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.

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The Wonders Of Creation – A Reprise


Today was one of the glorious days in southern California that come after rain has washed the sky and watered the earth. Words don’t really do it justice nor do pictures, but that’s true about pretty much all the things God has made. It seems fitting today to re-post this article about creation.

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Sometimes I think I prefer the mountains to every other place on the planet. That usually lasts until I spend a few minutes on the beach. I never think I’d want to live in the desert, but on the occasions I’ve had to drive through a place where the rock formations are unique and the colors vibrant, where there are flowers in the most unexpected spots and the trees are the most unusual shapes . . . well, it makes me realize, the world God created is wondrous no matter where you look.

I think that about the night sky too. The moon is the most glorious sight . . . until I find a place away from city lights and view the starry host, so vast, so breath-taking.

Then there’s falling rain, sunsets, snow-covered anything. There’s no end to the beauty. And “beauty” doesn’t quite do creation justice. It’s awe-inspiring. Magnificent. Breath-taking.

No offense to architects or engineers, but the best man-made stuff doesn’t hold a candle to . . . well, a candle flame. Or a rainbow. Or a rose.

“And God saw that it was good” might be the greatest understatement in history. Unless you understand “good” to mean perfect, matchless, complete, a reflection of the nature of the One who created nature.

Psalm 104 is a grand description of God’s wondrous creation:

Bless the Lord, O my soul!
O Lord my God, You are very great;
You are clothed with splendor and majesty,
Covering Yourself with light as with a cloak,
Stretching out heaven like a tent curtain.
He lays the beams of His upper chambers in the waters;
He makes the clouds His chariot;
He walks upon the wings of the wind;
He makes the winds His messengers,
Flaming fire His ministers. (vv 1-4)

The fact is, creation is an announcement of God. In the words of the Keith and Kristyn Getty song, “Creation Sings ”

Hallelujah! Let all creation stand and sing,
“Hallelujah!” Fill the earth with songs of worship;
Tell the wonders of creation’s King.

It’s the only proper response to what He has made. Praise God for His wondrous creation.

Published in: on February 13, 2018 at 6:17 pm  Comments Off on The Wonders Of Creation – A Reprise  
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Light And Darkness


lunar_crepuscular_rays_2Years ago when I was teaching, we took our eighth graders on a three-day science field trip to Catalina Island. One of the activities was to experience a sight deprivation maze. It’s hard to imagine a place as dark as that cramped labyrinth was.

From that experience I can tell you confidently, darkness is not beautiful. In fact, you can’t see the darkness. You simply can’t see anything. No shades or shapes, not even movement. Your eyes can’t register a single thing because of the absence of light.

Light, on the other hand, is exceedingly beautiful in its many manifestations. I thought of this again on Sunday as I was driving to church. Sunlight streamed through parted clouds, lining them with gold. Not silver, like the cliche. But it was so brilliant, I suppose you might say it was sort of silvery-gold.

And just the day before, as the sun was about to break above the horizon, its light painted a scattering of woolly clouds with pink, all but their outer gray edges. That’s nothing to the sunsets we get in the fall. Then there is the full moon climbing through the early night, or the crescent moon lingering with the last stars in the early dawn.

Light in its many forms is beautiful. Well, maybe not all artificial light can be said to be beautiful, but natural light does dramatic things. Starlight twinkles, sunlight refracts, candlelight glows, and firelight dances.

Any wonder then, that Scripture says Jesus is the Light of the world?

Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life
– John 8:12

Yet, most likely, because of the little bit of physical description we have of Jesus, we don’t think of Him as beautiful. Isaiah 53:2b says,

He has no stately form or majesty
That we should look upon Him,
Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.

But then this from Psalm 27:

One thing I have asked from the LORD, that I shall seek:
That I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life,
To behold the beauty of the LORD
And to meditate in His temple. (v. 4 – emphasis mine)

This morning I was listening to Awaken the Dawn, an album by Keith & Kristyn Getty. One song, “What Grace Is Mine” opens with these words:

What grace is mine that He who dwells in endless light
Called through the night to find my distant soul

The phrase “endless light” grabbed me. Not only does God dwell in endless light, He is endless light. It speaks to God’s eternal nature, but it also promises unlimited beauty. And what a contrast to the “night” through which He calls – the darkness of sin that blanks out the light. No wonder He needs to call me. My condition prohibits me from seeing even endless light. Except, He tore the veil.

All fear can flee for death’s dark night is overcome
My Saviour lives and reigns forevermore

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in January 2011.

Published in: on November 3, 2016 at 5:48 pm  Comments Off on Light And Darkness  
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It Came Upon A Midnight Clear And Other Christmas Carol “Facts”


The_Shepherds011I’m a big believer in hymnody. I learned a lot of doctrine in church without realizing it because we sang hymns with substance. Not every hymn is theologically sound, however, and not every Christmas carol adheres to the facts Scripture reveals about that first Christmas. More than one relies on imagination or “poetic license.”

“It Came Upon A Midnight Clear” is an interesting example. Scripture doesn’t say that the night was clear, though it’s a fair assumption since the shepherds seemed to have an unimpeded view of the angels. But why midnight? Why not 6:35 or 8:20? That time is speculation, which is fine as long as we all understand that it is.

Then there are the angels. I don’t recall any human encounter with angels that includes a description of wings. Granted, the ark of the covenant and the Holy of Holies in the temple included angels with wings, but when humans saw angels, they didn’t mention the wings. In fact some angels looked just like humans and were mistaken for men. One passage of Scripture says we might actually from time to time entertain angels, not realizing that the people we’re extending kindness and the love of Christ to, are actually heavenly beings. I doubt if that would happen if angels all had wings! Or had wings all the time.

All that to say, the description in “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear” of the first angel and then the accompanying host includes a bit of speculation. Then there is the erroneous idea that the angels sang their praise to God. Scripture, as jarring as it is to our Evangelical culture, never says the angels sang.

The good thing about this particular carol is that in the final stanza it ties Christ’s first coming with His impending return:

For lo! the days are hastening on,
By prophets seen of old,
When with the ever-circling years
Shall come the time foretold,
When the new heaven and earth shall own
The Prince of Peace, their King,
And the whole world send back the song
Which now the angels sing.

Minus the singing part, those lines are pretty awesome. The angels announced the coming of Messiah and praised God for it; one day He’ll come again and the whole world will praise Him for it.

One of my favorites, “We Three Kings,” suffers from the same imagination/speculation issue when it comes to the particulars of the visitation by the wisemen. First off, nowhere in Scripture are the visitors identified as kings. The word we translate as wisemen is magi. The footnote in the New American Standard Bible defines the term as “a caste of wise men specializing in astronomy, astrology, and natural science.”

In addition, the idea that there were three comes from the fact that they brought three gifts, but in reality, five could have given gold, two, myrrh, and four frankincense. It’s unlikely that the three came alone, too, especially bearing such expensive gifts and traveling so far. They likely had a caravan of servants and perhaps other travelers, but that’s my speculation. 😉 Scripture simply doesn’t say how many were in their company.

The other thing that’s problematic is the idea that they followed the star. They did for a short distance, but not all the way from their home. I mean, did you ever wonder, if they were following the star, why did they end up in Jerusalem instead of Bethlehem? Scripture says they saw in the east the star belonging to the King of the Jews, and went to worship Him. When they didn’t find Him in the capital city, Jerusalem, the place you’d expect to find a newborn who would be king, then the star “went before them” and stopped over the place where the Child was.

One more thing about the star. Nowhere does Scripture tell us it was particularly bright. I used to wonder what was wrong with everyone else for not following the star too. Well, the truth is, it didn’t have to be bright for these men who studied the stars to recognize it. Their field of knowledge surpassed ours. They knew something supernatural from examining the physical. I mean, they came to worship the King. Not the king of their own country (which may have deified their kings), and not to give tribute to a young prince. They wanted to worship, the rightful response to God alone.

With the faults of “We Three Kings,” it still delivers a powerful message, tying the types of gifts the magi gave to the Christ Child with the various truths about Him: that He was King (gold), and God (frankincense), and Suffering Savior (myrrh).

Many of the Christmas songs are like this—there may be some factual errors or pure speculation, but at the heart of the carol is the truth about Jesus. “Silent Night,” for instance, is much more than a sweet Christmas lullaby. The heart of the song includes these lines:

Alleluia.
Christ the Saviour is born,
Christ the Saviour is born.

Silent night, holy night,
Son of God, love’s pure light,
Radiant beams from
Thy holy face, with the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth,
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth.

Yes, the “radiant beams” are imagination at work, but the redeeming grace dawning with Jesus at His birth is not. Nor is the pronouncement that Christ the Savior was born.

The carols are great, and some of the newer Christmas music is too. “Mary, Did You Know?” is Scriptural and reveals who Jesus is. Keith and Kristyn Getty have a Christmas album which includes some great songs. One of note is “For To Us A Child Is Born” and another “Joy Has Dawned.” The Biblical lyrics faithfully point to why Jesus came.

I guess the real point of all this comes down to something I’ve been reminding myself: to keep my mind engaged even when I’m singing or listening to familiar Christmas songs. What we humans write, needs to be filtered through God’s Holy Word.

Then, too, the “old, old story” should never be taken for granted. God’s great love is new every morning. I should never stop giving praise and thanks to my Savior for rescuing me from the kingdom of darkness. As the lyrics of another Getty song, “Holy Child,” says,

May the gift of God amaze us still
The triumph of all time

How great to have such an array of Christmas music to further our worship.

Published in: on December 15, 2015 at 5:00 pm  Comments (12)  
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A Musical Interlude


Song writers and musicians Keith and Kristyn Getty

Song writers and musicians Keith and Kristyn Getty


From time to time I’ve discussed what I perceive to be problems with the music portion of worship in many churches, and of late that includes my own.

Instead of breaking down the problems again or elaborating or pointing out particulars that seem inconsistent with a service intended to glorify God and edify believers, I thought I’d post a video which shows the kind of music I would like to see more of. It’s contemporary and it’s Biblical. It focuses on God and His work. It is musically the kind of song lay people can sing. And it is theologically on target, requiring people to think even as they worship.

Honestly, I think I could have posted any song from the Gettys’ hymn collection and said essentially what I wrote above. Their music is that good. I invite you to see for yourself, and then check out their YouTube channel.

Published in: on September 16, 2015 at 5:00 pm  Comments (16)  
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