Wrath, Sin, the Cross, and Faith

We speak of God in anthropomorphic and anthropopathic terms – in both the Scripture and our every day language. These things reveal truths about God but should not be taken in a literal way – or else they obscure God’s character rather than revealing it.

Anthropomorphic and Anthropopathic Language

We often speak of the sun rising and setting. Scientifically speaking, the sun does neither one. But from our perspective, these things are very true. God is bodiless, so anthropomorphic language can only be symbolic. For example, when He sits upon His throne, He is showing His divine authority over all things – He’s bodiless and therefore doesn’t have a rearend to sit upon, nor does the Son of God sit on a nice chair a little to the right of the Father’s chair.

Thankfully, our God is also immutable (unchangeable), so anthropopathic (attributing emotions) language is likewise symbolic. That means that God isn’t in a constant state of flux every time the billions of people on this earth either sin or do something virtuous. God would be a sea of writhing emotions if we could get the best of Him like that.

However, we can’t disregard these things. Just because something is symbolic doesn’t mean it’s not true. Quite the opposite!

In this language, God reveals truths to us either about Himself or our relationship to Him. It would be just as foolish for someone to disregard day and night as nonexistent because of their firm scientific belief that the sun doesn’t move. So, we might say that the wrath of God comes upon sinners – not because God gets angry and starts throwing lightning bolts. Rather, when we live sinfully, we experience the presence of the holy God as disturbing or even horrifying.

Going back to the example of the sun, we may say that it’s shining especially hot on a summer day. In truth, the sun shines the same regardless of what day it is or what the weather is like. It is our orientation to the sun that changes. Also, the clouds of this world can obscure the sun from us. In that way, we can understand that God’s grace and love are always directed toward mankind, but we often orient ourselves away from Him, and the clouds of this world obscure Him from us (that is, sin and attachment to the vanity of this world). We may experience this disconnect as God’s wrath, inner emptiness, or something else.

So, while the Bible uses anthropomorphic and anthropopathic language, it is not being literal in describing the God. However, we see important truths in how we relate to God in this language.

On the Cross and Faith

The earliest Christians were Jews, and the writings of the New Testament reflect that. Language about sacrifices and atonement were important to their way of understanding the relationship of people to God. While we would be foolish to completely ignore the words they chose, we would be equally foolish to stretch those things too far and apply them literally to God. A perfect being needs no satisfaction, or else He is imperfect and incomplete. We, however, needed it. The drama of the passion of Christ grants us knowledge of the love of God (more on understanding the Cross can be found in my book Becoming Human).

Our Lord Jesus became sin upon the cross (2 Cor. 5:21), died for us, and resurrected. He did that – not to dismiss us from everything – but to invite us to join Him. We take up our cross and follow Him to death, to the grave, and to adoption as sons of God in the resurrection.

Lastly, faith is the realization of the divine reality revealed to us in Christ. It is an eternal perspective of reality, no longer limited by the physicality of this world. It is seeing things as they truly are – with God as the center of the cosmos, of meaning, and of all being. In faith we are crucified with Christ, we die in Christ, and we resurrect with Him in glory as sons of God.

Note: I wrote this article in response to an email that I received from a reader asking about how to understand the Cross, wrath of God, and faith in Orthodox theology. I thought my response might benefit others with similar questions.

2 thoughts on “Wrath, Sin, the Cross, and Faith

  1. Friar Jeremy, I am now half-way through your book and find it both thought provoking and challenging. I have a vast library of hand-selected theology tomes and yours, among a few others, is worth a reread. I have a Protestant background and always viewed a lot of Orthodox and Catholic practices as erroneous, but I am also smart enough to realize that perhaps some of my own rigidly beliefs may be suspect as well. I read of the old Fathers and of church history deeply. I agree that the Greek concept of body/spirit dualism has long ago invaded the church and the Orthodox teachings on this error are very welcome to me. You are a true workman for Christ… God bless.

    1. Thank you, David. May God continue to bless your path toward Him.

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