[The following post was originally published on 4/12/07.]
The explanation I was given [for the gospel] went something like this. God was very angry with us for our sins, and because he is a just God, our sin had to be punished. But instead of punishing us he sent his Son, Jesus, as a substitute to suffer and die in our place. The blood of Jesus paid the price of our sins, and because of him God stopped being angry with us. In other words, Jesus took the rap, and we got forgiven, provided we said we believed in him.
Well, I don't know about you, but even at the age of ten I thought this explanation was pretty repulsive as well as nonsensical. What sort of God was this, getting so angry with the world and the people he created, and then, to calm himself down, demanding the blood of his own Son? And anyway, why should God forgive us through punishing somebody else? It was worse than illogical, it was insane. It made God sound like a psychopath. If any human being behaved like this we'd say they were a monster. [Jeffrey John, “Lent Talks” (radio transcript, BBC: Radio 4, 4 April, 2007)]
In the above quote, Jeffery John, current dean of St. Albans, denies penal substitutionary atonement
. Penal substitutionary atonement is basically the teaching that Jesus died in the place
of sinners ("substitutionary
"), bearing the wrath of God, which sinners had earned as a penalty
for our rebellion against Him ("penal
"), and thus Christ was a sacrifice effecting reconciliation
of sinners with God ("atonement
John asserts that this doctrine is “nonsensical,” “insane,” and that it “makes God sound like a psychopath.” In the midst of these descriptions of his opinion on the matter, he asks two rhetorical questions, and then concludes with the argument, “If any human being behaved like this we’d say they were a monster.”
This last sentence is, however, nothing but a weak analogy. Though Man was created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27), and Man is, by the grace of God, able to “know the Lord” (Jer 31:34), Man is not so much like God that he can judge God based on his own perceptions. This is clear from what God says, as recorded in Isaiah 55:9, “For as heaven is higher than earth, so My ways are higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (HCSB). That Man, the creature, is in no position to judge God, the Creator is abundantly demonstrated in the rebuke God offers to Job, recorded in Job chapters 38-41. The Apostle Paul also offers a rebuke to anyone wishing to judge God by human standards in Romans 9:20a, writing, “But who are you--anyone who talks back to God?” (HCSB) If a human being were to offer his innocent son as a sacrifice to save the life of a despicable criminal, it would, indeed, be “nonsensical,” etc., but this is because a human being is not entirely holy, seeing the heart rebellion of sinners against himself. A human being is not perfectly just. A human being is neither infinite, nor able to beget an infinite son that can pay an eternal sacrifice and rise from the grave. A human being is not one in essence with his son so that the sacrifice offered to himself could also be a self-sacrifice. The list could go on and on– the analogy John offers is weak indeed. It is important to understand the weakness of John's argument, because such an argument may have a strong emotional appeal to people and provide a barrier to them hearing the true gospel.