God is for us!

This post continues the series exploring the book Forsaken (The Trinity and the Cross, and Why it Matters) by Tom McCall. For other posts in the series, click a number: 1234568.

In the last two posts we looked at divine impassibility and divine simplicity. This time we look at McCall's conclusions related to these attributes, noting views to be avoided and to be affirmed. The bottom line is this: God is for us! 

Views to be avoided

McCall first cautions us not to downplay or deny the reality of God's wrath:
The temptation to downplay the wrath of God is understandable. The societal and cultural pressures to quietly ignore the biblical teaching are strong. The understanding that "God is love"--combined with the conviction that love and wrath are incompatible--is prevalent. But we should resist such temptations and avoid such conclusions. Too much is too clear from Scripture, and too much is at stake (pp86-87).
McCall then cautions against either depersonalizing God's wrath or attributing to God a human type of wrath. God's wrath is deeply personal but not in a self-centered way like ours. God's wrath is holy, which is to say that it is entirely other-centered - motivated only by self-giving love. God's wrath is thus entirely for us by being against all that would prevent us from experiencing his redeeming love.

McCall then cautions against thinking that God's wrath is expressive of a "broken Trinity," where an angry Father God opposes a loving Son of God. As McCall notes, "in the simplicity of the divine nature the [three] divine persons share the same divine attributes" (p88). There are no competing persons and no competing attributes within the one being of God:
Within the simplicity of the divine nature, the righteous wrath of the Father, Son and Spirit is their holy love (contingently expressed against sin). God does not have some parts that are opposed to us while others are "on our side," for God does not have "parts" at all. God does not experience internal conflict, nor is the barrier standing between us and salvation a problem within God (p88).

Views to be affirmed 

Next McCall exhorts us to affirm an orthodox, trinitarian view of God's wrath:
We should see God's wrath as real and personal. Our sin is, to put it bluntly, very "personal" to God.... To deny or downplay the wrath of God is to miss something vital to the biblical portrayal of reality. Moreover, to think of it only in terms of the natural consequences of sin threatens to eviscerate the oppositional relation of the sheer, unblemished and necessary goodness of God to evil (p89).
McCall also exhorts us to affirm that...
God's holy love is the "source" of God's righteous wrath. Wrath is not essential to God's nature; God would be God without it. God's wrath is the expression of his holy love against sin (p89).
This point leads to another for us to affirm, namely that "God's holy love [from which comes his wrath against sin] is the source of atonement" (p89, emphasis added). Said another way, "the atonement did not procure grace, it flowed from grace (p90). On this point, McCall quotes T.F. Torrance:
God does not love us because of the atoning propitiation enacted in the sacrificial death of Christ. Rather does that propitiation flow freely from the consistent self-movement of the Love that God himself is. It is through the sheer overflow of his eternal love that God has provided for mankind atoning propitiation in the blood of Christ, in order thereby to draw near to us and to draw us near to himself in such a way as to do away with all barriers of sin, hostility and fear between us and himself (p91, quoted Torrance in The Christian Doctrine of God, p245).
In short, God does not love us because Christ died for us. Rather, God, in love, sent Jesus to be our atonement. Jesus was (and still is) that atonement by uniting himself to our diseased humanity, then living for us, dying for us, and rising for us to new life. And so we understand that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, united in love, unreservedly are for us. In that love, God is wrathful against the sin that would destroy us. And thus we understand that God's wrath unreservedly is for us as well. And on that note, McCall offers these simple, yet important words: "God...in the impassible simplicity of the trinitarian life, radically [is] for us."


Ian Woodley said…
Hi Ted
I have really benefited from your review of "Forsaken", especially regarding the discussion on God's wrath in this particular post. To understand that God's wrath is nothing like a human self-centered wrath is helping me to put this subject into its proper persepctive.
Ted Johnston said…
Thanks for this feedback Ian.
Ted Johnston said…
To view a "You're Included" video with Elmer Colyer on a similar topic go to http://www.gci.org/YI113.
Anonymous said…
I'm seeing that God's wrath is a good thing because it means he cares for those he loves, so much so that he gets emotional. We recoil from the word wrath, because we are not familiar with anything but carnal, selfish wrath. I believe this is what is being said here.

Another issue that ties in here is something I've gleaned from Perichoresis. When we think of 'sin', we tend to think of wrong, harmful, or spiteful choices/actions. While these are indeed sin, the root cause is so much worse. Sin entered into our world when we first began to distrust God. Quite simply, sin is: the lack of life-giving relationship with the Godhead. The result of not having somebody big looking out for you, is that you have to work things out for yourself. Jesus said, "If you love me, you will obey me". The converse is: "If you don't love me, you won't be able to obey me".

The good news is that God is loveable, and trustworthy. His wrath is his passion to have us know him for who he truly is, so that we can be healed and begin to enjoy real life. He will not settle for less.

Making Jesus your Lord by coming to believe some truths doesn't cut it. What redeems us, (we're all saved by his finished work), is when we begin to trust God as truly good. Think about it, God has no problem with our sins, since there is nothing that we could ever mess up that he cannot fix. What he yearns to have is our trust, our faith if you will. Once we love him, it's in the bag!

Therefore, since the word wrath has a meaning which tends to keep us working to make him love us, maybe some other word should be used?

"This is eternal life, that they may know You"

Lee Schwartzrock
Ted Johnston said…
Thanks Lee for this insightful and helpful comment. Like you, I think the word "wrath" to describe that particular attribute of God is greatly misunderstood and misapplied. Perhaps another term would be good. Any ideas?