Who’s God Mad At?

Atheists criticize God (who they say they don’t believe in) because He’s angry and violent and even because He’s a “child abuser,” by which they mean, He sent His own Son to the cross.

Apparently there has been a movement among Christians that sort of agrees that the way Christians talk about salvation, paints God in these unflattering terms. Better if we drop the idea that Christ took our place on the cross to satisfy God’s justice, with something more noble: victory over sin, death, Satan, the Law. This way of understanding what happened at the cross is called Christus Victor.

I just ran across someone on the internet today who embraces the Christus Victor view of salvation as opposed to the “penal substitution” view. I guess this debate goes back to the “early Church fathers.” According to some, the Church at its inception understood salvation as Christ’s victory over sin and death, over Satan and the Law. Until Anselm. This eleventh century Benedictine monk and theologian apparently introduced the idea of Christ’s substitutionary death.

All this is interesting to me. I really was unaware there was such a “debate” over the meaning of the cross and what God in Christ did to save us.

Well, I guess I knew not everyone sees the wrath of God as a good thing. Some years ago I read an article about some denomination choosing not to include the Keith and Kristyn Getty song “In Christ Alone” in their hymnal because they would not change the line that says, “The wrath of God was satisfied.”

The problem I have is that I think both ideas are clear in Scripture. In fact, the Apostle Paul embraces both. Certainly he talks very plainly about slavery to sin and to the Law in Romans. Here’s a sample from chapter 6:

But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (vv22-23; emphasis mine)

A couple chapters later, he gives another clear statement of Christ’s victory:

For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh (8:2-3)

So what is God angry at (so much so that He condemned it)? Sin, it would seem.

What about the penal substitutionary idea? What does that doctrine hold to, besides God’s wrath? The idea is that Jesus took the place of sinners and died instead of us, that the wrath of God was expended on Christ instead of on us guilty sinners.

The Apostle Paul certainly was clear that we are guilty sinners. And that our identification with Christ changes things for us. Romans 6 again:

Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection (vv 3-5)

Perhaps Paul’s clearest expression of this doctrine is in chapter 5:

Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. (vv 9-10; emphasis mine)

It’s pretty hard to read that passage and see anything but God’s wrath—against Christ instead of against us guilty sinners who should have received God’s wrath.

The Psalms reinforces the idea that some will face God’s anger:

The LORD keeps all who love Him,
But all the wicked He will destroy. (145:20)

There’s more to this discussion, obviously, but I think Scripture is clear: God is the victor, through Jesus Christ, and He poured out His love on us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

God’s wrath is toward sin. Christ saves us from facing that wrath as the sinners we are. In other words, Christ is Victor and He is our substitution, freeing us from sin and Satan, and death and the Law. The one grows out of the other, I think. To have one, we must have the other.


  1. LOL! I believe both, both are true! You know what that gets you in a debate? Crushed by both sides, crushed I tell ya. 🙂

    So one problem with penal substitutionary atonement is that it only works if you understand the nature of the Trinity, that the Father, Son,and Holy Spirit are One. John 1:1 tells us “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Jesus is fully human, but wholly Divine.

    Without that understanding we wind up with people claiming God turned His wrath on His own child, in this horrific act of child abuse. Or else, the false idea that God is like one of the pagan “gods,” demanding we throw virgins into the volcano. Or, we made God so mad, He went and killed His own Son.

    The guy who wrote the Shack touched on this whole issue and got a lot of flack for it,but I think he really nailed it. A whole lot of people don’t really understand that God is One, that the Son is not eternally subordinate to the Father, as if He were a completely separate being That is actually called Eternal Subordination of the Son. So when Christians, for whatever reasons conflate ESS and PSA, it fuels the whole misunderstanding.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree that it’s silly to call this child abuse because Jesus isn’t really God’s son. However, the “reality” of the trinity makes it even more barbaric : God sacrificed himself to save humans from himself (thus proving that God is both cruel by choice and narcissistic).

      I think JK Rowling wrote it best (though in the context of witches): burning witches at the stake was completely pointless because real witches can cast a simple flame freezing charm and enjoy a gentle tickling sensation before deciding to disapparate out of the fire.

      Any pain felt by God during the crucifixion was by choice.


      • Well, I think God sacrificed Himself to protect us from ourselves and from a very real enemy who also wants us for himself.

        John 15:13 tell us, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” So Jesus stepped between us and the danger we faced. Like a good parent, He sheltered us from harm and laid His life down in an act of sacrificial love.

        Was the pain He endured by choice? That could be somewhat true in the sense that He could have stopped it at anytime. He had legions of angels at His disposal. But at what price? Again, like a parent, He would have been abandoning His children to their fate. So Jesus gave up His life in act of sacrificial love and protection. He did not crucify Himself, we did that. The very fact that we would execute an innocent person, the Son of God even, demonstrates that there is something seriously wrong with us, that we really do need salvation and redemption, from ourselves and from a very real enemy.

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  2. Great Biblical post- thank you. I don’t understand why people are in such denial about the wrath of God- it’s so clearly in the Bible, and honestly I think it demonstrates his love even more because it’s this sin which separates us from him and he loves us so much that he doesn’t want us to be separated! But it is also true that Jesus is the victor and by his death and resurrection he triumphed over death and sin so that we can be with God. Both are true. Thank you!

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    • Great point. I was thinking about this on my walk this morning—that God’s wrath actually is an expression of His love. I tried to think of a good human analogy, but I kept coming up short. But clearly, what we value, we protect, and we do not take kindly to those who misuse and abuse our precious possession. Since we are God’s precious possession, it seems only right that He should want to protect us and to restore relationship with us, by turning His wrath on what has caused the break.



  3. God is love, and as such he greatly opposes that which would harm the ones he loves. Sin =the absence of God. He opposes that which separates his family. Atheists see only an angry God because they have never encountered his love. Same goes for the Bible, it would be a rather dark book apart from the love of God. Great post! God bless!

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