In his Forsaken: The Trinity and the Cross, and Why It Matters, Thomas H. McCall cites some alarming statements about the logic of atonement from evangelical theologians, who claim that there is a “strife of attributes” in God:
“Gregory Boyd and Paul Eddy describe this position as one that sees a real dilemma in God: ‘This sinfulness poses a dilemma for God, for he perfectly loves us, on the one hand, but he is perfectly holy and cannot have anything to do with sin, on the other.’ Stott argues (against P.T. Forsyth) that there is indeed a ‘strife of attributes’ within God. He appeals to the biblical language of both the wrath and mercy of God, and says that there ‘surely is a conflict of emotions, a strife of attributes, within God.’ There is a ‘duality’ within God. The sin of humanity has occasioned a crisis within God, for now God’s holiness and justice demand to see sinners damned while his love and mercy desire to see them saved. God now has a ‘problem,’ and the ‘problem is not outside God; it is within his own being.’” Thieklicke finds the genius of Lutheran theology and of the gospel in a “fundamental opposition within God himself” between grace and judgment (p. 63). This is indeed law/gospel gone to utter seed, law/gospel tearing God Himself in two.
As McCall says, this cannot be so.
Scripture talks about God’s wrath, and talks about God’s compassion, but the fact that both are found does not mean that they are in tension with or opposed to one another. It is “speculative” to draw from these two biblical themes the conclusion that “God’s love and mercy want to see me saved while his holiness and justice demand to see my punished – and the God-appointed and God-approved death of Christ is God’s way of sorting out the problem that my sin has caused for him” (83).
McCall cites Torrance’s claim that the wrath of the Lamb is “the wrath of redeeming love.” Torrance expands on the point: “God’s wrath means that God declares in no uncertain terms that what he has made he still affirms as his own good handiwork and will not cast it off into nothingness. Wrath means that God asserts himself against us as holy and loving creator in the midst of our sin and perversity and alienation God’s wrath is God’s judgment of sin, but it is a judgment in which God asserts that he is the God of the sinner and that the sinner is God’s creature: it is a wrath which asserts God’s ownership of the creature and asserts the binding of the creature to the holy and loving God. . . . It is the rejection of evil, of our evil by the very love that God himself eternally is” (83-84).
There’s a great deal to like in John McLeod Campbell’s summary: “the justice, the righteousness, the holiness of God have an aspect according to which they, as well as his mercy, appear as intercessors for man, and crave his salvation. . . . But justice looking at the sinner, not simply as the fit subject of punishment, but as existing in a moral condition of unrighteousness, and so its own opposite, must desire that the sinner should cease to be in that condition, should cease to be unrighteous – should become righteous, righteousness in God craving righteousness in man.” As the holy God, He is “pained by the continued existence of sin and unholiness, and must desire that the sinner should cease to be sinful.” If God’s mercy leads us to conclude “Surely the divine mercy desires to see me happy rather than miserable,” our knowledge of God’s justice should lead to the conclusion that “the divine righteousness desires to see me righteous.”
Campbell gets the basic point exactly right, “a just God and a Savior, not as the harmony of a seeming opposition, but ‘a Savior’ because ‘a just God.’”
posted by Peter J. Leithart on Wednesday, August 22, 2012 at 5:04 pm
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