Sunday, March 29, 2009

Affirmative Answer to Question 1

Nick’s first question was a puzzling question. Rather than cross-examining me on positions I had advocated, he asked me to defend the teachings of Hodge, Boettner, MacArthur, Calvin, Luther, Luther again, and Grudem, not all of which are particularly systematic (while those who are have extensive defenses of their own on this subject).

Nick asserted that these gentlemen claim that Jesus "endure[d] not only a physical death, but a spiritual one as well." That's not quite right. They do say he experienced more than bare death, but specifically the wrath of God. Of course, that expression must be understood within their framework of thought. For them, suffering the punishments due to sinners is suffering God’s wrath: it does not mean that God the Father is displeased with the Son’s sacrifice (on the contrary – it pleases him). But, instead, it means that God’s judgment is on the Son.

Nick asks "Where does Scripture teach Jesus underwent a suffering more painful and serious than physical death?" This itself is trivially answered, since the actual experience of death isn’t something to which we attach any pain. It is the cutting off of soul from body. In Christ's case, however, the way this happened was crucifixion, an enormously painful means to that end.

What was more painful and serious than the physical pain of the crucifixion? It is apples and oranges, but Christ was humiliated in every way: he was condemned and betrayed by the leaders of his people to the gentiles. He was mocked by the gentiles. He was mocked by the thieves on the cross. He was not rescued from death by God. He was abandoned by his disciples. What more could have been done to him that was not done?

But Nick provided further provisos on his question: "Please quote and comment upon at least three distinct passages of Scripture which [sic] state Jesus endured a pain worse than physical death, specifically "the wrath of God" as described above."
I assume Nick's reference to "as described above" is not to anything I had written in this debate, but to other writers with whom it appears Nick would prefer to spar. The first verse in support of their claims is the verse Luther quoted, where Jesus cries out "My God, My God, Why hast Thou forsaken me?"

Nick's request for three distinct passages is a bit odd. I guess it would be nice if this facet of the doctrine of the atonement were brought out by numerous verses, but what if it were just that one that Luther quoted? Isn't the Scriptures saying something one time enough of a reason to believe?

Nevertheless, there are others that convey the same concept, more or less directly. For example, there are verses where salvation through Christ is contrasted with the wrath of God:

John 3:36 He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.

This is a general verse contrasting eternal life obtained through faith in the Son with the wrath of God that otherwise abides on us. Either the wrath of God is against the Son or against us.

Romans 5:9 Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.

This verse makes it clear that the blood of Christ (that is to say, his death) is significant in our justification. That is to say, either the blood of the Son is spilled for us, or God will require our blood.

1 Thessalonians 1:10 And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.

This is yet another verse that provides the options of either Christ suffering death or us suffering the wrath of God.

1 Thessalonians 5:9 For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ,

This is still a further verse in the same vein. (See also Romans 2:2-11)

We can see the same thing another way by looking at Lamentations 3. That chapter begins:

Lamentations 3:1 I am the man that hath seen affliction by the rod of his wrath.

Now, whether we view this as simply referring to the prophet Jeremiah, or whether we view it as a prophecy of Jesus the Messiah, what is interesting is how “wrath” is manifested in that chapter. It is manifested by various physical trials, pains, and humiliations. This demonstrates that the wrath of God can be manifested against someone without the person spending an eternity in hell. And, of course, none of the theologians Nick identified think that Jesus had to spend an eternity in hell.

We could, of course, give other examples. Perhaps it suffices to add to this Psalm 88. Psalm 88 is about Christ, as Augustine recognized: “The Passion of our Lord is here prophesied.” (Exposition on Psalm 88 – And the Roman Catholic “Haydock’s Bible Commentary” agrees: “A prayer of one under grievous affliction: it agrees to Christ in his passion, and allude [sic] to his death and burial.”) When it came to verse 7, this was hard for Augustine to swallow, and he was concerned that there was a mistranslation in the copies available to him. But we have better access to (and better understanding of) the Hebrew originals and know that is says:

Psalm 88:7 Thy wrath lieth hard upon me, and thou hast afflicted me with all thy waves. Selah.

Though Augustine thinks that this just expresses the beliefs of those who crucified Christ, we recognize that on the interpretation of this verse, even the great Augustine was mistaken. That’s the nice thing about Scriptures being our rule of faith, we can read them without requiring that our view of them be precisely as the fathers, among whom (of course) there was disagreement. For example, Theodoret does not appear to recognize this Psalm as Messianic.


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