letters to surfers

doesn't god's holiness require a substitutionary payment to satisfy the demands of his justice?

by robert brow

Dear J.,

We all agree that God is holy, but the holiness of of God's kind of love is not a necessity to condemn sinners to eternal damnation but the intention by all means and at great cost to perfect them for his heaven.

The model shift involves moving from a Roman law court setting to a family love, adoption, and reconciliation setting. Instead of a payment made by the Son to satisfy the wrath of an offended Father, the cross is viewed as the inevitable cost of loving. God is love, and love always gets hurt.

Since the Son was already loving and being hurt by our sin in the OT, he is the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. As John said "behold the Lamb that keeps taking away the sin of the world" (a present tense).

This moves the atonement from a mere three hours on Good Friday to the very heart of God. The cross is therefore not a payment to satisfy the wrath of the Father but a visible expression in space and time of the eternal sacrificial love of God. This also means that we can enter into the fellowship of his sufferings (sacrificial love).

The word "ransom" also changes its focus from the amount paid to the freedom of the one who is ransomed. Love cares about the freedom of the other, and the purpose of the atonement is not making it possible for us to be forgiven (love does that anyway) but making it possible for us to enjoy the liberty of the children of God.

We are saved by grace alone and neither our forgiveness or our perfecting is in any way dependent on our goodness or moral efforts.

But grace is not a payment made in a few hours on Good Friday to satisfy the wrath of God. Grace is the costly sacrifice of loving, which is part of the eternal "Lambness" of the Son. That means that the cross is the visible expression in space and time of his eternal nature. To my mind what is wrong with the evangelical theology which I learned is that it denies the eternal Trinitarian nature of God. It suggests that the Father can only begin to accept and love us when the Son has made a payment to satisfy his justice, and the Holy Spirit can only begin his work in us when we have accepted that payment.

The Father has always been a loving parent who delights to welcome sinners into his family with a view to their perfection in heaven. And the Son has always been Lord and Servant, Shepherd and Lamb, Friend and Healer, etc.

Similarly the Spirit has always been ruakh (the Hebrew word for wind or Spirit). He is Wind lifting and moving, Wind in-breathing, and Wind burning. And humans, however imperfect, have always had access to Him in those and many other ways. The art is to set our sail to let him move us, open our hearts to inspiration, and warm ourselves around the fire of our family gatherings.

This means that all three Persons are involved in our at-one-ment but in different ways. Some first get to know the Father as a little child, some come in through the Son, and some first experience the Spirit. This is why among thousands of new charismatic songs you will find very few that require a substitutionary payment to be accepted before we can experience the Spirit. There is the strong substitution involved in any kind of loving, but the model is not seen as a payment in a Roman law court to satisfy the wrath of God's holiness.

Wrath is therefore a subsection of the love of God. And God's holiness is not to condemn but with a view to our eventual perfection.


model theology home | essays and articles | books | sermons | letters to surfers | comments