Love and Wrath 2: Love, Anger and the Cross

In part one (which is available here) of this three-part series, we saw why a God of love must be angry against sinners.  But isn’t Christianity supposed to be a religion of forgiveness?  If love requires anger, woudn’t that mean that forgiveness is bad?  Should we therefore just hold grudges forever?  More importantly, does God still hold everything we’ve done against us.

Well, I doubt you’ll be surprised to hear that the answer is no.  Human beings should forgive, and God does forgive.

We saw last time that God’s anger – his hatred for sin, and his wrath against sinners – is an outworking of love.  It is a necessary consequence of loving us.  He could not stop being wrathful without removing an aspect of his love.  But at the same time he wanted to have mercy on us.

Plenty of people will be able to tell you how that mystery is resolved.  Jesus died to bear the penalty for our sins.  God turned his wrath against Jesus, so that we could walk free.  He could therefore be loving, and therefore merciful, while at the same time being loving, and therefore wrathful.

However, any reader will see an obvious problem with this.  Isn’t that unjust as well as being unloving?  How dare God punish an innocent for the sins of someone else?

Well, there are a few things we can say to this.  One is the important point that Jesus chose this path – God didn’t pick someone at random and decide to condemn them, he had a volunteer.

Another important point is the Trinity.  God and Jesus are not separate – Jesus is himself  God.  At the cross, God isn’t punishing a third party, he is bearing the burden himself.

But a third point is perhaps most helpful.  One of the things Christians believe is the doctrine of “union with Christ”.  This teaches that we (Christians) are spiritually united with Jesus.  As a result, Jesus was able to take our sin into himself, making them his own.

This means that at the cross, God could justly judge your and my sins in the person of his Son.  We were united there – we died with him.

But it also means that at the cross, God loved us so much that he was even willing to direct his own wrath against himself.  He could have got out of it by not being angry – but he loved us too much.  He could have got out of it by choosing not to be merciful – but he loved us too much.  Rather than loving us less, he was willing not only to suffer and die, but to swallow his own wrath.  To be wrathful against himself.  He hates sin, and he became what he hated.  He was alienated from himself.

At the cross, God shows us that he loves us enough to be angry – and that he loves us enough to take that very anger upon himself.

God’s wrath therefore shows us something about how powerful, how intense, God’s love is – and how great and how costly his forgiveness has been.

Thanks be to God.

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