christ on the cross was the decisive moment of God being God among us, fulfilling his eternal purpose for creation. In that sense we can say that the death of Christ satisfied, as in fulfilled rather than quenched, the intentions of God and thus satisfied his love and so also his wrath. Not that these are then rendered inactive but that they are once and for all fully enacted.

This, however, leads me to my cultural argument. I hope I’m wrong here, but my sense is that most Christians who sing In Christ Alone on a Sunday morning don’t bring this unified understanding of God with them. My sense is that most of us worship God under the false notion that Christ as the Son enabled the Father to love us by standing in for us as the object of God’s cruel anger, allowing it to spend itself on him so that the Father would not need to brutalize us. This is a gross misconception of who God is in his triune Being. The Father has not sent his Son so that he could love us; he sent his Son because he already and unfailingly does.

44 Comments leave one →
  1. David Hicks permalink
    March 22, 2012 11:19 pm

    Well thought out Adam. I would agree that Christ came not to satisfy the Father, but to redeem us. We are the ones who “needed” something,
    Thanks for the link!

    Your issue with that hymn kind of reminds me of the hymn that says Christ’s blood was “spilt”…kind of like it was a mistake…”oops!” Maybe tackle that one next!!! ; )

    • Gum Boocho permalink
      February 4, 2017 11:19 am

      To redeem a price must be paid! Now if you insist on paying it yourself in the Lake of Fire, you will never pay off the wrath of the Eternal Infinite God.

  2. March 22, 2012 11:20 pm

    Just on the Romans 3 atonement point: if you take the offering of Christ for sin in the context of 1:18-32 as stating that the wrath of God is actually revealed upon sin, and that both passages speak of the same group of people as the agents of sin, and besides ignoring that God is the sole agent in 3:21-26 you also ignore Paul’s declaration that God is merciful and patient and kind to “vessels of wrath,” you might come to understand that Paul sees Jesus as a sin-offering and sacrifice of appeasement to an angry God.

    If, instead, you observe that 1:18-32 belongs to the negative examples of Paul’s diatribe, and that he counters this basically Jewish polemic against Gentile idolatry immediately in ch. 2, and you follow the diatribe through ch. 3 to realize that God is acting mercifully and with no respect for anyone’s particular way of life, you might come to see that we’re the ones doing the overwhelming majority of the judgment, and that it’s our unjust wrath that Jesus unravels by doing the will of the Father and being extended as salvation even to the gentiles.

    But we like our unjust wrath. We want to pretend that it’s God’s just wrath against sin, and that we’re justified in holding on to it. And so we wink at Paul and turn God’s grace into the appeasement of an angry deity. And in the process we divide God against God.

  3. Josh Malone permalink
    March 23, 2012 7:15 am

    Adam, good thoughts about some of the abuses of this concept – particularly those that divide the Trinity or would sloppily impose an external law onto God. Two quick thoughts (FYI: I might not be back to engage in a long comment discussion – I’ve got to finish my thesis, so I can be a West coaster with you). First, (on the biblical point) can the construal of wrath as “God’s rejection of our rejection of him” capture the way the term is used in the OT and connected with the sacrificial cult (it’s used 5x more in the OT than the NT and fairly straightforwardly not with the nuance you suggest, but some of what you reject)? I imagine you will say, yes: Jesus. But that only seems to beg the question of how Jesus propitiates the very wrath spoken of in the OT (it also seems to marginalize the fact that much of the NT usage of wrath expresses needed deliverance from “wrath that is to come”). Second, have you looked at Jeremy Wynne’s thesis on this? He writes with some of the same questions in mind and concludes the wrath of God is a “mode of divine perfection” (not “a divine perfection” itself) and suggests this removes lots of the problems with disunity in God’s own perfect life (it’s been a while since I’ve looked at it, but I think that’s what he says anyway). Not sure that’s wholly convincing, but it’s one recent theological approach to the problem.

  4. March 23, 2012 11:07 am

    Thanks, Adam, for the terrific (and long overdue) post. I’d just reiterate Josh’s OT question, as that’s what I’ve generally presumed the exegetical basis of Jesus’ death satisfying the Father’s wrath to be. We are given a picture of the sacrificial propitiation of God’s wrath through the Mosaic covenant with Israel, and the NT (especially Hebrews) then subs in Jesus for both the priest and the sacrifice — arguably, perhaps, bringing with it everything the OT had said about the nature of that sacrifice viz. God’s wrath.

    On the other hand, as you say, it is theologically vital to recognize that (1) Jesus is the divine subject as well as the object of “wrath” (i.e. the Son is not other than the Father, so that the triune God pours out His wrath upon Himself in a gracious act of love); and (2) the wrath of God is directed against sin more properly than creatures, who are instead first (as you say) the objects of God’s love.

  5. March 23, 2012 12:51 pm

    What follows is a critique of your biblical argument. It gets a bit windy as such things tend to do. I mean only good things, and I’m smiling as I write. Take this as friendly debate over Johnnie Walker.

    – – – – – – – –

    One of my Bible professors said to us once, “In my line of work, novelty is not a virtue.” In theological studies, novelty is a red flag. For two thousand years, some of the best minds and the most spiritual teachers have gone over this ground, and you’re suggesting they got it wrong on a rather fundamental point. Now maybe they did. But maybe they didn’t. The burden of proof has to be on you, right?

    Having said that, I find your biblical “argument” to be, well, silly. It’s the kind of thing I’d expect from an undergrad who wanted to propound theology out of his grand twenty-year-old’s sense of how things work rather than take the time to do biblical spadework and think accordingly.

    I’m not saying that’s you. I’m saying that’s how it feels. You’re a thoughtful, well-educated, professional guy. Your paragraph of BT isn’t.

    Your biblical argument basically boils down to, “Technically, the bible doesn’t say that. Prove me wrong.” How many times have I heard this non-argument/argument before? (Usually from young adults looking for loopholes without really wanting to seek out the truth for themselves. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about; you’ve taught lots of high-school Bible.)

    There’re TONS of things the Bible doesn’t say directly (like, “read your Bible and pray every day,” or “don’t surf internet porn,” or “there is a Trinity”), just like there’re tons of things I don’t say directly to my children. I still expect them to get the message.
    “You didn’t say I couldn’t go to the club.”
    “No, I didn’t. I said, ‘Stay out of trouble,’ and you’ve lived with me for fourteen years. You know what that means. Stop playing word games.”

    If you’re trying to make a serious biblical argument, Adam, it’s not enough to write a toss-away paragraph so you can move on to the argument that interests you. You have to take them time to explicate and analyze the many strands of biblical evidence that bear on the issue. Biblical theology takes a lot of digging.

    Did Christ suffer on the cross? Was that suffering at the hand of the Father? Has God ever or will He ever pour out His wrath on the ungodly? Why? Why not on the righteous? Is the Mosaic system built on the principle of appeasing God’s wrath through sacrifice? Why? What does that imply for our understanding of Christ’s work in the NT? What does the Bible suggest it should imply? What is “salvation”? Why is it called salvation? What are Christians saved from? How? What are propitiation and reconciliation? Why are they necessary? How are they accomplished? How is God satisfied? From what? What is the remission of sins? Why does it require the shedding of blood? What does it mean to say that the blood of the cross makes peace with God? How does it do so?

    All of these things are related (and pretty foundational) biblical questions, and I suspect that most people who have considered them in the past two thousand years have come to the conclusion that they cumulatively point to the death of Christ on the cross having satisfied the wrath of God against those who take refuge in it.

    You’ve pretty much ignored most of those questions, as if they have no bearing.

    Now, granted, this is a blog post, not a book, and this isn’t (presumably) a hostile audience. You can’t be expected to cover every base for every audience in every blog post.

    But you’re an intelligent guy with serious intentions and aspirations. You owe it to yourself to fashion a biblical argument worthy of your background and training.

    There’s a diffence between a blog post that acknowledges the existence of certain problems and tries to deal with some of them, or suggests a method for dealing with them, and a blog post that acts like the Bible doesn’t have anything to say on an issue.

    You said: “There is no direct biblical support for this idea – the Bible never teaches that Jesus’ death satisfies God’s wrath.”

    My response:
    The Bible isn’t a book of maxims. Much of theology isn’t directly supported in the manner you seem to expect here. You need to give more time to the lines of evidence that are there.

    – – – – – – – – –

    Pass the scotch.

  6. reformedforumpastor permalink
    March 23, 2012 2:20 pm


    Thank you for your well thought out post. I would simply echo the last two comments with regard to issue of the biblical nature of the idea of satisfaction.

    I might add, however, a comment about a pet peeve of mine with regard to how so many Christians tend to pit sin against the sinner. Simply put, the Bible doesn’t allow for that. God’s wrath stands not against an impersonal thing (or, if you like negation, a not-thing), but against persons who are sinful. Sin entails both guilt and corruption. It is we human beings who are guilty and corrupt because of what we have done in rebellion against God and his Law.

    And the cross bears this point out. If we acknowledge that Christ’s cross-work was indeed a satisfaction of God’s wrath, then we must also acknowledge that the punishment which Christ received was thoroughly personal. God did not punish sin on the cross, he punished his own dear Son. It was not only sin that died that day, it was his Son who died. Christ’s cry of dereliction was a cry which flowed from a very personal experience of sensing the the Father forsaking him. For our iniquities were laid upon, and he who knew no sin became sin for us, and he was reckoned a transgressor (i.e., our sin was imputed to him, even as his righteousness is imputed to us in justification). It was Christ, the vicarious sinner, who received God’s wrath – not only some impersonal thing called “sin.”

    This is therefore not God’s cruel curse, but it is his holy and righteous indignation. The cross – understood in this way – IS the place where both God’s love and his righteousness meet. Christ received hell that we might gain heaven. Is there any greater expression of love than this? It is here that God’s wrath IS his love. The same might also be said about the remainder of his wrath in eternal condemnation of those who remain outside of Christ. What is an act of his righteous condemnation against the reprobate, IS an act of his love for his people and – what is more – for his own Glory.

  7. March 23, 2012 3:02 pm

    RFP – I agree in principle with your point about sin being personal and not some abstract “thing” that is the object of God’s wrath. (My conscience was trembling for nuancing even as I wrote point (2) in my comment above.) That said, however, the opposite reading also has a great deal of biblical warrant — including some of the texts to which you allude. How else was Jesus “made to be sin for us” and “became sin” and “a curse,” as Paul writes (2 Cor. 5, Gal. 3)? Not because sin was personal to him (in the sense that he was guilty of its commission), but precisely because it was impersonal. What Luther described as a “glorious exchange” leans on this notion of sin as a stain that Christ could take upon himself even though he was not a sinner (Heb. 4:15). Christ was not punished because he was a sinner (personally), but because he bore something that was not true of his own self.

    I think also of Paul’s personification of sin as the enemy in Romans 5-7. As you suggest, the biblical concept of sin is broader than simple activity.

    When we suggest that “God punished His own Son on the cross,” then, it is important that we not drift into an over-personalization of sin. Jesus was the object of divine wrath (or punishment, if you prefer) not by virtue of what he had done or who he was as a sinner, but by virtue of that to which he was ‘artificially’ subjected (namely, the sin of all people). As important as the penal substitution model of the atonement is, it is for this reason that I worry that ‘punishment’ language may do as much harm for our theology as it does good when Jesus Christ, God the Son, is seen to be its object. A fully trinitarian account ought to also depict the outpouring of divine wrath at the cross as God’s taking of judgment upon Himself.

    Thanks for the comment!

  8. March 23, 2012 3:46 pm

    Josh, Lohnes, RFP – would you be inclined to say that the atonement *just is* penal substitution, rather than understanding penal substitution as an aspect/element or “metaphor” for the atonement? Or, to put the question a bit differently, [how] would you take issue with Barth’s claim that the atonement *is* Jesus Christ, and therefore Christ’s sacrifice is not a type of penal substitution but penal substitution is a type of Christ?

  9. March 23, 2012 7:03 pm

    A big problem, and also a big plus, with worship songs is that you can usually find a way to mean them properly. The more I sit in church the more I think that lyricists are going out of their way to make this more difficult. I don’t know if there was a bygone day when theologians (or at least careful articulators of Christian belief) got to be the writers of worship songs, but if there was such a golden age then I would like to go to there. The suggestion by one commenter that you’d have to write the equivalent of a master’s thesis on the song before you could say “show me the support for that line in the Bible” seems pretty indicative of the approach to worship music evidenced in a broad swath of evangelical churches today — namely, hey, if it brings people closer to God don’t question it. (I don’t meant to be unfair to the commenter, I just am saying this is the attitude it reminds me of).

    So kudos to you Adam, for addressing a pretty important line in a pretty popular worship song and asking us to think about it. Even better is the fact that you chose one of the best worship songs and not one of the umpteen hundred or so that would have been like fish in a barrel. This is a great opportunity to think about a line in a song I otherwise like but always trip over at this point. To go back to my suggestion at the start: Yes, the above comments have shown that there might be a way to sing this line and mean it properly. I look forward to reading yours and others answers to that possibility. However, it seems more than warranted to comment on the way song lyrics come across and seem to convey, especially if they undergird an ethos or series of related convictions which perhaps are being fed by a lack of care for the liturgies being sung. Thanks for the post, and thanks to everyone for some good pushback and further reflection.

  10. Brian MacArevey permalink
    March 23, 2012 9:21 pm

    Great post Adam. I couldn’t agree more. I would echo the question of a couple of commentors who asked how what you have said relates to the OT, the sacrificial cult and propitiation of God’s wrath.

    I guess what I have been assuming is that Paul and the writer of Hebrews see the death of Christ as rendering the sacrificial system irrelevant. Thus, even if the OT did teach something close to penal substitution, Christ’s death renders penal substitution irrelevant.

    Is it possible that the sacrificial system and the idea of penal substitution were God’s way of condescending to a culture which believed that the wrath of God needed to be appeased in order for God to love (or at least continue to love) people, but which was nonetheless an imperfect representation of God which had to be “cleared up” by the revelation of the Word?

    I realize that there is more to the sacrificial system than I am saying here (things which might paint it in a more positive light) but I am trying to remain brief. I guess I am just wondering if anyone thinks that this is a viable option, or if you have any other suggestions for understanding this subject.


  11. March 23, 2012 9:55 pm

    I have to confess that Wikipedia knows more about Karl Barth than I do, which (extending the friendly debate over scotch metaphor) makes me the dude who maybe should just sit in the corner and let those who actually understand the issues do the talking.

    But in response to some of the questions . . .

    There are right now living, as I write, girls who were born into sexual slavery, who were being sold for sex before they were five, and who will die before their teen years are over. They will have known nothing but poverty and sexual abuse their entire short, tragic lives. And they will die without hearing the Gospel.

    The thought that they will spend eternity in Hell almost makes my gorge rise, and maybe it should. How could God alot them such a hellish portion with no avenue escape in this life, only to cast them into hellfire for eternity so that “the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever.” How am I supposed to see God’s glory in that? How is that supposed to move me to sing His praise?

    If I could stop it, I would. If I were to see the abuse as it happens, I would kill someone. My daughter is two. I have no doubt I would be moved to lethal violence if I were to encounter some of the abuse I’ve read about.

    And yet God both sees it and could stop it, and He neither stops it nor blasts the offender.

    I go on such lengths about it, because it is this particular issue that has led me to a realization: Either God is unjust, or He is just and I am incapable of comprehending His ways. Either I want nothing to do with Him and He can go ahead and toss me in with those girls He’s damning because I’d rather burn with them than suffer His “kindness”, or His ways are so far above mine that I have no recourse but to put my face in the dust with Job and confess myself utterly empty and unwise.

    Either He is to be abhorred or I am (Job 42:6).

    That’s the context from which I approach this issue.
    And let me tell you, from that context, the question of whether “the atonement *just is* penal substitution” or whether penal substitution is “an aspect/element or ‘metaphor’ for the atonement” simply doesn’t compute for me. It’s hard for me to conceive of it as the right question. It’s like asking whether damning those girls *just is* justice or whether it’s a metaphor for justice. To my mind, it simply fails to grasp the awful reality of what we’re discussing in appropriate terms.

    Given what I see around me in this world, and given what the Bible says about God, I can take the substitutionary atonement of Christ as a penal substitution.

    I have a sticker on my fridge that says, “Silence is the voice of complicity.”
    For two-thousand years, God has remained silent in the face of endless tortures and outrages of person against person. How can I but see Him as complicit in them?

    If I can accept that that complicity is somehow compatible with an omnipotent, righteous, loving Father, I can accept that penal substitution is similarly compatible.

    I don’t feel like any more scotch right now.

  12. March 23, 2012 11:24 pm

    There is a lot here and I’m incapable of an orderly response so I’ll just start rambling:

    Josh: I’ll say that God’s love, which for some reason doesn’t simply give up on humanity when it first rebels but pursues and accomplishes redemption in his covenant people, and so rejects our rejection of him (or at least rejects humanity’s universal rejection of him by establishing a covenant people redeemed from that rejection), is to be understood as what drives God’s wrath in all its forms rather than his need to guard his honor for its own sake. I don’t think I’m rejecting any sense of God’s wrath demanded by the Bible; he is jealous for his glory and honor among the nations and is ready to destroy those who oppose it so that yes, even on this side of the cross there is a coming wrath; my concern is simply to remove from our understanding of this any pagan sense of divine need. When that is removed, I think we then have to always think God’s protection of his honor and his preservation of the goodness of his creation and us creatures into each other. That means then that we have to think justification and sanctification into each other so that a forensic/legal sense of propitiation is never given independent validity apart from the actual (I’ll avoid the word ‘ontological’ here for the sake of others, though I think its appropriate 🙂 healing of our fallen condition. Is that not the reason that God said through the prophets “I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and rams and goats” (Isa 1:11) and “I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hos 6:6)? God didn’t just want dead animals; he wanted a people transformed by his covenant. Isn’t this just as true with Christ’s death? I don’t think we could say that Jesus’ death in and of itself pleases God – what does he get from it? It is his death as the enacting of his covenant of redemption, his standing in our place, offering faith, love and obedience to the Father from within our estrangement from him to the point of death, his healing of our wounds with his own, that pleases God. Again, I’m not trying to play the Christ as healer metaphor off against penal substitution, but trying to put them together so that it ought to be just as proper to sing “the love of God was satisfied” as “the wrath of God was satisfied”, but most I’ve suggested that to have found that objectionable.

    In short, what I’m looking for is a control against pagan notions of God’s wrath by locating wrath within love, the love that motivates creation and its redemption, so that we aren’t left with a god like us who finds alongside his love another law waging war within him. That wrath-as-love understanding cannot be read directly out of the OT and much of the OT does indeed make that understanding difficult, but it seems to me to make better sense of the shape of creation and covenant history than would any notion of a duality in God in which love and wrath work against each other.

    Btw, our senior pastor sent me this link to a John Piper sermon where he takes this issue exactly where I’m trying to say it needs to avoid. He plays God’s love and justice, as well as Father and Son, off against each other so explicitly I’m just left shocked.

    That’s all I have at this moment. I’ll try to come back soon.

  13. Josh Malone permalink
    March 24, 2012 8:58 am

    Thanks for that Adam, et. al. I *think* I might get more about what you are pushing toward – maybe 🙂 So, another drive-by with two thoughts: 1) You mention a few times wanting to eliminate “pagan notions” of divine need/wrath (connected to atonement). I think it would be fair to say this has been a valid, and well-rehearsed, critique of various modes of PSA (penal substitutionary atonement). So it’s not your denial that seems unclear or unwarranted, it’s the positive vision you portray (and relatedly: Should we let abuses of PSA invalidate its proper use?). To your suggestion, can the whole witness of Scripture be caught up under the rubric of God’s loving action toward the creature as you have portrayed it? Sure, but that just begs the question of what you mean by “love”? Certainly such a move requires one to speak of “love” in pretty broad terms, right? It also means that one will still need to draw judgments about whether such “love” can both bless and curse… perhaps without the provisio of ultimate reconciliation? Seems to me that provisio is what you are tacitly (and not so tacitly) holding out in order to maintain the rubric of what you’ve conceived as “love.” I wonder what our resident expert on divine “love” has to say about all this – calling JStrat…
    2) A related notion, which might just be the same thing said differently… If wrath is relocated under the rubric of love, and construed as a mode of love (which I think is what you are suggesting), then what does that mean for simplicity? I think you are arguing for a form of simplicity = no wrath w/o love, over and against what you perceive to be abuses of separating/dividing wrath from love – cf. your “no independent validity for propitiation” and “Jesus death pleases God in and of itself” (perhaps an unhappy way to word things given Jesus’ hypostatic identity as the God-man; cf. Darren’s subject/object comment) and Piper’s sermon (presumably?). My concern is: Are you in danger of the equal and opposite reversal? That is, for you is “love” the dominant mode of perfection, capable of understanding all other modes, and thus attaining a quasi-independent status itself – threatening divine simplicity? Along these lines, I think the RanBo (the Boz) is pursuing what he thinks needs to be said about simplicity and reprobation in his thesis.

    If that’s all unclear I apologize. If I could channel my inner PhilZ, let me ask the most “hostile” expression of the concern I can (for clarity of course!): The general worry is that you’ve critiqued an easy target (bad PSA), moved the difficulty of divine wrath/judgment under the rubric of love (so, relocated the “problem”), and not really provided a clear positive vision encompassing both wrath and love (or you’ve been unclear on the details). This just doesn’t seem that satisfying – at least to me and a few others here.

    Baylor: Hey, I see what you are trying to do… you are trying to get me to self-identify with the “other”! 🙂 Let me flip your question toward Adam’s post and ask: Would you say the mission of the Son “just is” love? Well, I’m sure you are going to have to say a lot about what “love” is to make that claim coherent, right? For my part, I wouldn’t say “atonement ‘just is’ penal substitution”, but instead “penal substitution is atonement” (of course, when penal substitution is carefully defined). So the latter is not a convertible proposition into the former. Namely, it’s the “just is” that seems troubling. I think most people, be it Aulén or Barth, will want to say more than PSA, but can you say less (which is not the same as saying: Can you “just” say PSA?)? I can’t account the dominant picture of atonement in the OT (if I can be so bold) and its NT, that is Christological, appropriation and fulfilment without it. I don’t know if that means I’m bound to a multiple metaphor view either. Does the language of “metaphor” help? Maybe. I do worry that move is often an escape hatch to get around confessing something is “actual” if you will (or ontological). Or better, declaring something a “metaphor” like that just seems to be a way to make something else “actual” while making the first thing something less “figure/type/metaphor.”

    To your second (and very related) question, ala Barth… The difficulty I have with in the formulation the atonement “is Jesus Christ”, thus Christ’s atonement is not a type of PSA but PSA is a type of Christ, is that it *seems* to require that we conceive of Jesus Christ himself outside of created history (e.g. – there is this supra-creational One, Jesus Christ, who can be the source of types in created history; and BTW I don’t think that is the typical use of “type”, Christological or otherwise). It seems to me that the classic Christian tradition says: I can say something like that with the eternal Son, but not with the incarnate Son, Jesus Christ. Put more sharply: To say Jesus Christ assumes creation, it assumes Israel, and it assumes a cultic system. I guess this is simply to say I think something like actualism might get you out of this conundrum conceptually, but not canonically. But now we are treading into some deeper waters of supralapsarian Christology again (or super-duper-lapsarianism), right?

    While you guys sort this out, I’m going to enjoy Saturday. If I don’t respond further, just consider my ham-fisted objections utterly defeated by your, no doubt, luminously clear theological reply.

  14. March 24, 2012 11:44 am

    Josh, just to respond to your last point (because you know I can’t resist): I believe the implication of the Barthian formula “Jesus Christ is the atonement” is precisely the opposite of what you suggest: it requires that we conceive of Jesus Christ himself within (and, indeed, as) the actuality of God’s activity in history. This is precisely because, when Barth says “Jesus Christ” (as opposed to a Logos as such) he presumes the history of God-with-us.

    Insofar as Jesus is a more essential real “type” of what we call “atonement,” it is because his life, death, and resurrection are the atonement — and not because there is a supra-creational Jesus who stands apart from this event.

    That said, I think that typology language is likely an imposition on Barth, and I’m not sure it does anything for us with regard to penal substitution. For Barth, and for actualist Christology, Jesus does not atone for us because he is a protological type of humanity who then enters into creation (this would be deeply ahistorical), but because by right and by the will of the Father he is true humanity. It would thus be the more traditional account of the eternal Son (who in eternity is not necessarily the God-human, Jesus Christ) that would have a more difficult time accounting for the historicity of the one who makes atonement (viz. Jesus as “true humanity,” for example).

  15. Josh Malone permalink
    March 24, 2012 1:18 pm

    DS- You know I was totally putting that in there to bait you right 🙂 I would have been disappointed if you didn’t say anything. And I’m happy to let you suggest the terms for what actualism might mean – you are writing the book on it, right? My real aim in mentioning it here was the very point you made – if you are going to try to run the sort of thing AN suggested, then there must be some sort of ontology grounding it… and to me a version of actualism seems to be at work. BTW, I don’t think that disproves anything, it just makes the claims above a lot clearer because you can see it in a more properly theological frame. (That’s the reason I introduced simplicity too – it’s just one, rather important it seems to me, way to consider the claims about “love” and “wrath” in a theological register.)

    As for “types” I think we are agreeing too. What I suggesting about the kind of “type” suggested by TB seems troublesome precisely because it appears to run in the ahistorical direction with JC (the “ala Barth” was just to reference the part of his comment which invoked the concept, not to concede it was properly Barthian – I’ll let you guys be the guardians of that).

    Thanks for the clarifications.

  16. March 24, 2012 7:00 pm


  17. March 24, 2012 8:57 pm

    Yeah, so Josh, I probably put that question poorly in an effort to be concise. I wasn’t so much wondering whether you thought there were multiple aspects to the atonement, as much as whether or not you thought that all other aspects of the atonement are traceable to and descend from PS. When you expressed dissatisfaction with the (supposed) answer that Jesus is the propitiation for sin on the grounds that it does not give an account of “how Jesus propitiates” the wrath of God, I inferred that you thought it was possible on the basis of the OT sacrificial system to supply an account of the logic of propitiation into which the person of Jesus is subsequently situated, in a kind of infralapsarian way. And thus, while you might think there is complexity in the atonement, I wondered if you thought all other aspects of the atonement were finally traceable to and consequent on PS.

    That is why I brought up Barth, I was interested to see if you were dissatisfied at large with a kind of supralapsarian understanding of the sacrificial cult. Supralapsarians and infralapsarians agree that the atonement involves penal substitution and propitiation; the question is, I think, whether penal substitution and propitiation refer to a state of affairs or conditions which logically precede Christ, are conceptually separated from him, and to which the person and work of Christ are ordered; or whether the propitiation and PS of the sacrificial cult refer themselves concretely to the person of Christ, or something along those lines.

    In the end, the point I was trying to make was that I don’t think the fundamental issue here is exegesis of propitiation in the OT sacrificial cult, but rather a theological account of how the OT sacrificial cult relates to the person of Christ. The question is about the order and direction of types, and the manner in which they do and do not signify and/or participate in Christ. This is more or less Barth’s worry about the “historicism” of Covenant theology in general – Christ is interpreted in light of the types rather than the types in light of Christ.

    I imagine most of us think differently about these things. I think I probably have disagreements with Darren about the necessity of actualism as an ontology; but I also find it hard to think of a version of supralapsarianism that requires an abstract, “supra-historical” conception of Christ – it seems that all of them would want to say that, far from being supra-historical, his history is the keystone of all history, so to speak. Is that any clearer?

  18. March 24, 2012 9:07 pm

    You could put it this way, too: is it really possible to discern the relationship between propitiation and the inner life of God from an exegesis of the OT sacrificial cult? Wouldn’t we face the same difficult as we approached each text, namely, a theological account of what makes the sacrifice efficacious?

  19. March 25, 2012 1:59 am

    Josh wrote:

    My concern is: Are you in danger of the equal and opposite reversal? That is, for you is “love” the dominant mode of perfection, capable of understanding all other modes, and thus attaining a quasi-independent status itself – threatening divine simplicity? Along these lines, I think the RanBo (the Boz) is pursuing what he thinks needs to be said about simplicity and reprobation in his thesis.

    I would think that for Adam, and definitely for me, that the concept of onto-relations between the persons of the Monarchia as that which gives shape to the being of God (and then perichoretically, vice versa) is what serves as definitive for the relational (Trinitarian) dynamism of God-self. So wouldn’t this starting point for conceiving of God be at odds with a classic conception of Divine simplicity to begin with? This is the move I see Adam making, and thus challenging the classicism that the Trad PSA theory flows from. In other words, it almost seems to be question begging to assume that the classic version of Divine simplicity—and the perfections therein and understood—serves as the control that governs your counter-point back at Adam’s point, Josh. I guess the question comes back to Haddaway’s question, What is love? If love is personal and personalising by definition then this ground as God’s life becomes the shaping aspect of his personal acts (like wrath, mercy, justice, creation, incaranation, etc.).

  20. March 25, 2012 2:12 am

    Ranbo the Boz? Is Aberdeen like Top Gun, do you all get slick call-names like this? I’d like to know the rest of your call-names!? I go by smooth B 😉 .

  21. Josh Malone permalink
    March 25, 2012 9:28 am

    Tim, thanks for the clarification, makes more sense. Let’s chat about this more, and more profitably, at lunch this week like you suggested on FB.

    ‘Smooth B’, the corny nicknames are mine alone – although a comprehensive Top Gun nickname scenario would be awesome, and would make an even more awesome poster… calling Rachel Nigh.

    Regarding your notion of personal ontology, I think – as we’ve discussed on The Theology Forum – we just don’t see eye to eye on the coherence of such a thing, nor on the teaching of the tradition on the Trinity (both Augustinian and Cappadocian), nor on basic theological predication (analogical v. univocal). Emery’s ‘Essentialism or Peronsalism in the Treatise on God in Saint Thomas Aquinas’ would be a pretty decisive summary for me on some of those questions; I know Torrance would be for you. It’s unlikely we will resolve those large scale diffs here, but hopefully we can chat more in person sometime.

    As for your query about “question begging”, you are probably right and I’m assuming a lot… if you come to the classic tradition in a more critical-mode than I’ve suggested, then the tradition would have to justify itself for all of it’s own question begging. However, if you come with a fiduciary comportment toward the classic tradition (as I’m suggesting), then the burden of proof is on the one making the more novel claim and the question begging would go the other way. But certainly you are right to point out, we are both assuming something very definite about what apostolicity, catholicity, and what Protestantism actually means. All very interesting conversations for sure 🙂

  22. March 25, 2012 8:24 pm


    I will have to read Emery’s ‘Essentialism or Personalism in the Treatise on God in Saint Thomas Aquinas’ … I had forgotten about our discussion on Theology Forum, but now I recall that, and I understand our differences. I hope we can talk in person sometime too … you’ll be just down the road from us in just a bit of time (we’re in Vancouver, WA).

    On question begging; I was, as you recognize, assuming that Adam’s Torrance take was the proper understanding (of course 😉 ), and the Tradition was not. And I am pressing this way in light of our Reformed heritage and the principle of sola scriptura, and the later addition of semper reformanda. I highly appreciate the Trad, and see myself as more Trad than something like Actualism represents … so as a forthcoming essay by Myk will index, I am situated in an [onto]relational metaphysic (V. Substance or Actualist). But I do agree that the question begging point depends more on one’s prior commitment to whatever theological method one holds V. an actual question begging exercise.

    Anyway, thanks for the reply back, Josh; I look forward to hopefully meeting you someday in the flesh, and congrats, once again, on your new appointment in Spokane!

    smooth B 😉

  23. April 11, 2012 2:16 am

    I am sure people have different meanings as Bible itself is paradoxical and multi dimensional. I am of the opinion that JC died OF our sins and not FOR our sins. That makes following Christ is extremely meaningful to me. God lets us enjoy so much freedom to unconditionally love another and He restrained Himself to intervene in our affairs. In freedom alone one can Love. There was a cost, that evil had to have hay day on that Friday when JC suffered and was crucified. The most amazing love story ever told.

  24. Unenlightened Progressive permalink
    April 18, 2012 8:51 am

    *Troll Alert*

    How does looking for answers in a book that contains assertions that don’t satisfy even the most basic burden of proof provide any clarity or insight beyond the philosophical/armchair musings of any punter this world over?

  25. April 18, 2012 9:20 am

    You may differ from my views. Jesus did not die for our sins, but He died OF our sins. This makes the Love of God amazing as He gives us the awesome free will. Love is expressed only in full freedom.

  26. Darryl permalink
    April 25, 2012 2:33 pm

    I have a question concerning this. Did Christ’s death on the cross fulfilled God’s mission to save all people, if so, why say so…or was it just an appeasement to an angry God. As God’s plan was and still is to save all people

  27. H. Dave Derkson permalink
    April 30, 2012 1:01 am

    Check out “God’s Wrath Is Good News” By H. Dave Derkson

  28. April 30, 2012 1:46 am

    Christ died because the way He lived. Not because God the father had him killed. All the gospels are clear on the History. Good Friday is the result of the collision between the passion of Jesus and the domination systems ( Jews and the Romans) of his time.
    Anselm of Canterbury in 1100 AD came with this satisfactory theory as he thought forgiving was contrary to God’s justice. This is similar to Eastern philosophy of Karma, ther is propotional reaction for a given action and debt had to be paid at any cost. He came up with this substitution theory, Jesus literally took away all our sins or Karmas.

    Christianity is NOT just a religion of personal salvation in an afterlife jealously gaurded by a wrathful and terrifying God. Jesus Himself makes it clear that the salvation is only when we love not just our people but also our enemies. There is more than belief.
    Bible becomes richer every day. Love it.

  29. July 1, 2012 9:57 pm

    You write toward the end of your first paragraph that: “The point is, there is nowhere in Scripture I know of that would allow us to say that Christ’s death satisfies the wrath of God.”

    Isaiah 53:11 says of the Father regarding the Son: “He shall see the travail of His soul, and be satisfied. By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, for He shall bear their iniquities” (NKJV).

    What was it about the death of Jesus that made satisfaction for the Father? What did His death satisfy?

    If the ultimate goal of the Father, in sending the Son, was the redemption of mankind, does that not create an obligation for the Father to fulfill? Was the Father obligated to save anyone at all? If He was, then fallen mankind is saved not by grace, but by Divine requirement necessitated by His debt to humanity. He became indebted to us to save us.

    However, if the Father’s ultimate goal was the satisfaction of His own just character and wrath against sin, then our redemption becomes a fringe benefit, if you will, of Christ’s death rather than it’s primary purpose. This alone preserves the truth that salvation is by grace alone.

    Just a thought.

  30. July 1, 2012 10:04 pm

    PS: Might I posit that as the Father’s wrath was satisfied in the substitutionary death of Jesus, He was then free to love us without that being a debt, but solely the divine pleasure of His own will.

  31. July 18, 2012 11:58 am

    Seems I recall in “Sweetly Broken” by Jeremy Riddle, the same concept was addressed, “I was under your wrath, now through the cross I’m reconciled.” I think it’s pretty clear (and we would all agree) that Jesus paid the price, in full, on the cross.

    Romans 5:9 clearly states that we are saved FROM God’s wrath, but yours seems to be a broader question. “Did Jesus’ death “satisfy” “God’s wrath.”

    There is a whole lot of splitting of atoms going on… perhaps it’s more terminology than theology…

    For those of us who believe, I would land on that Jesus did satisfy God’s wrath, toward believers. We are no longer under punishment or judgment. We were crucified with him and have also been raised to life with him (Romans 6:4 and Colossians 2:12). Obviously, I didn’t die, he died in my place. And I am not seated in heavenly places with Christ Jesus, but Ephesians 2 says that I am!

    John 3:36, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.” For those who are unbelieving or reject Christ, they remain under God’s wrath…

    So, after all this, is your senior pastor still good with you doing this song?

  32. July 18, 2012 11:58 am

    Thought-provoking post by the way!

  33. August 9, 2012 9:14 pm

    I too enjoy that song but object to that one lyric. It would be better if it said, “the wrath of God can be set aside.” God still has wrath after the atonement for the impenitent, but He will turn from His wrath when sinners are converted. Christ is our passover, so that God’s wrath can pass over us. The atonement justifies God in withholding His wrath. But it was not the disposition of God that the atonement needed to change. We are changed by the atonement, not God. The atonement did not give us the love and mercy of God, but the love and mercy of God gave us the atonement. I am writing a book on the atonement that will be done soon. This is my favorite topic.

  34. Licia permalink
    January 23, 2013 9:30 pm

    Wow! After doing a bit of research lately, and finding the typical thoughts of “propitiation” and “God’s wrath” lacking, I was searching for words to describe what I was discovering. Well written! Well said! I feel so FREE and LOVED by the Lord! I’ve never seen your blog before and I’ve not read anything else on it, but this was a nugget that I can’t wait to share with others. Thank you.

  35. Ryan permalink
    April 3, 2013 6:21 am

    Jesus loves me yummy yummy yummy 😀

  36. July 3, 2013 3:00 pm

    Reblogged this on Anzaholyman's Blog.

  37. John Gardner permalink
    July 30, 2013 9:21 pm

    Some comments:
    1. The Bible does teach the wrath of God being poured out. It just isn’t explicit. Like the trinity you have see the teaching of the scripture as a whole. Take Achan, God was angry with Israel on the account of Achan. With the death of the one man Achan, God’s anger is turned away. “For the wrath of God is revealed from Heaven against all ungodliness and righteousness of man” This is the fundamental problem of man, God’s wrath because of sin. Sin was imputed to Christ and so Jesus bore the wrath of God.
    2. The source of God’s wrath is not man or man’s sin it is centered in God’s love for holiness. God loves righteousness therefore he hates evil. Wrath is the necessary product of love. God’s love is not primarily to his creation but a love within the fellowship of the Trinity. The Father loving the Son, the Son loving the Father and the Spirit loving both. They love each other’s holiness and righteousness and they hate anything that degrades their glory. God love’s creation because it is a reflection of His glory not because of anything intrinsic in the creation itself. This is why God could justly wipe out the entire earth’s population (saving Noah and family) and most of the creation. This included infants, pregnant women, fun loving children, teenagers, cute kittens, bunny rabbits. He was angry. When nations sinned God showed his anger. When Israel sinned God showed his anger. Not just at their sin but at them.
    3. God is not just angry at the sin. He is angry with the sinner. Psalms 7 “God is angry with the wicked, every day.” “Who warned _you_ to flee from the wrath of God” God is not just angry at the sin, he is angry with the sinner. The sin doesn’t need to flee. The sinner needs to flee. The wrath of God is coming against the sinner.
    4. Jesus said, “let this cup pass from me”. In the Bible there are two cups, the cup of salvation and the cup of God’s wrath. It cannot be the former as it would make no sense in the context of the trouble of his soul. He was wanting salvation, a way out, if possible but he was obedient to the Father’s will.
    5. If Jesus crucifixion was not as the scripture says, a “demonstration of God’s justice” Romans 4:26 it is just a normal crucifixion of which many thousands also suffered. But if he took our place and our punishment (the wrath of God). He made Him who knew no sin to BE sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God. Being made sin invites the wrath of God. “The wrath of God is revealed, from Heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.”
    6. Jesus’ crucifixion was a demonstration of the justice of God. The word justice needs to be understood as in our legal system. It is penal. In this case our sin deserves wrath. The scripture says “He who justifies the ungodly and he who condemns the innocent” both of them alike are an abomination to the Lord. It is an abomination to God to let the guilty go free and make the innocent condemned. The only way God can be just and the justifier is for Him to pour his wrath out on a substitute. His justice is satisfied. Sin is punished. He makes Jesus guilty and punishes Him and makes us innocent and lets us go free.

  38. September 25, 2013 9:00 am

    I think the Eastern Orthodox viewpoint of God’s wrath being God’s love experienced by an obstinate soul is a good defintion.

    • john Gardner permalink
      September 25, 2013 1:31 pm

      Why? The scripture already defines it. God loves righteousness, therefore He hates evil. To hate is to love the opposite. Wrath is the necessary working out of hate. Love and hate are two sides of the same coin. You can’t have one without the other. Because God loves good, He hates evil

  39. September 20, 2014 2:49 pm

    To the author: You wrote: That is what sin is. That is the meaning of the biblical phrase, “the wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23). The wages of sin is death. This cannot be denied. However, the meaning of sin is biblical and it is this: 1st John 3:4 ¶ Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.

    For many shall come in My name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. ~ Matthew 24:5

    More often than not, preachers are teaching and saying that Yahushua is the Christ but out of the other side of their mouths they are saying that the Torah has been done away with. They are deceiving many. Iniquity is certainly abounding upon this earth because the love of many is waxing cold. WHY? Because the entire Torah can be summarized by a single word; LOVE

    If we are not practicing His Torah, His love is not in us.

  40. crossroman permalink
    December 30, 2015 2:25 am

    Sin is not the transgression of the law other than in the AV. “He has abolished the law”. If you want to play “Torahs” you should become a Jew. By the way, his name is Jesus.

  41. April 19, 2019 11:05 pm

    Wrath is the meeting of righteousness and unrighteousness in a vessel capable of suffering in the reality of its outworking.

  42. August 20, 2022 12:19 am

    In ps 89 Messiah sees himself as enduring the wrath of God.

    But now you have cast off and rejected;
    you are full of wrath against your anointed.
    39 You have renounced the covenant with your servant;
    you have defiled his crown in the dust.
    40 You have breached all his walls;
    you have laid his strongholds in ruins…

    How long, O LORD? Will you hide yourself forever?
    How long will your wrath burn like fire?

    Add to that that Jesus on the cross is recapitulating the experience of Isreal in exile (where they were bearing divine wrath) and the closely allied idea of drinking the cup generally associated with a cup of wrath and wrath bearing in the atonement becomes compellng.

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