Last week, I have posted some views about God’s forgiveness and the cross. In it, I wrote “Forgiveness is free for us, but the law requires that sinners must die. The cross is the answer to the demands of the law. Jesus’ sacrifice fully paid the penalty of the broken law, so that we can have full assurance in His finished work that we are completely and legally forgiven.”
I have been listening to this kind of preaching (as described above) about the cross since 2003, and it has set me free from guilt, fear and condemnation. But over time, it seems to have lost its impact or freshness. I also came to realise that this view presents some problems. It doesn’t quite encapsulate or capture the fullness of the heart of God – it makes me realise that yes, on one hand, it attempts to portray God as love, but on the other hand, its attempt to view the cross from a legal perspective — in that God is righteous in making us righteous because Jesus paid the penalty for our sins in full until justice is satisfied so that God’s holiness is on our side today to bless us — does make God appear rather cold and legal, for it inevitably portrays Him not as a loving Father (after all, would an earthly father sentence his own son to death in the name of justice?), but as a stern Judge or an angry God waiting to be appeased. I later learnt that this kind of presentation of the cross is known by theologians as “penal substitution”.
Besides, when unbelievers or atheists hear this kind of message, they would tend to have the erroneous image of an angry God who was waiting to be appeased by a human sacrifice. For example, someone in Yahoo Answers commented “Because, people in the Bronze and Iron Ages thought that God wanted blood sacrifices – so, that is what they required in their holy scriptures as a requirement to satisfy God.” Another person noted “That’s the biggest paradox. Since Christians claim that Jesus is god (part of godhead), then god (Jesus) sacrificed god (himself) to pay god to redeem mankind’s sins. What difference does it make if my right hand gives $1m to my left hand and call myself generous for giving the money?” In fact, christians would also have the same erroneous image of God when they subscribe to the “penal substitution” view of the cross.
Hence, I am glad to have been introduced by my beloved fiancee about the paper “Penal substitution vs. Christus Victor” by Derek Flood, which offers a comprehensive explanation on how to understand the cross from the perspective of God’s grace and redemption rather than legalism and satisfaction of so-called wrath of God. Derek’s paper has helped answered some of my questions, and I agree with his points, such as “biblically ‘to bring justice’ does not mean to bring punishment, but to bring healing and reconciliation.” In short, I agree mainly with Christus Victor views about the cross.
I hope to touch more on this view on the cross in the days to come.