Dies Irae (Compassion and the Wrath of God)

I’ve always had a problem conceptualizing God’s anger. I always sort of saw it as in conflict with His love and compassion. The “Dies Irae” and “Kyrie Eleison” never seemed to match that well.

Similarly, I always had trouble with the Penal Substitution theory of atonement. It always seemed like an artificial differentiation between Jesus and God the Father, with Jesus saving us from God.

But this morning in church, some things I’d been reading and something the preacher said sort of clicked.

I’d been picturing God’s wrath all wrong, because I’d been thinking of it like mortal anger. Let me explain.

Humans get mean, careless, and stupid when we get angry. We break things, we hurt people (physically or emotionally), we say things we can’t take back. We lash out.

But God isn’t mortal. He isn’t fallen, flawed, or stupid. He isn’t a slave to his upbringing, His adrenaline, His sin.

His wrath isn’t like our anger. When we get angry, we lash out. But what happened when sin kindled God’s wrath and created a separation between us and God? What was God’s plan? What was God’s reaction?

He came to earth, to walk among us, to suffer and die for us.

What is the outcome of God’s wrath?

Compassion.

Incarnation.

Salvation.

Christmas.

Suddenly, “Kyrie Eleison” seems like a perfectly companion for “Dies Irae.”

When sin kindled God’s wrath and created a separation between Him and His beloved creations, He found a way back. He made a way back for us.

Even though it cost Him pain, sadness, death, and – worst of all – even though He had to experience our sin first hand. Of all the tortures Jesus suffered, enduring the flood of evil done by humanity throughout history must have been the worst.

Even with all that, God made a way.

That’s love, and compassion, and wrath, all working to bring His loved ones home.

That’s God.

Merry Christmas.

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A Time to Mourn (a response to John Piper and those who quote him)

A time to weep a time to laugh a time to mourn a time to dance ecclesiasties 3:4

 

 

The writer of Ecclesiastes reminds us that “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.”  I’m writing this on the Monday after the most terrible primary school massacre in American history, after a mentally ill young man went to his mother’s school, killed her, several adults, and at least twenty young children.

This is a time to mourn.

Not a time to score Calvinism points by hammering away about God’s sovereignty.

Not a time to remind us that this massacre is nothing compared to the greatest crime, the crucifixion of Jesus (which was also God’s plan from before the foundation of the world).

Not the time to explain that every murder is primarily an assault against God, and God’s sovereignty. Not a time to learn “A Lesson for All from Newton” – the lesson being that we should think of this as a warning about our own depravity.

Not even a time to theorize on the question of evil.

But considering what Piper has said in the past about God’s unquestionable right to kill women and children, even commit genocide, maybe this would have been a time for him to take off his theologian hat and simply offer compassion and sympathy as a fellow Christian and human being.

The same could be said for every pastor who cribbed yesterday’s sermon from Piper’s blog posts. We don’t need a lesson. We don’t need deflection away from this event onto an oversimplified, self-contradictory view of the crucifixion. We don’t need the decaf version of Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.

What do we need? Compassion. Space. The humility to admit that there isn’t an easy answer to this, no matter what the  Reformed bloggers say.

We need what the author of Ecclesiastes offered:

A time to mourn.

 

Blood Shed

Pascal Lamb by Josefa Cordeiro, circa 1660-1670

Pascal Lamb by Josefa Cordeiro, circa 1660-1670

I was in church tonight, and something the preacher said struck a nerve.  He said the animal sacrifices offered in Temple Judaism were not what brought about the forgiveness of sins, but rather an outward, physical reminder of repentance.  That got me thinking.

I don’t want to get into the theology of remission of sins.  Hebrews 9:22 says, “according to the law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness,” but that was within a Christians framework. Ultimately, the writer was pointing his readers toward the blood of God Himself, in the form of Jesus crucified.

What I want to look at is the second part, the reminder.  I think sometimes we find it easy to justify our sins, to make things easy on ourselves.  Sometimes we can’t see the consequences of our actions.  Other times we’re able to turn a blind eye to them.   I know I do.

But those consequences are real, even if we don’t see them. Every cold-hearted word, every missed opportunity to do good or turn the other cheek affects somebody.  Cruelty, moral cowardice, apathy, self-righteousness and callousness corrode our souls, sear our consciences, and make us like salt that has lost its savor.

The ancient Jews didn’t have that luxury.  Their sin offerings came from their own flocks, so they felt a financial impact.  But more than that, their sin offerings bleated and cooed and struggled with their bonds as they were lifted onto the altar.  Their sin offerings were often animals they’d fed, and raised, and sheltered.  Some of their sin offerings may even have had names.

And then the knife fell, and the blood poured from the wound.  When they watched the animal die, they knew their own actions, their own misdeeds, had brought about its pain and death.  They knew, long before gospels or epistles were written, that “The wages of sin is death.” [Romans 6:23].

No, I’m certainly not advocating a return to animal sacrifice.  Jesus was our sacrifice, once for all time.  But I do think it would do us good to think back, to put ourselves in their sandals. I think it would be good to remember what it cost our spiritual ancestors, and what it cost our Lord, Jesus. It would be good to remember that actions have consequences, even if we don’t yet see them.

 

Things I Don’t Understand, Death Before Adam Edition

Horned Viper by H Krisp Creative Commons

Horned Viper by H Krisp, Creative Commons

File it under “things I don’t understand” right next to complementarianism, but I just don’t get the idea that Young Earth Creationism is necessary to the Christian story of redemption.  Now, don’t get me wrong: I understand a belief in Young Earth Creationism.  It fits the “plain meaning” of Genesis 1 better than any other interpretation, even if it is out of step with current scientific understanding.  My point here isn’t to debate a young versus an old Earth (though I’ll probably get to that one in time), but to address this one puzzling concept.

For those who aren’t familiar with the idea, you can watch this video and also this one and see Ken Ham, a leading Young Earth Creationist, debate Dr. Walter Kaiser, a professor of Old Testament studies.  If you don’t want to watch forty minutes worth of videos, you can read this article, which explains the position, and, if you’d like, this article that both further illuminates the position and argues against it.

To sum it up:  Death is the consequence of sin [Romans 6:23, Romans 5:12].  If there was death before Adam’s sin, or if there was no literal Adam, then death is not really a consequence of sin, and there was no point in Jesus’s incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection.

And that is what I don’t understand.  How can anyone who lives in this world question, for even one instant, the existence of sin?  America’s violent crime rate has been falling for 20 years, but we still have roughly 15,000 murders per year, and millions of violent crimes.  War rages across the world, between nations, cartels, and terrorist organizations.  Practically every government on the planet is corrupt to one degree or another (some legalize graft and call it “campaign finance reform,” but that doesn’t make them any less corrupt), and many still kill and torture to protect their “interests.”

Evil even permeates our daily lives.  Most of the chocolate we buy is produced by child labor, including widespread slave labor.  We so often treat the people around us horribly.  We turn away people in need.  We get so sure that we’re right that we trample on anyone who disagrees.  We lie, we gossip, we scheme, and we live so utterly, terribly selfishly.

How can anyone look out this window and wonder whether we need a savior?  We surely haven’t saved ourselves, not in five thousand years of recorded history, and not in all the long years before.  And there simply is no way that God’s power is limited by something Adam did or didn’t do.

That’s why I don’t understand the belief that “no death before Adam” is absolutely necessary for the effectiveness of Jesus’s incarnation, death, and resurrection.   It just seems like looking at things backward.  But maybe that’s just me.