A gracEmail subscriber has heard someone say that if God required his sinless Son to die in order to forgive our sins that would be both unjust and “cosmic child abuse.” What does Scripture say about this?
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The atonement made by Jesus Christ involves holy mystery. We should therefore speak about it with both reverence and humility. When we have said all that the Bible tells us on the subject we will still have some unanswered questions. This is a controversial topic and there are extreme statements on both sides. It is an unbiblical extreme, for example, to deny that Jesus’ death resulted in our forgiveness, or to suggest that Jesus’ death was not necessary in God’s eternal plan. It is equally nonbiblical and extreme to think of God as a rageful and out-of-control parent who was so angry at wrongdoers that he grabbed and beat his own obedient child until he got it out of his system. (In the first place, Jesus was God embodied; in the second place, Jesus offered himself.) Rejecting such extremes, however, we can both affirm and deny some things about Jesus’ death and our forgiveness with confidence that we are on solid scriptural ground.
On the positive side, Scripture calls Jesus the “Lamb of God” who takes away sin (John 1:29; 1 John 3:5). In some sense, Jesus “bore” or carried our sin away in his own body on the cross (Isa. 53:12; 1 Pet. 2:24). His “chastening” made us whole; by his “scourging” we were healed (Isa. 53:5). He “reconciled” us to God in his fleshly body “through death” (Col. 1:22). God made the sinless Jesus to become a sin-offering [literally, “sin”] for us, so we could become “the righteousness of God” in him (2 Cor. 5:21). Jesus became the “propitiation” [RSV = “expiation”] for our sin (Rom. 3:25; 1 John 2:2; 4:10). Because of what Jesus has done for sinners, he will rescue those who trust in him from God’s wrath on the Last Day (Rom. 5:9; 1 Thes. 1:10; 5:9).
On the negative side, the Bible never says that God was “angry” with Jesus on the cross. Scripture never expressly speaks of Jesus as the object of God’s “wrath.” The Bible never states that God “punished” Jesus, and it never specifically refers to Jesus receiving God’s “punishment.” The three places where the New Testament speaks of Jesus’ death as a “propitiation” for sin emphasize God’s righteousness and forgiveness (Rom. 3:25), Jesus’ advocacy on our behalf (1 John 2:2) and God’s love which that death demonstrated (1 John 4:10). This reminds us of the wonderful truth recorded in John 3:16, that God “so loved” the world that he “gave his Son.” The Father loved us before Jesus died for us. He did not hate us until Jesus died and then have a sudden change of heart.