It was interesting encountering arguments about this in my reading this week. I learned that proponents of this atonement theory hold to it passionately.
Legalism reads the scriptures of wrath and judgment through the lens of punishment and debt. Love reads the same scriptures with a lens that sees God’s determination for reconciliation.
The wrath of God was not against us. The focus of His wrath is against sin because He loves us. It is the wrath of mankind that was poured out upon Jesus.
Jesus did not die to either punish or fix our behavior. Rather than a punishment, his crucifixion was a cure. Sin is the root of our brokenness. Whether it results in murder or low self-esteem, in lust or loneliness, the need for healing is the same.
There is an interesting discussion about all of this following Tony Jones’ post, Why Jesus Died:
Some people today may find it compelling that some Great Cosmic Transaction took place on that day 1,980 years ago, that God’s wrath burned against his son instead of against me. I find that version of atonement theory neither intellectually compelling, spiritually compelling, nor in keeping with the biblical narrative.
I’m with Tony here. I do not find it compelling or in keeping with Scripture that God’s wrath burned against Jesus or against us.
In response to Tony’s post, Michael Spencer said:
Seems the room is full of people who believe in the incarnation, believe Jesus became one with us, believe in the humanity of Jesus, believe in the loving, Trinitarian God and STILL believe that Jesus bore the Father’s wrath against sin in our place.
Jesus bore the complete weight of the curse of sin and death FOR US, but I do not believe that He bore the wrath of the Father, even the Father’s wrath against sin. Substitution, yes. Substitution as targets of God’s anger, no.
Both “the wrathful God demanding payment” and “Jesus as our example of humility” neglect the passion of God’s intention to restore us to Himself. This quote from Rachel Mee-Chapman represents the opposite end of the spectrum:
“You know what? Jesus did not die for my sins. He died because his message of equity, justice, and charity clashed with the political and religious leaders of his time. He died because he was teaching people things that threatened the power of the institutions. He died because he lived in a time and a place where insurrectionists were nailed to a cross. It was terribly sad–bloody and raw and awful–but it had nothing to do with the consequences of my actions.”
Absolutely not! Thank God Jesus did die for my sin. It was much more than a political tragedy and subversion of empire. God was not demanding payment for my bad behavior. He remedied the terminal condition that I was born into. I needed to be restored, I needed to know forgiveness, and I needed to be loved in a way that had nothing to do with my own merit.
Sin was dealt with decisively on the cross as Christ willingly gave His life to defeat the power of death and alienation that ruled over His creation. We should never diminish what He accomplished or why He did it.