If you want people to consider you a thinking Christian in this postmodern age, you must reject the whole idea of God’s wrath. Old Testament writers propagated that obviously misshapen view of God as a product of their unenlightened (and generally barbaric) cultures. The New Testament corrects this blasphemy by emphasizing His love for humankind, progressive Christians tell us.
I recently read some articles passionately protesting the teaching that Christ died in order to propitiate His Father’s wrath. Furthermore, one writer insisted that such a notion constitutes “cosmic child abuse.” Whatever atonement means, according to more liberal Christians, it surely can’t mean that we are wretched sinners deserving of God’s wrath. Nor can it mean, in their theology, that Christ’s sacrificial death pleased the Father.
Okay, their reasoning makes sense. But it makes sense from a human perspective. The writers of those articles forget the exchange between Jesus and Peter when Peter objected to the Lord’s prophecy that He would be put to death in Jerusalem.
21 From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” 23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” ~~Matthew 16:21-23 (ESV)
Whoa! Poor Peter merely meant that the Christ, the Son of the living God, needn’t fear such a death. (Evidently he missed the part about being raised on the third day.) Jesus attributed Peter’s objection directly to Satan! Although it didn’t make sense to Peter, the Lord had to fulfill the eternal plan of bearing the sin of all who believe in Him.
Why? Because, as unpopular as it is to accept, we really do deserve God’s wrath. The New Testament says as much.
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. ~~Ephesians 2:1-3 (ESV)
Remembering God’s perfect holiness helps us understand that He must regard our sin with nothing less than righteous indignation. To suggest that our holy God could tolerate even the slightest hint of impurity grossly denigrates His holy character. Talk about blasphemy!
Yet if we continue reading Ephesians 2, we discover that the same God Who identified us as children of wrath loved us so deeply that He provided His Son to serve as the propitiation for our sin.
4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. ~~Ephesians 2:4-7 (ESV)
Romans provides a more detailed explanation of this point.
21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. ~~Romans 3:21-26 (ESV)
Jesus submitted to His crucifixion out of love, willingly shedding His blood to atone for our sin. Far from being cosmic child abuse, Christ’s crucifixion shines as the wondrous demonstration of God’s amazing grace.