Your God Isn’t Angry With You

In a recent post (What Happened At The Cross? – I stated my conviction that the “penal substitution” view of atonement was not generated from within the scripture, but imposed upon it from the outside.  I also stated, from my viewpoint as a Trinitarian, that such a view gave God something of a multiple-personality disorder.  Specifically I wrote…

“The ‘penal substitution’ view that one part of the Trinity could be angry at us (the Father) while the other part of the Trinity could be loving and gracious toward us is simply contrary to this core biblical doctrine of the Christian faith.  Further, the notion that the Father could in any way pour out anger or wrath on Jesus for any reason is simply an anathema to a good biblical understand of the triune nature of God.  It cuts up the Godhead into separate entities, rather than affirming the unity of the Godhead. This is unbiblical.

So what did happen at the cross?  I wrote the following…

The answer is that question must begin with a view of the cross as a unified expression of LOVE from our triune God. Texts that affirm this include 2 Corinthians 5:19 and Hebrews 9:14.  These texts place the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit together, on the cross, bringing humanity the gift of salvation. There is not a good guy God in a white hat named Jesus, and a mean God in a black hat called the Father. There is one God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) who loves without condition and has not only forgiven us, but has removed sin from us, and has made a way for full participation in the love relationship the Godhead shares.

One of the responses I received, in a private email, concerns a verse that appears to say something contrary to what I wrote.  In Romans 3:25, Jesus is said to be “a propitiation through faith in his blood” (KJV).  The central theme in my friend’s email revolved the word “propitiation.”  Like my friend, I have often heard this word used to mean that Jesus’ blood was a pacification toward God for human sin.  In other words, Jesus took upon himself the punishment for my sin.

According to my trusty BibleWorks software program, the Greek word from which we get “propitiation” is   hilasterion {hil-as-tay’-ree-on}.  It means “relating to an appeasing or expiating, having placating or expiating force, expiatory; a means of appeasing or expiating, a propitiation.

At first blush, it sure seems like the text is making Jesus the recipient of punishment.  This would be especially the case, as my friend Steve McVey has said, if one’s disposition is to “see God the Father as somebody who just had to vent all that anger we have wrongly imagined Him to hold toward us because of our sin.”

How might one interpret this verse if we are not inclined to see God’s anger vented toward Jesus in a “penal substitution” sensed of the word?  How might this be seen if we believe that what happened at the cross was an expression of redemptive love from our triune God?  To answer that, I need to thank my friend Steve McVey.  He encouraged readers of his blog to look deeper into the Greek Lexicon.  So that what I did!  I went to the Greek Lexicon in the trusty BibleWorks software.  There I discover that a propitiation is also the word used for the “cover of the ark of the covenant in the Holy of Holies, which was sprinkled with the blood of the expiatory victim on the annual day of atonement.”

Commenting on this, my friend Steve McVey (from GraceWalk.Com) writes:

Here’s where we can interpret the Bible in a way that is consistent with “God is love” as our point of origin in discovering its meaning. Note that this aspect of its meaning refers to the mercy seat that covered the Ark of the Covenant. It was on that mercy seat that the blood of the sacrificial animals was poured out and the efficacy of that blood poured out at that place brought the remission of sins for another year.

So the word “propitiation” …refers to a place – the place where sin was dealt with by the blood of a sacrifice. The Septuagint is a translation in which the Old Testament Scriptures (written in Hebrew) were translated into Greek. When the translators came to the Hebrew word kaporeth (mercy seat), they chose to use the Greek word, hilasterion (propitiation) as the equivalent. So they obviously held the view that propitiation had more to do with the remedial aspect of the sacrifice for sin than it did for any sort of retribution exploding out of an angry Father upon His Son. The propitiation was the place where sin was dealt with. In other words, the cross was the New Covenant substance foreshadowed through the Old Covenant shadow of the mercy seat.

So what does this mean?  It means that the cross was a place where God poured out love, not anger.  Propitiation is not about Divine retribution, but Divine mediation.  That’s true for both the Mercy Seat of the Old Covenant as well as the cross in the New Covenant.  Both are about love – because that is the DNA of our God.

Let me quote my friend Steve McVey again.

The cross of Jesus Christ is the most pure expression of love that has ever or will ever exist. In that place of propitiation, Pure Agape submitted Himself to the ferocity of sinful humanity while at the same time absorbing our sin into Himself so that we would be delivered from its consequence.

Your God isn’t angry with you. He never has been. The cross proves that. Religion has smeared His face with mud from the Garden of Guilt after the fall of man, but that false image doesn’t negate the reality of who He is at all. “God is Love.” Always has been. Always will be.

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