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Deny God's Wrath and You Deny God's Love

When Paul declares, equally famously, that there is ‘no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’, he doesn’t say ‘because after all God wasn’t into condemning things, there was never any question of his being wrathful or angry, that’s a barbaric old-fashioned myth’. No. At the heart of the complex explanation Paul gives in the next two verses for why there is no condemnation, we find this central statement in which we find the life and peace of the gospel itself: ‘For God has done what the law . . . could not do: sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as a sin-offering, he condemned sin in the flesh.’ Precisely out of his fathomless love the creator God sent his own Son not simply to share in the mess and muddle of our human existence, but to take upon himself the task of being the place where God would pass judicial sentence upon sin itself, sin as a fact, sin as a deadly power, sin as the poisonous snake whose bite means death itself. Please note, Paul doesn’t say that God condemned Jesus Christ. He says that God condemned sin in the flesh of Jesus Christ. As the Archbishop of Canterbury says in his new book, ‘[Christ] becomes a sort of embodied image for what we are; and he takes on himself the curse that is laid on us.’ Now if you put that truth into other narratives – the story of an angry old man, the story of an offended mediaeval nobleman, the story of a judge imposing a heavy fine – and you will distort it. But to deny the truth because of the distortions is to cut out the heart because the patient is bleeding. The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

Face it: to deny God’s wrath is, at bottom, to deny God’s love. When God sees humans being enslaved – and do please go and see the film Amazing Grace as soon as you get the chance – if God doesn’t hate it, he is not a loving God. (It was the sneering, sophisticated set who tried to make out that God didn’t get angry about that kind of thing, and whom Wilberforce opposed with the message that God really does hate slavery.) When God sees innocent people being bombed because of someone’s political agenda, if God doesn’t hate it, he isn’t a loving God. When God sees people lying and cheating and abusing one another, exploiting and grafting and preying on one another, if God were to say, ‘never mind, I love you all anyway’, he is neither good nor loving. The Bible doesn’t speak of a God of generalized benevolence. It speaks of the God who made the world and loves it so passionately that he must and does hate everything that distorts and defaces the world and particularly his human creatures. And the Bible doesn’t tell an abstract story about people running up a big debit balance in God’s bank and God suddenly, out of the blue, charging the whole lot to Jesus. The Bible tells a story about the creator God calling a people through whom he would put the world right, living with that covenant people even when they themselves went wrong, allowing them to become the place where the power of evil would do its worst, and preparing them all through for the moment when, like the composer finally stepping on stage to play the solo part, he would come and take upon himself, in the person of his Son, the pain and shame, yes, the horror and darkness, yes, but also, in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, in Paul and Acts and Hebrews and 1 Peter and Revelation, in Ignatius and Irenaeus and Augustine and Aquinas, in Luther and Calvin and Cranmer and Hooker, in Herbert and Donne and Wesley and Watts – he would take upon himself the condemnation which, precisely because he loves us to the uttermost, he must pronounce over that deadly disease we call sin.

- N.T. Wright, "The Word of the Cross"
1 Corinthians 1.18
April 5, 2007, sermon preached in Durham Cathedral