to give us eternal life instead of eternal condemnation. American revivalist Johnathan Edwards summed this idea well in his famous sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” If we see the cross as an angry God and Jesus as satisfying His tyrannical wrath, however, we’ve confused God with the devil and thus miss the beautiful truths that took place on Calvary.
Believing in a judgmental God can be dangerous. Assuming that God demands an ethic of retribution not only gives a penal flavor to our theology but also encourages zealous violent retribution by cultivating its justification.
Tucked away in an obscure collection of texts in 2 Samuel 21 is a story occasionally cited to suggest that God’s avenging anger needs appeasement. Nestled within this depiction of atonement is the ancient notion of bloodguilt, while a lesser known story is easily overlooked, lacking the attention it deserves. It tells of a woman burdened with grief and searing pain because her two sons have been torn from her. Rizpah is her name. The story has not gone unnoticed, however, by many a brave mother gripped by despair and grief at the death of a child. Such women, left powerless and bereft, receive little mercy.
Years ago, I attended a class at a missionary training school in the heart of Oregon. The Bible teacher wrote the Greek word “hilasterion” on the white board and asked the class what it meant. His next question was whether redemption carries a propitiatory dimension.