Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied –
For every sin on Him was laid;
Here in the death of Christ I live.
“In Christ Alone” by Stuart Townend & Keith Getty
If you have been around the church at all in the past sixteen years, you have probably heard or have sung this song. What you may not know is that the line “The wrath of God was satisfied” has been so controversial that many churches and church movements (including Presbyterian Church (USA)) have changed the line to “the love of God was magnified”.
You can read more here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/18/hymn-wrath-of-god-_n_3775498.html
I believe that this disagreement is because of different views of God’s character and a lack of clarity taught about what God’s wrath is and isn’t.
I recently finished the book, “Finding God in the Waves: How I Lost My Faith and Found It Again Through Science” by Mike McHargue. A majority of his book was focused on the way that our brains are wired. What I found while reading this book was fascinating!
I was raised in a church culture that was alway fearful of God. We lived in fear and fear was the main instigator for our repentance. I remember hearing things like, “would you want to be caught doing ____ if Jesus returned right now?” Often times people would be so scared of hell, that halfway through the week at camp, they would pray the sinner’s prayer again just to make sure that they were good with God.
What I learned while reading Mike McHargue’s book was that people who believe that God is primarily angry and people who believe that God is primarily loving have two totally different brain wirings. The people who function fully out of fear of God’s anger have very unhealthy brains and function mostly out of their limbic system (which is the lowest and most primal system of the brain and triggers fear). Often times these people have an overactive amygdala which will trigger anger, aggression, and an unhealthy thalamus which is in charge of shaping their identity.
If you were not raised in the same religious environment as me, the best example of this kind of unhealthy brain (but on a way more extreme side for sure) is the Westboro Baptist Church.
See an example here (Waring – Adult language in video):
Even though my church movement was not quite Westboro Baptist, there was so much control, fear, guilt, and shame growing up. I still hear people that I was raised with say things like, “God must be punishing me for doing (or not doing) _______”, when going through hard times.
Fast forward to 2010.
I came face to face with the brokenness in myself and trauma that I experienced as a kid. I was a very angry person who struggled with addictive habits. If I was going to be in a healthy place, much of what I believed about God had to change.
Over the next few years, my understanding of God shifted. It wasn’t just a knowledge. It shifted because of what I experienced as well.
I began to understand grace and forgiveness in healthy ways, I had to have healthy relationships with other followers of Jesus. I began to understand obedience as something that does not determine if God loves me or not. I began to see God fully as loving and good, and as Romans 12 says… my mind was renewed.
Here is what happened over this time…
My faith and understanding of God started functioning out of my anterior cingulate cortex instead of just my limbic system. My anterior cingulate cortex began to sense love and started to shape my thalamus to have a healthy identity and to see God and healthy community more and more as loving. Over time, I struggled less with anger and saw God in a whole new way.
What does this have to do with God’s wrath?
I hear sermons and songs about God’s wrath. There are certain pastors that I know who will talk often about God’s wrath saying things like, “you are deserving of God’s wrath.”
There is a whole sermon called “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” by Jonathan Edwards.
Here is a line from this sermon:
“The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked. His wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else but to be cast into the fire. He is of purer eyes than to bear you in his sight; you are ten thousand times as abominable in his eyes as the most hateful, venomous serpent is in ours.”
The word “wrath” when used to talk about God invokes reactions of all types. So much of what we may think about God’s wrath is dependent on if you believe that He is fully loving or not. So much of how we communicate wrath and what we believe is dependent on if our brain is healthy or not.
Going back to the purpose of this post…
We have to define the wrath of God and have a strong view, to even engage the arguments and conversations on if God’s wrath was redirected, absorbed, and/or satisfied by the death of Jesus on the cross.
I feel like a lack of clarity on these will oftentimes throw us off course with what we believe about God’s character, the relationship between God the Father and Son, and what atonement is.
I hope that as I continue writing, that our understanding begins to be expanded.