Continued from part (1)...
So - what's with this wrath of God that must be satisfied? Is God so blood-thirsty and angry that I should be afraid all the time? Why should Jesus die like that? What's that all about anyway?
Got me thinking...
First of all, I thought about a Reconciliation Seminar that took place in South Africa during the days when apartheid was being dismantled. A group of people were organized into sub-groups. Each was assigned a name related to the various issues involved in reconciliation. I don't recall all the titles but some were Mercy, Forgiveness, and Justice. Each group met to discuss reconciliation from the sole perspective of each title. Then they all came together for an over-all discussion.
When the folks representing Justice got up to speak, they took the Mercy and Forgiveness groups to task. "You always want to rush past us along the way! You do not want to face up to the fact that JUSTICE must be served before true, lasting reconciliation can take place!"
It gave me pause when I heard about this. They were right, I think.
But I also came to the realization that justice from a human perspective is too limited. Our forms of justice always end up at "an eye for an eye," and "a tooth for a tooth," sort of solutions*. And endless bickering about who-wronged-who first. Its like this from the sandbox to every on-going conflict in the world today - as so sadly illustrated by the middle east conflicts.
And here's where the image of Christ begins to form. Perhaps he is God's unequivocal statement that God has a better way. God promises to take all the punishments for crimes against humanity and against God (aka sin) onto Him/Her self. Otherwise, how can justice be served and reconciliation begin. How else can we get past the endless striving for human justice that never ends?
At first I pictured this in the setting of a parent in the sandbox with two scrapping kids. To stop their anger from destroying one another I might say, "Here, hit me instead of your brother! Vent your anger on me, not your sister! I put you both in the sandbox so ultimately your offenses against one another are my fault anyway. So, take it out on me! Then when your anger is spent, turn back to one another and get along..."
But my thoughts soon turned to a more shocking place. Sandbox scraps are one thing. But what about the real crimes that go on in the world? I thought about the horribly-named Lord's Resistance Army that is infamous for recruiting child soldiers. They kidnap children of 8 or 10 years of age, then threaten to cut off their arms (and do!) if the children don't take a gun and murder their own parents. Or worse! What an ugly illustration of the evil that human beings are capable of. Shouldn't crimes like this provoke God's Wrath? And I'm sure you can think of other equally horrible examples.
Now the term Wrath of God takes on more meaning. I want, No! I need, to believe that God's Wrath cries out against such abominable things! How can I ever "forgive" someone who would perpetrate crimes like that unless I know that they have first faced the demands of justice?
Then I come up against the biblical teaching that all sins are connected. There is no "degree scale" that separates my "little" offenses from someone else's "huge" offense. We don't fully realize what each of us is capable of because most of us are spared the deeper horribleness of life. But I've read enough from survivors of these horrors and caught enough glimpses of my own dark corners to at least fear what I may be capable of. I hope I never to have to find out.
Yet, the shocking part of the Good News is that God is willing to remove all forms of separation that keep his children away. God is willing to invoke Divine Justice to reconcile all human children to the Creator and somehow God absorbs all this evil without being destroyed by it. Jesus cried out while dying: "It is finished." And so I must believe that somehow, beyond my limited understanding, it is.
I'm no theologian. Books have been written about this topic that go way beyond anything I can understand. But now I at least understand a little of why that line is in the song. And I'm in awe of a God who holds out the promise of justice beyond my comprehension that is Divinely Fair, and yet need not be feared. A justice that is ultimately about our own good. And it is a first step towards mercy and forgiveness and reconciliation. And somehow it is all represented within the being of Jesus Christ, the saviour of all.
(* I once read that in contrast to how many would understand these terms today, when this was given in the Bible as part of the expansions on the Law of Moses, it was intended to stop the constant escalation of violence. That is, a punishment must not exceed the crime!)