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A God of Love and Wrath
In Defense of the Faith
Friday, March 31, 2017
Alf Cengia

Unfortunately, some things are learned the hard way. My wandering around in the New Age taught me several lessons I hope never to forget. I wish I hadn't gone through all that. But I probably needed to in order to drive these lessons into my thick skull.

I finally learned the reality of spiritual warfare and the existence of demons. If the devil and demons existed then there had to be a God. Because of my upbringing I'd already suspected that God had communicated His word to us through the Bible. But since the Bible didn't condone my adopted views, I avoided it.

Another lesson I learned was just how corrupt and depraved a mind can become when left to its own devices. Most New Agers believed in a form of god. This god was permissive and always loving. He was never wrathful. Their god - if he existed - was a Santa Claus who only sees good children.

Acts of brutality, rape, murder and perversity of all kinds were excused using concepts of karma and reincarnation. Humans were said to undergo several lifetimes of learning and making mistakes in order to evolve spiritually.

Almost anything was permissible because there were no eternal consequences. These ideas were so pervasive and intoxicating that it eventually became difficult for me to acknowledge the reality of evil. One could excuse just about any behavior.

God's grace finally dragged me out of that deadly place.

By the time 9-11 occurred, I understood the true nature of the event. Unsurprisingly, several "spiritual leaders" interpreted the event as a "cosmic lesson." One lady even wrote that the souls who died that day had unselfishly sacrificed themselves in order to accelerate humanity's spiritual evolution.

Denial of the reality of evil, sin and God's wrath leads to a dangerous mind-set. One which professing Christians aren't exempt from. Its logical progression undermines Christ's work on the cross.

As another Easter approaches we can expect the obligatory seasonal proclamations. Atheists will have their say. The media will print the usual skeptical Easter narrative stories. Some Christians will attack Easter as pagan-inspired. But there's also an increasing movement by some Christians to re-interpret Christ's Atonement.

The movie version of Paul Young's The Shack was be released prior to Easter 2017. Many Christians stridently defend the book and movie. They say it's heartwarming Christian fiction with no serious theological implications. Yet as a friend noted - why does a "fictional story" come with a study guide?

Several critics have highlighted serious theological problems with The Shack. James B. De Young (Burning Down The Shack) observes:

Paul Young departs from an evangelical understanding of God in whom holiness and love are equally balanced to a Universalist understanding of God in whom love is paramount and judgment and holiness are considered to be in conflict with his love. In comparison with [John] Bunyan [Pilgrim's Progress], Paul Young denies that there is future punishment, that God punishes sin. (Emphases mine)

The Shack is only the tip of the iceberg. This recently from a Baptist pastor:

The major problem with substitutionary atonement is the way it imagines God. This interpretation of Jesus’ death makes God the source of redemptive violence. God required/demanded a violent death for atonement to be made. God required the death of an innocent victim in order to satisfy God’s offended sense of honor or pay off a penalty that God imposed. What kind of justice or God is this? Would a loving parent make forgiveness for the child conditioned upon a violent act?

Lutheran minister Daniel Skillman has asked the question: "Is This the God that You Love and Worship?" He then digs out the sorts of verses one expects from people who find bits of the Bible (especially the OT) unpalatable.

Skillman advises his readers against reaching for their "big book of Bible difficulties" to resolve the "glaring contradictions" regarding whether God takes pleasure in someone's death or not (Deut 28:63 v Ezek 33:11). He's already read it for you and found it unconvincing. Actually, these verses taken in context aren't irreconcilable. But that would be the subject of another article.

It's no surprise Skillman finds biblical inerrancy unconvincing. He's long gone down that slippery slope. Alleged biblical contradictions and difficulties are raised in order to subvert Scripture. The real problem lies with these peoples' rejection of God's word.

They portray the biblical understanding of the cross as child abuse because they don't like hell and punishment. They want to believe in universalism and a wrathless God. Hence they need a modified (unorthodox) reason for the cross.

Paul dealt with this in his day and warned Timothy of its future coming (2 Tim 3:1-7, 4:1-4). Before he went to be with the Lord, Charles Spurgeon had to contend with "Higher Criticism" challenges to God's word in what is known as the Downgrade Controversy.

At the turn of the 16th century, a local lord of the manor teased Puritan Richard Rogers about his "precisian" way. Rogers responded that he served a precise God. James Packer noted that such a God also made a precise disclosure of his nature and will in Scripture. God therefore expects a corresponding preciseness in behavior and belief from His servants.

The Puritans took comfort in, and preached, the amazing grace of God. But this gracious trait of God is also inextricably woven into Christ's work on the cross. It is because of Christ that we avoid God's wrath on our sins (Rom 1:18, 2:5-8; 1 Cor 15:3-4; Gal 3:13; 1 Pet 2:24). See also Joseph Scheumann's Five Truths about the Wrath of God.

Douglas F. Kelly (The Beauty of Christ: A Trinitarian Vision) points out that the Lord two separate deaths on the cross. Jesus died the Second Death before His physical death (Psalm 22:1; Matt 27:46; Mark 15:34). He literally (if briefly) experienced God-forsakenness for us.

The wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23). Christ bore our sins, thus satisfying God's justice. We worship a precise God who hates sin. Christ efficaciously took God's wrath on sin upon Himself for those who trust in Him (John 3:16-18).

Interestingly, Kelly suggests that the darkness which fell during the last three hours of the crucifixion is significant to the "outer-blackness of God-forsakenness." Kelly refers to the "infinitude of Christ's sufferings" and writes:

It is as though the one who said 'I am the light of the world' is somehow being blotted out in the blackness of the negativity of hell, as he tales on all the darkness of sin that has been committed against the light. ~ (p 381)

I've come across several articles which cleverly argue for Universalism, and against the existence of God's wrath. The problem is that they either avoid verses which address it, question Scripture, or reinterpret books such as Revelation.

The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. Rev 20:10

But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death. Rev 21:8

I believe God's word means what it says. It's much safer that way.

How about you?

About Alf Cengia

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