Does the fact that God redirects his wrath mean that he does not truly forgive us?

Monday Musings for March 09, 2020

Good morning, Musers,

This week I’ve been challenged to think more deeply about God’s forgiveness — and it’s funny: I usually just take it for granted. But today’s challenge is profound: if God redirected his wrath so that it would fall on Jesus instead of on me — and I believe that is so — then it’s not really forgiveness that I’ve received; it can’t be because God did not let my offenses go... as in go.

Now, the questioner is right. God did not let my offense go. But this is because he could not let them go... and here we are again, facing the fact that there are certain things that God cannot do.

This is uncomfortable territory for many theists. We like to think of our God as omnipotent — and indeed I do! But I also like to think of him as a being who has a nature… and any being that has a nature is constrained by that nature.

For instance, God cannot make a square circle or a married bachelor... and these things that he “cannot do” look on the surface to be mutually exclusive with his omnipotence. But just because we can express thoughts like these in a proper-sounding sentence does not mean that the concepts themselves make sense — and that’s the key: God doesn’t “do” nonsense... and this is an important fact for us apologists.

This frees us up from having to answer every challenge people throw out about God in terms of their challenge. So when asked, “Can God make a rock so big he can’t move it?” the answer is, “Your question is nonsensical. Although it is syntactically correct, it has no propositional meaning. And since truths about God can only be explored logically, this question is not valid.”

But what does all this have to do with forgiveness? People often approach the idea of God’s forgiveness in the same way... with a pile of ideas about it that conflict with God’s nature — and today’s is one of those. So — and with all those qualifications in place — do you think that it’s God’s nature to forgive?

I’d give that a qualified yes... and it’s qualified because God has more than one attribute. For instance, we know God is holy and just. The problem is that these attributes can be left in the lurch if we do not understand the process of how God forgives — and here, the parallels between God and us can fail us.

For example, we tend to understand attributes like justice and mercy. All people want justice in the world... so every country has police, courts and prisons. People also understand mercy... so we have institutions like hospitals, soup kitchens and public welfare programs.

But God’s holiness is different. We understand it… sort of… but his holiness is impossible to bring to the earth. That being said, we are still responsible for it... because it’s in the Bible.

And one called to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory! (Isaiah 6:3).

So, when we try to parse something like God’s forgiveness, we have to do it in light of his holiness and his justice. But we only have an approximation of God’s forgiveness in the human-to-human type — and we have to keep that in mind. In fact, the fact that there is such a big gap between the two types of forgiveness is the key that unlocks today’s challenge.

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