Fr Thomas Hopko on God’s Wrath and Expiation of Sin

2 Co 5:21 For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

1 John 2:2 And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.

lamb1Following are excerpts from a much longer talk given by Fr Thomas Hopko [an Eastern Orthodox priest]. Many parts of Fr Hopko’s talk, in my opinion and heard in its entirety, are incoherent, full of contradictions, and portions are what I call the usual EO mystical philosophical babble. But, while I do not agree with everything Fr Hopko says, I have posted EXCELLENT comments pertinent to the subjects of expiation, propitiation, and God’s Wrath. Fr Hopko basically states that these things are an important aspect of the Gospel, and need not be denied but simply properly understood, to which I fully agree. Some of the Protestant Reformers (and Roman Catholics) may have went to an extreme on this topic emphasizing God’s Wrath, but some Eastern Orthodox have gone to an opposite extreme. Fr Hopko is at least more balanced that most Eastern Orthodox are on this topic, and at least he deals with all the scriptural testimony. To hear the complete podcast click on the SOURCE link at the end of the excerpts. Also check out my other posts on this important topic, especially the balanced one immediately preceding this post – RAS

. . . In fact, I always argue, and will continue to argue, in fact, I’ll do it right now, that the wrath of God is removed from us through Jesus and when we believe in Christ and accept Him as our Savior, we are reconciled with God and the wrath of God is indeed removed from us, but it’s removed from us because of the righteousness of Jesus. The wrath of God is against unrighteousness. The wrath of God is against sin. The wrath of God is against rebellion. The wrath of God is against lack of gratitude to God for what he does to us. The wrath of God is because we forsake and forget God, and we go after idols and we worship idols, and therefore that wrath of God is upon us. . .

But Jesus doesn’t do that. He is totally, completely, absolutely, obedient to God, His Father. He comes into the world to take on the sin of the world. And as St. Paul says “even to become sin” (2 Cor 5:21). To put himself in the place of us sinners, and then being with us in our sin, even becoming sin for us, cause everyone who hangs upon the tree of the Cross is sin, its curse. He endures all the sins of the world; all of our sins crucify Him. God puts upon Him as it says in the Yahweh Servant Hymns: “the iniquities of us all.” And all of our iniquities are put upon Him. And every time we sin, we put another iniquity against him. We put another nail in the cross so to speak, but He endures that all in complete and total innocence, complete and total righteousness, complete and total obedience to God. He doesn’t sin in even the smallest way, and He remains completely obedient to God. God forsakes Him so to speak in the line of the psalm. He has to endure the situation of forsakeness by God, but He does not forsake God. He says to God, His Father: “Into your hands I commit my Spirit.” He says to Him: “Your will be done, not my will.” . . .

. . . And so He absorbs in His flesh in His body on the tree of the Cross, all of the sins humankind against God and against each other, and He expiates them. He purges them out by His righteousness, not by His being punished [if sin is not expiated however, we will be punished, because that is what scripture teaches – RAS], but by His righteousness. And therefore when he is so completely and totally righteous, where He is loving God, His Father, with all His mind, soul, heart, and strength, He’s loving all of humankind, all his neighbors, including the enemies, including those who are beating Him, spitting upon Him, reviling Him, ridiculing Him, and nailing Him to the Cross, putting a spear into His side. He says: “Father forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing. They’re caught up in all this darkness. They’re treating me like some kind of scapegoat, pushing me outside the walls of the city, even somehow thinking that if one man dies for the people, then all the people will now be saved from the power of the Romans or something like that.” It’s all madness, but Jesus doesn’t sin. Jesus remains totally, completely faithful to God. . .

. .  As it says in the Letter of Peter in the New Testament: “He trusted Him who judges justly.” And even in the Letter to the Romans, you have this genitive of faith where it could be translated that we are made righteous by faith of Christ or faith in Christ. But even the faith of Christ, Jesus’ own trusting to God, trusting that God would vindicate him, but the big point—He doesn’t sin at all. He does no evil. Therefore, the wrath of God cannot be upon Him. There’s no way that the wrath of God can be upon Him. The wrath that is upon all the sinners and all the unrighteous, He takes upon Himself, and when he takes upon Himself the wrath that is due to all the rest of us—all the Jews, all the Gentiles, everyone who has lived, “there is no one righteous, no not one,” as it says in the Letter to the Romans, quoting of course the Old Testament Scripture. Then, the wrath of God is assuaged. There is no wrath against Him. God puts Him in the position of the wrath. He puts Him in the position of the sinner, but God’s wrath is not against Him. And because of that, that’s the paradox.

That’s the most amazing thing because Jesus undergoes that, and it’s even the will of God that he would undergo that. The most amazing thing is that it is the will of God that Jesus would endure all the wrath of God, so that the wrath of God would be removed from all the rest of us sinners. That’s the logic there. That’s the theo-logic of it. So when we think of the wrath of God, relative to the Crucifixion of Christ, then His atoning— and by the way atoning in the sense of paying the price by being punished, that’s not a biblical category at all. In fact the term atone doesn’t even exist in the Bible. That’s a later thing developed in theology. Yeah, you can say that we are made one with God. It’s an AT-ONE-MENT, atonement in that sense, but is not an atoning in the sense that is paying the punish so that God can now let us off according to some kind of law.

In fact according to the apostle Paul and all of the Holy Fathers and Mothers of Orthodox Christian history, some of the Fathers are pretty bold in what they say about this, he says: “If you think of God’s justice as some kind of a human law, you’re way off the track.” That’s not how God acts and the Law of God in Holy Scripture is not some sort of a law of the Roman Empires or something like that. It’s a law that has to do with the reality of things. It’s an ontological not a forensic category so to speak in fancy language. It’s not juridical. It’s metaphysical [that’s debatable – RAS]. And then St. Basil will even say: “If you think of God in terms of justice,” like that he gives to us justice, then Basil would say, like virtually all of the Holy Fathers would say “then according to strict justice we should all go to Hell.” According to strict justice, we have no life in us. If we would be saved and come alive by keeping of the law, no one of us would be saved. So if you go strictly speaking by law, so to speak, by the law even in its human form, retributive justice, no one could pay it. . . . . If you want wrath, God will give it to you. . . If you want His wrath to be upon you, it will be upon you. But if you want His mercy, then that mercy will be upon you. . . So this wrath of God is [even] against God’s own people. It’s against God’s own people when they forsake Him, when they do not love Him, when they do not follow Him. And you have this all through the Book of Kings: I, II, III, and IV Kings, which in our English Bible is I and II Samuel and I and II Kings, and the Chronicles which repeat the Kings, basically, in a different way. You have sentences like, I’m reading II Kings: “For great is the wrath of the Lord that is kindled against us because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book and do according to all that is written concerning us” . . . And that’s how we would understand the Bible that the wrath of God is upon us cause it’s due to come upon us. We choose it. We take it because of our sin. And God will then use that wrath to try and get us to repent. And hopefully it will, but the final word is not wrath. The final word is mercy. The final word is mercy. [Amen – RAS] And so in the New Testament, you have the ultimate mercy of God being shown in the crucified servant of Yahweh, the Christ, the Messiah, God’s own very Son by whom He created the ages, God’s own very Son by whom He created all things, God’s own Son for whom all things exist, in whom everything holds together. Everything was made by Him, through Him, for Him, in Him, toward Him. That’s the teaching of St. Paul. But when Jesus was teaching on the earth and he went around, he was saying to these cities where He was preaching that if they don’t listen to Him, the wrath of God is upon them much worse than upon Sodom and Gomorrah even. . Now we Christians, when we read the New Testament, we see that if we sin then the wrath of God is really upon us! In fact in the Letter to the Hebrews, it claims there is not even any hope for us because if we sin after being in light, after knowing Christ, it’s impossible to be restored again to repentance. . . So man it is most fearful for us Christians. We, Christians, have to fear the wrath of God. (Romans 1:18) us. . . This wrath that is true and real, it comes from God. But we should remember the final word of the Gospel. Or we might put it another way, we should remember God’s final word. And the final word is: “He has mercy on all if we want it.”

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