3rd May 2011

Posted in

Blog :: Does Jesus save us from God?

This is a response to an ongoing conversation over at Kevin Gonzaga's blog Speak Faithfully. Kevin posted his thoughts about our understanding of God in Why do we believe God is not a threat?. I won't recap his arguments here but I left one brief comment which he engaged in a follow up post asking for more response. First my comments and Kevin's questions. I said:

The wrongness of the portrayal of Jesus saving us from God is exactly why I have never felt penal substitution is adequate to fully explain salvation - http://metapundit.net/writing/atonement_theology

In his follow up post Kevin responded:

Simeon, I read your blog and appreciated how you brought out the fact that there is a multitude of ways scripture talks about how atonement happens and that there is not one clear “biblical” model for atonement. I agree with you that this situation helps us to relate the Gospel to other culture and other people and even remember our conversation months ago where you brought up Loki/trickster popularity in the hacker sub-culture and how Christus Victor could play well into that context.

Each model seems to break down at a specific point and it is clear that you, like others throughout history, believe that penal substitution breaks down because Jesus saves us from God. God saving us from God fails to make sense to you. I do not share this belief. If God is truly in charge of everything, if God is the one who decides what is sin, if God is the one who decides what the punishment for sin is, if God decides who to forgive and whom to damn, I do not see how we can be saved from anything but God.

Did Satan determine what was sin? Did Satan decide what the punishment for sin was? Did Satan decide whom would come to a saving faith in Christ and who would not?

I would ask you to explain two things so I can better understand your argument. First, in your opinion why is it offensive/nonsensical that God saves us from God? Second, why did many people in the Old Testament fear God, and why is "fear of the Lord" deemed an appropriate response to encountering God in a variety of passages?

So my response - the first thing I want to note is that what we are are implicitly arguing here is Calvinist and Arminian views of theodicy. I want to return to that point but first - arguing from what has been said explicitly: Is Jesus God? If Jesus is God then the notion that Jesus saves us from God is inherently nonsensical. In the strong sense of the phrase Jesus would be opposing God and working against His will. If this is not so and Jesus is working in harmony within the Godhead then we must say that God has chosen to save us in Jesus. If Jesus is in fact working in some way contrary to the character and nature of God, if "Jesus is saving us from God", I must observe that any theology that postulates that Satan is a loyal servant of God but that Jesus is not has gone wrong somewhere!

As to the fear of the Lord - I actually agree with your overall thrust that the Holiness and "Otherness" of God is not an image we can safely do away with. I have no desire to neuter God and Isaiah 6 is the passage I turn to when I think of encountering God. It is right that we perceive God as He is and recapture the Fear of the Lord where it has been lost. Our God is a consuming fire! We must also, however, recognize that God's character is described by Scripture as tender, merciful and loving towards His people. I have been greatly influenced by Jacques Ellul's exegesis and see the Old Testament account as full of God choosing to limit Himself in His dealings with us for our sake. Who may abide the Day of His Coming? And yet in mercy for our sakes He came as a man. I think Ps 103 captures this sense of God well:

8 The Lord is merciful and gracious, Slow to anger, and abounding in mercy. 9 He will not always strive with us, Nor will He keep His anger forever. 10 He has not dealt with us according to our sins, Nor punished us according to our iniquities. 11 For as the heavens are high above the earth, So great is His mercy toward those who fear Him; 12 As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us. 13 As a father pities his children, So the Lord pities those who fear Him. 14 For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust. 15 As for man, his days are like grass; As a flower of the field, so he flourishes. 16 For the wind passes over it, and it is gone, And its place remembers it no more. a 17 But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting ...

Now back to my first point. You said

If God is truly in charge of everything, if God is the one who decides what is sin, if God is the one who decides what the punishment for sin is, if God decides who to forgive and whom to damn.

Did Satan determine what was sin? Did Satan decide what the punishment for sin was? Did Satan decide whom would come to a saving faith in Christ and who would not?

Here I return to the observation that underlying the discussion of our view of God is our answer to the problem of theodicy. You do indeed aptly summarize the dilemma but I find myself agreeing with Roger Olson:

Arminianism begins with God's goodness and ends by affirming free will. The latter follows from the former and the former is based on divine revelation: God reveals himself as unconditionally and unequivocally good, which does not exclude justice and wrathful retribution. It only excludes the possibility of God sinning, willing others to sin or causing sin. If God's goodness is so mysterious that is it compatible with willing and actively rendering certain the Fall and every other evil [...] of human history it is meaningless. A concept that is compatible with anything and everything is empty. [...]

Arminianism is all about protecting the reputation of God by protecting his Character as revealed in Jesus Christ and Scripture.

Arminian Theology, p99-100, ellipsis mine

Thodicy is all about resolving the question of God's power and goodness in the face of evil. One way of resolving this is to uphold God's power in a deterministic sense while observing that His goodness operates at a level we do not adequately comprehend. This is the reformed position as I understand it.

The other option is to uphold God's goodness and observe that His power does not have to function deterministically in order to uphold the Biblical depiction of God. This does not have to lead inextricably to open theistic understandings as evidenced by Catholic and Eastern Orthodox understandings of God's will. Even within the broad confines of Evangelicalism most anabaptists, Anglicans, free-will Baptists, and the various Wesleyan influenced groups span the range from liberalism to fundamentalism yet hold orthodox Christian views that include a God who does not deterministically bind mankind to sin and damnation.

I recognize that the Scriptural witness is complicated. Some passages indicate the immutability of God's decree while others say that He changes His mind. Accepting foreknowledge and predestination without determinism involves logical contradiction. The same is true for the Reformed position of course - accepting determinism while not making God the author of sin involves logical contradiction - but what everyone along the entire axis of orthodoxy (to coin a phrase) can agree upon is that we cannot lay the charge of evil at God's feet. Whatever our view of God we cannot set Him against us as the unalterably Other, as remote as any Lovecraftian "deity". In the midst of all of our theological ramblings we must continue to accept the profound and childlike truth that God is Love. Against this truth the idea that Jesus saves us from God becomes an offense - a failure to recognize that inexplicably, beyond our understanding, in all His Glory and Majesty, God loves us.

Posted on May 3rd 2011, 06:00 AM

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