Gregory MacDonald (aka Robin Parry) has posted a theory “The revelation of eschatological wrath at Calvary” on his blog and finished it with a RFC (Request For Comments).
I’ve written quite a bit elsewhere on this forum about not accepting standard versions of substitutionary atonement theory; but I’ve also said at least a couple of times that if I did, then I would be even more sure of universalism than I currently am (if that was possible. ) I’ve also said that it would be a big conceptual point in favor of one or another kind of ultra-universalism–a point made quite ably by some of our ultra-u members.
But yes there’s a big conceptual problem for any kind of non-universalism, Arm or Calv, anni or ECT, insofar as the Son suffers any “wrath of God”–which by the way I actually accept and believe, though not in the standard substitutionary soteriology fashions that have been so prevalent and popular.
Robin nails that big conceptual problem very succinctly well:
Nor was the Son abandoned by the Father (which, as I have occasionally pointed out, would be a drastic problem for even unitarians but would be literally nonsense for trinitarian or modalistic theology.) Either that or Jesus was flat wrong (or the report was falsified after the fact) about comforting His disciples in GosJohn’s Final Discourse concerning the coming crucifixion, that the Father was always with Him. And also about quoting Psalm 22 in circumstances directly reminiscent of Psalm 22.
Whether the Son (trinitarian or otherwise) shares punishment with sinners (being reckoned with the transgressors) or suffers punishment instead of sinners, it’s with cursed sinners. And the suffering the Son suffers with-or-instead-of cursed sinners, is not ECT or annihilation. There would have been no resurrection, at the very least, had that been so!
I actually am quite prepared to agree that the Son (and the other Persons, through the Son) voluntarily suffers along with all punished sinners from the standpoint of eternity; an omniscient entity couldn’t avoid intimately knowing such suffering even the entity wanted to! (Meaning the Father at least would know suffering intimately and infinitely more than any sinner, even if the Son is not also God; so there is no escape from this via unitarianism.) But the experiencing of such suffering fits in very well with the many other multiple expressions of the self-abdication of the Son, especially in regard to the Son’s relation to creation at all.
Obviously it isn’t a hopeless suffering, though; it is a suffering of voluntary compassion, of love, that does not schism the Persons substantially from one another in any way. The Son does not rebel against the Father, and the Father does not abandon the Son; not in the Incarnation, much moreso not at the level of God’s own fundamental reality!
Any non-universalism, ironically, would actually and necessarily require that any voluntary suffering of the Son be completely unrelated to the suffering of sinners (even if perhaps still related to the suffering of the innocent as victims of sin.) Any non-universalism would itself be the strongest conceptual argument against ‘substitutionary atonement’ theories.
[Note: I posted the same remark, with a few trivial stylistic and formatting differences, as a comment to Robin’s article. Thanks for the alert, Alex! ]
Robin Parry said
X X X
Personally I guess I’m not sure it’s necessary to even assign oneself a task like this at all Robin. When one insists on equating Jesus’ experience with what was purportedly to be our experience one gets nothing but problems it seems to me. This is for at least 2 reasons: first, Jesus was also God which totally wrecks any coherent idea of Trinity and second, Jesus was sinless. This strongly suggests that something else entirely was going on at the cross.
Further, it is deeply ingrained in our psyche that sin needs/deserves punishment; that sin must be punished or else it somehow remains floating about as some kind of entity not-yet-dealt-with. But this is clearly not some sort of quid pro quo arrangement at all. When we “punish” a crime X by assigning punishment Y (say 20-life in prison) we say that “justice” has been done. But in reality, this is a horribly limited justice and not even remotely satisfying for any victims involved. It’s quite a distortion to suggest that for God “justice” operates along these lines.
This allows (or compels?) one to then consider that the point of punishment (and wrath, and justice) is nothing less than the transformation of the guilty. The “making right” of all that is wrong about the entire drama. Is this an astonishingly ambitious endeavor on God’s part? Absolutely. Does it seem at times, to us at least, an impossible task? Sure. But it seems to me that the bible is clear that God certainly believes (sounds odd to speak of God “believing”!) in the success of Christ’s mission at the cross. And this could mean, if I’m correct that punishment’s goal is restoration and transformation, all really are eventually saved. Places like Is 19 certainly suggest this idea. (“striking, but healing”!)
However, it should be obvious that Christ certainly doesn’t need transformation which simply means I’m going to have to look elsewhere (beyond punishment as either quid pro quo or as transformative) for the crosses meaning…
Given that, for me at least, the cross cannot be explained legally (no system of “justice” allows, let alone demands, transfer of either guilt or punishment: therefore it is not “legal”) or logically (transferring guilt/punishment to an innocent third party solves nothing; besides, guilt is simply not something that can be transferred. If I did it, I did it. To say otherwise is to speak fiction.) under the traditional penal substitution formula, I am compelled to look elsewhere for the meaning of the Cross.
The problem which necessitated both hell (whatever that is) and the cross (however that works) can be portrayed in terms of a darkness or misconception about God. Truths about God, His nature and His character, have been distorted. (talk here about Satan or the serpent, be they literal or metaphoric, or whatever it was that caused Eve - be she literal or a metaphor - to mistrust God if one wants to) What God needed therefore was a True witness to and of Himself. So He sends His own Son. And Jesus testified to the success of His mission before He died, even while knowing what was about to happen to Him.
We might think then of “hell” (or any of those other words which birthed the idea of “hell”) as that experience which reveals and demonstrates the Truth about God and His nature and character; that place or experience necessitated by our own sin and whose purpose is to reveal the truth about reality. (the reality of the true nature of how horrible is the life apart from God) And to the rebellious, it is experienced as “wrath”. But it’s punishment with a purpose (our rehabilitation) and has nothing to do with punitive or quid pro quo punishment. Hell can be said to be what the Truths about God look like from the perspective of evil but were just as valid and real apart from evil. (That is, I don’t see evil as somehow “necessary” to make the Truth of God real and relevant)
In the Cross then can’t we say that Jesus partook of hell in that He too experienced the full consequences of evil excepting that He experienced it as sinless God? And the experience was to the same purpose and effect; a revelatory demonstration of the Truth about God. Our “hell” experience is allowed by God to demonstrate/clarify for us the precise nature of our condition and depravity while Christ’s “hell” (the Cross) was allowed, in part, for the same reason.
For me it’s critically important to construct a theology of the Cross that treats the event for what it was; a monumentally horrific crime. When Jesus says in John that “he who turns me over to the authorities commits the greater sin” that, for me, must mean that the Cross was in no way willed by God. God’s “wrath” then is God’s act of letting the river of evil have it’s way (temporarily at least) so that there can never be a question as to it’s reality and it’s horror. For Jesus, that took the form of the Cross. For us, it takes the form of “hell”. Jesus’ “hell” has the task of informing an entire Universe the reality of God’s nature while our own “hell” has “only” the task of informing (convicting) us as individuals.
So I guess we could say that hell for Christ on the Cross was something of a prototype of the hell for us in that it is God’s allowing the flowering of evil to an ultimately good purpose. Both hell’s serve to unmask the utter and complete stark nakedness of sin and evil. And because the Cross also unmasked the complete impotence of evil (Resurrection Sunday! evil’s triumph - death - is no match against the Creator and Life giver!) so too does that give us hope that our own “hell” can and will end the same way.
But this dynamic is not really allowed if one insists on seeing the Cross and hell as punitive and quid pro quo (this for that) punishment…
I need to hustle over to Robins blog and post this there as well and see what Robin thinks…
By the way, some good comments over there by jason and james
Good comments, TV. I’m a big believer in the notion that any theology of the cross has to keep the notion that somehow Jesus is still being the express revelation of the Father and indeed still doing only what the Father does.
A soteriology where that stops happening on the cross, while affirming that it happens beforehand, has jumped the shark into incoherency.
(Crossposted at Robin’s blog, too. )