The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) recently elected to reject “In Christ Alone” for their next hymnal. Their committee originally chose it but wanted to replace one phrase with altered lyrics.  The authors of the song determined the changes inappropriate.

Original lyrics: Till on the cross as Jesus died / the wrath of God was satisfied

Altered lyrics: Till on the cross as Jesus died / the love of God was magnified

The committee defended their conditional election to reject the song’s original phrase,

“It would do a disservice to this educational mission [of the PCUSA church] to perpetuate … the view that the cross is primarily about God’s need to assuage God’s anger.… The song has been removed … with deep regret over losing its otherwise poignant and powerful witness” (Christian Century, April 2013 issue).

What? The committee loves the song’s “otherwise” poignant and powerful witness. The thing is, without the satisfaction of God’s deep anger at injustice, there is no poignant witness, and we render his love impotent. To paraphrase C. S. Lewis,

We castrate God then bid his love be fruitful.

Can an angry God also be a loving God?

We have seen anger used to bully people or witnessed violence caused by rage. So we feel uneasy about anger. Perhaps we are afraid of angry people, or our own anger is out of control, or we are too nice to ever show anger. Anger issues are understandable.

So we hate to attribute anger—much less wrath—to God. After all, God is a God of love. But anger is not the opposite of love. Hate is. And the ultimate form of hate is indifference. Our God can be angry because of his love not despite it.

But he can’t be indifferent.

When we deny God his anger, we spay, declaw, and housebreak Aslan. Instead of the Lion of Judah, we have a cute, benign, impotent pussy-cat. If there is to be any hope in this world, we need a God with backbone, a God of substance and strength, a God who hates injustice. As Miroslov Volf wrote,

If God were not angry at injustice … that God would not be worthy of our worship.

The satisfaction of wrath

Years ago I had a discussion with an old Presbyterian (PCUSA) pastor. His words were eerily similar to the hymnal committee. He claimed it barbaric—totally depraved—to believe that the purpose of the cross was to assuage God’s anger.

He claimed the gospel is simply, “loving our neighbor.” Really! I heard this from his own two lips. He limited the atonement to, “Jesus is just an example for us to live up to.”

Denying God the satisfaction of his wrath robs him of his greatness, and it undermines our hope. If God’s wrath is not satisfied by the cross, we assert the world’s evil injustices outweigh God’s merciful justice. If so, what hope is there for us?

John Newton once wrote a letter to a man distraught by his own guilt. Newton magnifies God’s glory by emphasizing God’s satisfaction on the cross,

You say it is hard to understand how a holy God could accept such an awful person as yourself. You then express not only a low opinion of yourself, but also too low an opinion of the person, work, and promises of the Redeemer (Letters Vol. 11, slightly edited).

We call Christ our redeemer. “Redeemer” means more than a sentimental, sappy Santa Claus. And redemption means more than momentary, gooey feelings of acceptance. Redemption means he paid it all, and our debt is satisfied.

But who did Christ pay?

If Christ paid our debts, who did he pay? Is there some giant banker in the sky holding our IOU’s, and God “suffered” by paying them off with PayPal? Someone once said,

If you’ve ever really forgiven somebody, all forgiveness is suffering. If you say, “I forgave and I didn’t suffer,” it wasn’t that serious a wrong. But if you have ever really been wronged, and you have forgiven it, then you have suffered.*

All real forgiveness involves suffering. If someone deeply wrongs us, there is a deep, indelible sense of injustice, a debt, something we can’t just shake off.

So we can either make them pay, or we ourselves can pay. If we make them pay (through insults, defamation, or mentally sticking pins in their heart), then we bathe ourselves in the evil cesspool of the world. We become cruel ourselves.

But if we pay by forgiving them, we suffer. When opportunities arise to speak ill of them, we resist and it hurts. Because all forgiveness is suffering. And slowly, penny by penny and dollar by dollar, heartache by heartache, their debt is erased.

The saints persevere through his grace, suffering, and satisfaction

Who did God pay? He paid himself through his suffering of forgiveness. It was agony; it was suffering; it was excruciating; it was thorns; it was nails. It was the cross.

The love of God was magnified because wrath of God was satisfied, at the same time. Knowing the satisfaction of God’s wrath through his suffering forgiveness makes his grace irresistible. “It is finished.”

You can take that to the bank.


*I think I heard this quote from Tim Keller in a sermon on forgiveness, but I’m not sure.

© 2013 Beliefs of the Heart

I had a chance to get an update on a friend’s story early this summer. (It was at our new It’s Your Time Weekend). I was struck by the interaction of God in his life. I was both inspired and enlightened by it.

Michael Williams came to one my first Calling Intensive events about eight years ago. During a small group time, he shared various pictures that captured his heart (from the Picture Exercise) and then narrowed it down to several that felt core to who we was, though he wasn’t sure why.

The first picture was of a basketball player who had been passed the ball to take the final (almost full-court) shot as the ending buzzer sounded. The ball swooped in and his team won the game. He had turned the game around for his team. Michael shared this picture and back-story with tears in his eyes.

The second picture was of a rough, weathered cross on a mountain slope. It commemorated the death of thirteen smokejumpers who died in the Mann Gulch fire in 1949 written about in Norman Maclean’s book, Young Men and Fire. He explained that as the men ran for their life during the fire “blow-up”, one man improvised by creating a “circle of safety” by setting an escape fire in front of him. He encouraged the other men to do the same, but staying with their training they refused and were overtaken by the flames. This also brought tears to his eyes.

As we pressed him on what God may be saying through these pictures about his calling (his God-intended effect), his heart erupted with something like, I want to be that man who the team turns to to turn things around and who creates circles-of-safety in dangerous situation.

In the years to follow, Michael was asked to head up a struggling hospital where he was an anesthesiologist. He did…and he turned it around.

Just recently, has was asked to take leadership of a medical university that was facing some significant difficulties.

In the midst of all of this, Michael is one of the most humble, sincere, caring men I know. God has given him both the desires of the heart and the strength of heart to handle the assignments He has given him.

So, here is the inspiration and enlightenment I received from his story:

We need to –

Pursue God and our heart

  • This is not a one way, one thing or one time process. It will be through retreats, time alone with God, worship, being in the company and counsel of others, books, movies, personal ministry times and so much more. Seek them all. The first answer to every question should be, “Come to Me”. Matt. 11:28

Pray toward the revelation God has give us

  • It so easy to simply think and dream about what we desire, but not ask. We need to continually ask and listen. Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Desires of your heart, literally means “that which the deepest, truest part of you continually seeks or prays for.”
  • For the sake of conscience, I need to admit to you that I can overlook the first two (intimacy with God and prayer). Leigh is my greatest encourager and example of these.

Prepare for the appointed moments

  • There are two elements of waiting on God. One is not losing hope or heart. The other is actively preparing for that moment. Preparation often involves studying, experimenting, formal training, feedback, reading and being mentored. All of this is life-giving if its in the pursuit and deepening of your heart’s desire.

Participate with God

  • When an opportunity presents itself, whether small and obscure or large and risky, walk into it fully with the presence of God. When God gives us an opportunity, we need to fully invest in it, multiply it as Jesus emphasized in the Parable of the Talents and then more will come.
  • “The master answered, ‘You did well. You are a good and loyal servant. Because you were loyal with small things, I will let you care for much greater things. Come and share my joy with me.’” Matt. 25:21 NCV

Let’s pursue, pray, prepare and participate together.