Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Thoughts on penal substitution

I'm writing this in response to reading Sam's Blog on penal substitution.

I too was at Beach Club and I too heard that story (see Sam's blog), and I too cringed! Yet it seems to me that a vast majority of Christians that I know hold to this doctrine. What is even more worrying is that they believe that they can hold to this doctrine and still believe that this fits with the God of the Bible. I, like Sam, am horrified by this doctrine and would never follow a god who acted in this way.

For me the doctrine of penal substitution paints a picture of a schizophrenic god. One minute he is angry and must punish us, the next minute he is loving and cares for us.

We must see the wrath of God as an outworking of His love, not as an an opposite to His love. For it is through His wrath that He seeks to restore and transform people and communities (surely the account of Pharaoh and the plagues is one such instance). For God is love, and it is because of His love that He gave over His Son to redeem us.

Penal substitution presents the wrath of God as an opposite to His love and thus sees the cross as a 'hands tied behind your back' scenario. As if God could not do anything about forgiving us unless some kind of mechanism was given and then 'Voila!', the cross is thought of and God has a get out of jail free card! 'Hooray', says God, 'I don't have to punish them now because the cross has arrived. Phew!" What rubbish!

Furthermore, we treat justice as if it is god or in some way holds sway over what God can and can't do. Perhaps Abraham's prayer highlights this,

'Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (Genesis 18:25)

It is like there is a list of 'right' and surely God will only do what is on that list?

Even worse...

As Sam rightly points out, penal substitution presents a God who is at war within Himself. The Son is loving and caring, while the Father is angry and vengeful. The Father demands justice, so the Son appeases His anger by taking our place. This view goes against Christian doctrine of who God is as Trinity and needs to be refuted. God, as Triune is in perfect relationship within Himself, He is not at war. The Father giving way to the Son. The Son giving way to the Spirit etc.

For me, divine self-substitution is a better view, whereby God gives Himself willingly to forgive us. He endures the cost of human forgiveness, stands in our place, represents fallen humanity fully and is thus able to fully restore us to be the people that He has intended us to be.

I believe one of the problems and reasons that the doctrine of penal substitution is out there is that we view sin as a long list of things we have done wrong. If I steel then I have sinned or if I lie I have sinned and God who is Holy cannot stand and look upon our sin. Rather, we should view sin as a broken relationship with God and an outworking of that broken relationship is that I steel and lie. The cross is there that I might be restored into relationship with God and share in this amazing community who is Father Son and Spirit. I believe that the sinful things we commit is because of the ultimate sin, a broken relationship with God.

Romans I believe presents this powerfully.

Therefore God gave them over (paradidōmi) in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another (verse 24).

And again,

Because of this, God gave them over (paradidōmi) to shameful lusts (verse 26).

And again,

Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over (paradidōmi) to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done (verse 28).
For our broken relationship with God means that He has given us over to our sinful lustings, yet how then does God respond?

He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up (paradidōmi) for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:32)

He responds by giving up His Son that we may no longer be given up to our sin! This is grace! Here is forgiveness! We are no longer dead, but alive in Christ!

Priase be to God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.

Sam cries 'Damn this diabolical doctrine (penal substitution) to hell.' Amen brother! Amen!

1 comment:

Rev Sam said...

'Handing over...' - have you read the stuff I wrote about wrath? I'd be interested to hear your take on it. (Here)