"I don't understand this idea of the wrath of God," I said to Andy last night. "It just doesn't make sense to me, now that I believe so much in Love."
I don't understand the wrath of God, when it's the idea that God is angry and requires a blood sacrifice for his own satisfaction.
But it's hard to get away from that idea on Good Friday, when Jesus is hanging on the Cross right in front of us, all day long.
How many of us will find ourselves in a worship service today, singing, "Til on the cross where Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied?" It's one of my favorite hymns! But it bugs me more every time I sing it.
The wrath of God was satisfied? Really?
I have come recently to the conviction that I have to measure what I believe about God's actions, always with Love.
I've realized that, as much as I believe in Love, as much as I know that there is therefore now no condemnation for me, because I'm in Christ Jesus--well, I still tend to read the Bible like God's going to bite me any minute.
I'm trying to stop doing that. I'm trying to believe, wholly and completely that God is Love.
That's what He is, that's who He is, and if I'm thinking God is mean and petty, out for blood, then I've got a problem!
I'm looking at it the wrong way and I've got to figure it out in Love.
So how do I reconcile wrath and Love?
As you know, most of what I truly, deeply believe about God I learned in the Chronicles of Narnia. And what I truly, deeply experience about the Love of God, I mostly got from loving my children, and thinking, "Okay, maybe God feels this crazy-in-love with me, too?"
So here are my thoughts about
for Good Friday. I only hope to finish this post while it is still Good Friday.
Part the First: Parenthood
Here's my mantra for parenthood: "I am the grown-up."
One of my friends used to say, years ago, "A newborn baby is nothing but a poop tube," and truer words were never spoken. You put milk in on one end of a baby, and it spews out of every orifice in disgusting new liquid forms. Add in severe sleep deprivation, and that's parenthood in the early days. Highly fulfilling and romantic, as every mother knows.
But we love our babies.
They are not here to serve us or do us any good at all. We are here to serve them and do them every possible good we can dream up.
Because why? We are the grown-ups.
And then they're teenagers and they think we are mean, petty, controlling, demanding, bent on destroying all the fun in the world.
I have to tell you, parenting adolescents has given me a new understanding of the wrath of God, because adolescence is a time when it seems like every evil thing is out to destroy the children I adore.
And they get sucked into the insanity, and they won't believe in our love for them.
They just want their own way.
Any parent who's ever had a child caught in addiction or self-harm or just outright self-destructive stupidity, knows: there's a wrath that rises up, against the evil.
And, if I'm honest, sometimes against that child who's standing there saying things like "You can't tell me what to do! You can't stop me from smoking pot! I can do whatever I want!"
And in those desperate times, I would do ANYTHING. ANYTHING to rescue that child and bring them back to their sweet, sane selves. (Mostly what we have to do is wait for their brains to finish cooking, have good boundaries, and breathe. Because why? Grown-up. Me.)
So here's what I think. If I know how to be the grown-up (most of the time) surely to goodness, God knows how to be a grown-up too.
I know my children are children, and God knows that I am dust. Like Anne Lamott said to God the other day, "We both know what you've got to work with here."
God is clear on the reality of dealing with human beings. He has no false expectations.
People talk about the holiness of God, and that's why there has to be a sacrifice, to make us holy enough to be near to God.
But you know what, have a look at Jesus, who touched lepers and dead people, who ate with tax collectors and "the scum of the earth", who had his feet washed, just days before his Crucifixion, with the tears of a prostitute, and just let me know: is that a God who's afraid to be close to the dust that we are?
I don't think so.
I think the whole point of the incarnation is that he came here, on purpose, to be close to us. He loves us in our mess, in our uncleanness, in all our unholy hellishness.
He's heartsick to see us lost in a mess that's partly this broken world and partly our broken selves, and like William Paul Young says in The Shack, the heart of Jesus is this:
"I will go down any road to find you."
And this is the Road: to the Cross.
And why the Cross? Why the blood sacrifice? What is that about, anyway?
Part the Second: Narnia
So the wrath of God demanding a blood sacrifice. That's pretty crazy.
I mean, I've been in church my whole life, so I've heard it over and over until I think it makes sense, but really?
It's weird. We have to admit it's weird. Maybe "the wrath of God was satisfied" is so weird it's not really accurate, even.
I like the idea CS Lewis conveys in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. There's an epic battle between Aslan and the White Witch, and the Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy get drawn into it and Edmund is held hostage, and there's some kind of Deep Magic at work, where the shedding of blood will pay the ransom, and Aslan sheds his blood to free Edmund.
There's no wrath of Aslan in this story. There's the voracious, bloodthirsty wrath of the Witch, for sure.
But on Aslan's side? There's ransom. There's rescue. There's sacrifice.
Most of all, there's Love for someone who thinks Aslan is out to wreck his party with the Turkish Delight.
Okay, I wrote that, and I went to look for the deeper magic quote, and guess what I found at Experimental Theology? A post from 2011 called The Deeper Magic: A Good Friday Meditation. Here's an excerpt:
Most modern Christians read these verses through the prism of satisfaction theory. In this theory the ransom is paid to God to satisfy God's demand for justice. But the first Christians didn't see it that way. The first Christians believed that the Devil held humanity captive and, thus, the ransom was being paid to the Devil. God, in this view, is wholly loving and benevolent. Satan demands the blood and the death. Not God.
I like to call ransom theory "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe Theory" because, as seen above, it is the theology behind the actions of Aslan and the White Witch. Due to his sin, according to Deep Magic of Narnia, the White Witch has a rightful claim upon Edmund. As she says: "That human creature is mine. His life is forfeit to me. His blood is my property..." This is how the first Christians saw the fall of Adam and Eve and all humanity since Eden. Because of our sin the Devil "owns" us, our blood is the Devil's property.
So Christ, like Aslan does for Edmund, substitutes himself for us. Christ pays the blood ransom setting us free from the Devil's rightful claim. And thus are we saved. The White Witch kills Aslan instead of Edmund. The Devil kills Christ instead of Adam and his offspring.
But it gets even more interesting than this. In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe something else happens beyond the substitution. The Witch kills Aslan, but that's not the end of the story. There is a Deeper Magic that the Witch doesn't know about. And this Deeper Magic brings Aslan back to life, cracking the Stone Table and, thus, ending the era of sacrifice in Narnia. But more than ending sacrifice, Aslan also defeats Death itself: "the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards..."
The Stone Table cracks because Aslan tricks the White Witch into taking an innocent victim: "Though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know: Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation." Interestingly, some of the Church Fathers, Gregory of Nyssa in particular, articulated something very similar regarding Christ's defeat of the Devil. Specifically, in the Incarnation God hides himself in human form. Kind of like a Trojan Horse. The Devil can clearly see that Christ is special, perhaps even the Messiah, but still just a man. So Satan kills Jesus thinking he will thwart God's plan. In the words of St. Augustine, the Devil took the "bait." Like a fish taking a worm on a hook. Like the White Witch killing Aslan thinking that would be the end of the story.
So the Devil takes Jesus down into hell, his Citadel of Sin and Death, where all humanity, starting with Adam and Eve, are being held captive. There the Devil tries to lock Jesus up with the rest of humanity when--Surprise!--the Devil discovers that Jesus isn't just a man. Jesus is God Incarnate. The Devil has been fooled into letting God into hell. Jesus then leads a jail break, cracking open the gates of hell and freeing humanity, leading them up to heaven. These events are called the harrowing of hell and are recounted in a couple of places in the New Testament.
Here's what Narnia says to me, and I guess what a bunch of early church fathers thought, too:
Evil has the wrath.
God has the Love.
How deep the Father's love for me, that he would go down any road, climb the hill to Calvary, be forsaken, lay down his life, and shed his blood.
All for Love.
All for Love.
All for Love.