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I love theological gobblygook, also known as rabbit holes. You can call it a guilty pleasure, if you like. I suppose calling it gobblygook sounds a bit disrespectful, but I mean that in the sense of, oh what a tangled web we weave……when we try to lean into our own understanding. Faith is simply something that cannot be fully understood intellectually. You cannot really rationalize something like “hope” or “love.” It’s like believing God can be properly understood with an assembly book of IKEA instructions.

Watermelon ideas in pea brains, I like to say. Myself included.

I mention it too, because some people accuse Christians of being indoctrinated and I must say, every time I stumble into a raging, heated theological debate it makes me laugh because I think,  Wow, epic indoctrination fail. Way to go!

Virgins in the volcano, penal substitutionary atonement, eternal submission of the Son, and the nature of the trinity, oh my. It’s like a whole island of rabbit holes just waiting to be explored. For those who don’t know there’s often some raging theological debates going on around these 3 primary ideas, as is evident in this article, “Enough Virgins in the Volcano Theology”

First let me say, no throwing virgins in the volcano. That’s pagan, violent, bad for the virgins.

Second, the Trinity stands just as is and always has been. There is great mercy and compassion in trying to wrap our brain around the idea, however. It’s designed to stretch us.

Third, I totally reject eternal submission of the Son, aka, ESS. I don’t find it biblical, not rooted in sound theology, or even rational. In fact, it’s very human and flawed. People always seem to insist on perceiving everything through a hierarchy, as if rank must be declared so we know which branch of the Trinitarian to start sidling up to. I think Jesus spoke about that problem often in the bible. “The first shall go last” and “what you do for the least of these you do for me.” He turned our own understanding of hierarchies on its head.

But when it comes to penal substitutionary atonement, I kind of sit on all sides of the issue. In a world full of linear thinkers where people demand cut and dry answers, that probably doesn’t sit well. It’s true however, I kind of look down on it all with a 360 degree view. I understand what people are saying, but they are often not seeing around the other side of the bend.

I really believe Paul Young, the author of the Shack, did a beautiful job addressing the nature of his own problem. Some people really do wrestle with the false idea that “the Father murdered the Son.” You hear this from atheists all the time and from some believers, too. I myself have never stumbled there, I’ve been too busy stumbling in multiple other places. I’ve always believed that we people sent Jesus Christ to the cross, not God. He died for our sins, our human authorities condemned Him. The world sent Jesus Christ to the cross, He gave His life for us. God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and works for good all things of course, but He was also on the cross Himself that day. He was not, “up in the sky torturing Jesus.” Some people really do believe that. “Here is my Son in who I am well pleased….” pretty much contradicts that false perception.

One reason why these things get so turned around and tangled up is that we are often looking for a theological solution to what is a personal problem, an emotional issue. If you know the nature of God, His kindness and mercy, you know He is not murdering His own Son in an act of wrath because He’s mad at us. His also didn’t drown His kids in a fit of temper when Noah built the ark. These are all emotional issues that color our perceptions of our Holy Father. They’re rooted in strongholds that cloud our understanding.

That’s one side of it. There’s another problem that often springs up on the other side, those heavily invested in the absolutism of penal substitutionary atonement, as if to say God sent Jesus Christ to the cross and poured His wrath out on a substitute. The problem with that is so often people will then adopt this attitude, I didn’t send Jesus to the cross, God did. It had nothing to do with me. Well, if Jesus Christ didn’t lay down His very life to save you personally, your entire theology begins to crumble all around you.

I really love the song, “How Deep The Father’s Love For Us.”  Every word there says a mouthful. Behold the Man upon a cross, My sin upon His shoulders, Ashamed I hear my mocking voice, Call out among the scoffers. We must have the mindset that our own sin pinned Him there, that we were among the scoffers. Obviously, we were not literally in the crowd that day, but that is an example of how sometimes it takes a song and a metaphor to help you fully understand what simply cannot be drawn intellectually in a more linear manner.

I must say however, I simply cannot agree with the movement that wants to change, throw out, revoke, the whole concept of penal substitutionary atonement. That actually begins to disturb me, as if something has gone all awry there.  It’s kind of interesting, so many articles begin with words like, “we must soften the atonement.” Whole lyrics to songs have now been changed so as to say things like, “Till on that cross as Jesus died, the love of God was magnified.” Well yes, that works just fine too, but please let’s not forget the cross was not “soft,” it was an instrument of torture, execution, and death.  While I understand how lyrics like, “Till on that cross as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied,” can seem disturbing to some,  heaven help us all if we ever begin to find it NOT disturbing. Soft. Comfortable. Easy. No.

There is no such thing as a “soft atonement and crucifixion.” Indeed, the love of God was magnified…. in the selfless sacrifice of Jesus Christ who died in a brutal, tortuous, and bloody manner. “The wrath of God was satisfied,” not because He hated you or His Son, but because He hated what sin and the enemy had done to you. Without the  wrath of God, you have a God of complete indifference to what man has suffered, what the enemy has stolen.

From the Virgins in the Volcano article above regarding penal substitutionary atonement, “You’ve probably heard some version of that doctrine so often that it sounds perfectly normal, but listen to it with the ears of an outsider.” Why? Why listen to it with the ears of an outsider?? It wasn’t designed to be understood by the ears of  “outsiders.” It just doesn’t compute from the outside looking in. It invites you in and then comes the understanding.

I really wish people would bring things down to an emotional and personal  level, because often it is not our theology that is wrong, but rather our own perceptions of it.